What the Internet’s Strangest Dating Sensation Teaches Us About Old-Fashioned Romance

An experiment involving two long-time friends who have blogged every day reaches its conclusion

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Osvaldo Ponton

Jessica Walsh and Timothy Goodman

If you’re a twenty-something with access to the Internet, chances are that you or someone you know has been reading “40 Days of Dating” this summer. The beautifully constructed website—which went live in mid-July—chronicles the experiment of two long-time friends fed up with the New York City dating scene who begin a relationship told through a series of daily blog posts.

At first glance, the site looks like every trope of millennial life gone wild, the sort of narcissistic, Internet-addled behavior that leads to labels like the “Me, Me, Me Generation.” Weirdly, what has given the site such a following may not be its newness but that it has revealed something far more traditional.

“Courtship” is a word rarely heard in the discussion of 21st-century dating. Still, it’s an accurate description of what transpires on “40 Days” between graphic designers Jessica Walsh and Timothy Goodman.

If virtually every recent article written about modern relationships is to be believed, casual hookups are rapidly replacing more familiar dating practices. That is not the case here. From Day One, clear rules are set: the pair will see each other every day, they will go on at least three “dates” each week and, most crucially, they will not “see, date, hookup, or have sex with anyone else.” This sounds nothing like the beleaguered modern love depicted in Style sections. Instead, Walsh and Goodman jumped headlong into a fully formed relationship, complete with weekly couples therapy sessions.

(MORE: Online Dating: Women Want Younger Men)

In a word, the “40 Days” experiment is unrealistic. It’s hard to imagine two people beginning an exclusive relationship—one in which they see each other every single day—without even the slightest amount of physical intimacy (Walsh and Goodman don’t so much as kiss until Day 18). It’s equally difficult to imagine both members of a relationship telling the particulars of their dating experience in such great detail—and in such a public setting. But the object of “40 Days” is not realism. It’s an experiment, and a compelling one at that. The website has received so much attention over the summer that Walsh and Goodman signed with talent agency CAA. Many believe it’s a sign that “40 Days” has a future as either a film or television show.

“40 Days” owes much of its notoriety to the medium. The site itself is spectacularly rendered, thanks to the nearly 100 listed contributors—complete with GIFs and thematically appropriate pop art. The videos stray a little toward the mundane, but there aren’t many of them anyway. And the detail with which Walsh and Goodman chronicle each day they spend together through responses to a series of daily questions is unparalleled.

The actual arc of their relationship, however, is nothing experimental. The two describe themselves with perhaps the most obvious of romantic comedy tics: she’s the hopeless romantic; he’s scared to commit. Reading the blog entries reveals far greater nuance, but the problems they face are not particularly original.

[*SPOILERS AHEAD*] Walsh and Goodman spend the first half of their forty days navigating the uncomfortable space between friendship and romance. Barely a week after Walsh resolves to quit the experiment, the two have sex for the first time and by the time they head down to Disney World on Day 38 for their rules-mandated getaway, the two appear fully committed to each other. But (and stop me if this sounds familiar) by Day 39, things have taken a turn for the disastrous, with both unsure about the future of the relationship. Friday is the 40th and final day. We’ll see if Walsh and Goodman can pull of a last-minute Hollywood ending. A tip of the hat if the story ends with one or both of them running through the Orlando airport and sharing an embrace in the final entry. [*END SPOILERS*]

For critics, this is all staged hokum. Throwing out the Hollywood fantasies and giant cast who helped with the site, there is one more problem. It quickly became apparent that these two weren’t exactly friends engaging in a joint experiment. Rather, they come off like two friends who wanted to date for all the reasons people normally do.

With that, the site and the 40-day marathon of dating have allowed Walsh and Goodman to pull of a neat trick: they’ve harnessed the exact technology that has led many to fret up the future of modern relationships and spun together something that many worry is out of date: an old-fashioned romance.

MORE: Study: Men Want Women to Chip In on Dates, but Are Afraid to Ask

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