“What do you do when you’re tired of the prospect of dating?” Jessica Walsh and Timothy Goodman posed this question as the premise of their 40 Days of Dating website, a project which is now over, but leaves in its wake a book deal and movie rights. Their solution to the question? Date each other for forty days.
Both Jessica and Timothy have self-professed relationship issues—him with commitment issues and her with over-commitment issues—and both have found themselves single. The plan is to jump into a full-scale committed relationship, go to couples therapy, and complete a survey at the end of each of the forty days.
In the end, the test-tube relationship didn’t work out. But is that any surprise?
Two million readers followed Jessica and Timothy’s relationship, hoping to make a discovery. To me, however, it seemed like 40 Days of Dating was less like an experiment and more like a train wreck where nobody could look away.
But everyone learns from mistakes—even when they seem to be made intentionally. So to say that I learned nothing from 40 Days of Dating would be a lie. Here's what I took away from the ordeal, despite itself.
1. Do not despair.
“What do you do when you’re tired of the prospect of dating?” Like many single women living in New York city, I have also pondered this question from time to time.
My solutions have sometimes been errant and often unproductive, but—thanks to 40 Days of Dating—I now know never to opt to launch into a full-scale committed relationship with the most readily available man I can snag.
Why? Because that would be desperate. This word is often misapplied to women who are actively searching for Mr. Right. But desperation really means to be in a state of despair. According to Merriam-Webster, desperation is “a state of hopelessness leading to rashness.” Deciding to enter into a committed relationship with a man who has commitment issues definitely qualifies as rash.
It is natural to want to find someone you can share your life with, but it's important not to lose sight of the fact that not just anyone will do.
2. Leave it in the lab.
It looks to me like the 40 Days of Dating experiment was compromised by something called The Hawthorne Effect; a phenomenon in which the subjects of an experiment change their behavior, simply because they are aware they are being studied. Nobody wants to feel like a science project, especially not your date.
Throughout 40 Days of Dating, Jessica and Timothy repeatedly perseverate over the awkwardness of being part of an experiment. Both parties were constantly aware of their flaws and the flaws of the other and were asked to analyze their partner daily.
It’s normal to be eager to know if the person you are dating is a keeper, especially if you are “tired of the prospect of dating," but you have to resist the urge to put your date under the microscope. You can be thoughtful and intentional about getting to know a person without putting them on trial.
3. Take it slow.
It’s easy to get caught-up in the rush of chemistry and hormones. Most love-struck couples overdose on togetherness the first month of dating, treating the relationship like a honeymoon rather than a date. But, especially in the case of those who tend to fall in love quickly or can’t commit (cough, Jessica, cough, cough Timothy), taking it slow is definitely what the doctor orders.
Few therapists would recommend that a man who fears commitment should lock himself into a forty-day relationship with a woman who can’t fall in love fast enough. Likewise, if the hope is to cure Jessica of her tendency to jump in too quickly, how is a forty-day commitment from Day 1 going to cure her of that?
Forcing yourself to slow down and actually date one another in the first month of your relationship will relieve pressure and allow the relationship to grow naturally while still in its incubation period.
4. It shouldn't be that hard—yet.
We all know that relationships are hard and couples therapy is a positive and beneficial step for couples who have committed to one another. But if you need to go to couple’s therapy within the first month of dating, that’s a huge red flag.
The first forty days of dating should be fun, exploratory, and discerning. This is the time that a couple should take to figure out if you are good for one another, before times get hard.
5. Some things are better left unsaid.
It is important to be yourself when starting a relationship, but that doesn’t mean that you should do and say everything you feel.
From their weekly—and rather antagonistic— therapy sessions, to their comments to one another about little pet peeves, Jessica and Timothy held nothing back in the early days of their relationship. As a result, Jessica and Timothy were constantly smiting from tiny dagger blows of truth that could have normally—and healthily—gone unsaid.
Does the person you are dating really need to know that you find a certain hairstyle unattractive? Do they need to know and share in your every bad mood? Probably not. Dating is not an excuse to neglect kindness or hang all our inner commentary out to dry.