What 40 Days of Dating Got Right about Millennial Relationships

Chances are you’ve heard of the social experiment 40 Days of Dating. Twentysomething friends Timothy Goodman and Jessica Walsh decided to spend 40 days attempting to create a functional relationship with each other, even though they were coming from opposite backgrounds: she’s a serial monogamist who’s continually rushed into love, and he’s a commitment-phobe who’s bounced from woman to woman. The two attended relationship counselling and set out clear rules from day one to make the experiment as stringent as possible, even though it sounds like the plot of a subpar romantic comedy. They then blogged, in detail, every single day, and their every thought, over the course of the 40 days.

At first, I dismissed the project as little more than a stunt. I held everything I could against it, from the fact that it teeters on indulgent exhibitionism, to the fact that it seems gimmicky (which wasn’t helped by reports that Goodman and Walsh were discussing television and movie deals before the blog even ended), to the fact that theirs is not, by any means, representative of a normal relationship. Even so, I, like many others, was intrigued by the idea. As the 40 days unfolded on their blog, Goodman and Walsh’s relationship proved to be as heady, flawed, confusing, and unsatisfying as anyone’s. 40 Days of Dating provided us with a sobering reflection on the ways in which we often sabotage our own relationships.

Here’ the spoiler: Goodman and Walsh ultimately decide against pursuing their romantic relationship. Strangely, however, it is not for a lack of sincere feeling or potential. Their blog posts make it clear that the two are physically attracted to one another, share values, and have both a rock-solid friendship and chemistry between them. One has to wonder: what went wrong?

As graphic designers, the two dressed their relationship in all the finery the web has to offer, and the result is impressive. Goodman and Walsh have constructed a glamorous scrapbook of their courtship, complete with snapchats, photos, moving images of small presents, sketches, texts, and emails. But that glossy facade may have been the problem; the pair made the fatal (and very common) mistake of trying to make a relationship too good too fast.

Millennials were born into a world that moves very quickly, and we are uncomfortable with delayed gratification and uncertainty. With the immediacy of technology, we have come to expect our lives to work as quickly and cleanly as our text messages. As a result, 40 Days of Dating was doomed from the outset. While we may be comfortable with our truncated time frames and simple definitions, many of the important relationships we’ll have and things we’ll achieve will require more effort, time, and gray areas than anyone is ever comfortable with.

One can’t help but wonder what the outcome would have been if this relationship hadn’t been put on the internet, and there hadn’t been the pressure of a definitive deadline. Throughout the blog, Walsh repeatedly wonders what will happen at the end of the 40 days, and Goodwin fears the deadline by which he has to decide his feelings. The project created an expectation and pressure that Walsh and Goodwin’s relationship couldn’t possibly live up to. We are all familiar with feeling the need to define our relationships. As soon as we start dating someone, even our well-meaning friends urge us to decide if we’re part of a couple, or having a fling, or just friends with the person in question. It’s rare that any of those labels adequately summarize the nuances and complexities of a developing relationship.

Similarly, the two are quick to fall back on the idea that “it just isn’t working.” While there are cases where two people are inherently incompatible, ours is a generation that prefers to replace our relationships rather than fix them. Between our high expectations and plenty-more-fish-in-the-sea mentality, we are too quick to move on from a relationship if we are not on exactly the same page from the get-go, or if we encounter periods of significant difficulty. Any long-term couple has weathered uncertainty, annoyance, confused feelings, and misunderstandings. Endurance and patience are infinitely more valuable to a relationship than the ability to cut and run.

A lot of 40 Days of Dating was artificial, from the entire day the couple spent holding hands, to the therapy, to the continuous feedback, to the obligation to continue the project for a specific amount of time. Even so, it seems that art imitated life, and that there was something real underneath the plastic of Walsh and Goodman’s interactions. Though the project ultimately failed, that failure may be the most honest — and most important — part of its message.

Originally published by Mic.com, 9/11/2013
Featured image from 40 days of Dating.

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