09.04.13 8:45 AM ET
Are the 40 Days Duo Really a Couple?
Well into dinner at a candlelit café in New York City’s NoHo neighborhood, Timothy Goodman is angry. “Are you OK?” Jessica Walsh asks her visibly perturbed pseudo-boyfriend and the co-creator of the newly viral blog, 40 Days of Dating. “Just getting tired,” Tim mutters, looking down at the table. “It’s been like two and a half hours of this dinner. I feel like we’re just being monitored like zoo animals.”
It’s a bold statement—but not a ridiculous one. I’ve been observing the duo behind everyone’s new Internet obsession since the moment we sat down. Taking a mental note of things like Tim’s charisma, enormous smile, shiny blond hair, and big appetite, and Jessica’s shyness, striking black bangs, calm demeanor, and goofy laugh.
Conner (my date) and I have been monitoring them for one dinner—but the Internet has been doing it for weeks. Patiently awaiting the project’s grand finale, which—as of today—has finally arrived.
Their blog, at fortydaysofdating.com, chronicles a simple social experiment. Two friends try to unlearn bad-relationship habits by dating each other, exclusively, for 40 days. The project consists of only six rules (journal about it each day, see a couples’ therapist once a week, etc.) and so far, 36 posts. The last four days of the experiment, which they conducted in March and April, will be released September 3 to September 6. “Can they help each other, or will they fall into their same habits? Will they damage their friendship? What if they fall in love?” the duo’s “About” page reads.
Before the big reveal, I decided to test the bounds of their post-experiment lives. “Would you two be interested in a double date?” I wrote to them in an email. “We LOVE this idea,” Tim responded soon after. “But we have to say no spoilers. :)”
Less than a week later on a Tuesday night at 8:15, double dating we go.
To sit and talk to the two of them in real life is, unexpectedly, surreal. Their journal-like entries, which capture the 40 days they dated in incredible detail, have given me the false pretense that we’re friends. I know too much about them before we even sit down. I know that Tim thinks the word “panties” is fantastic, loves cheese puffs, and feels alive when he’s listening to jazz. I know that Jessica takes Ativan to sleep, eats only the ears off of chocolate bunnies, and has kissed exactly 12 people—11 guys and one girl. I know the type of condom they used the first time they had sex and how well they both slept that night.
I knew a lot going in. But after talking with them for hours, I know even more. I know that Tim has joked about Ryan Gosling playing him in the movie version of the story, and that Jessica bringing that up makes him blush. I know that Jessica’s mom is “super hip” and that Tim’s grandparents in Cleveland are, arguably, his biggest fans. I know that Jessica and Tim now get recognized roughly four to five times a week, and that the thought of that still makes them laugh a little.
It’s a project built around their innermost thoughts—but it’s not one they were necessarily planning to share with the world. “I wasn’t convinced we should even publish this,” says Jessica as the dinner begins. The 26-year old, already somewhat known for posing nude next to her business partner, Stefan Sagmeister, is soft-spoken but friendly. “I feel like it wasn’t until we started comparing our first few days of journal entries that we decided it might be interesting,” she continues. While undoubtedly proud of the project, she seems uninterested in the fame that’s come with it. When I ask if signing with CAA (Creative Artists Agency) means she’ll end up starring in the inevitable 40 Days of Dating movie, she’s quick to dismiss the idea. “I don’t want to be an actor.”
Tim, who began his career designing book jackets at Simon & Schuster and now runs his own design studio, seems less bothered by the notoriety they’ve received. After hearing Jessica’s first impression of him earlier in the dinner (“I thought he was in love with himself!”), I’m not surprised to see that he likes the attention. “I’ve always been interested in my own habits, my fears,” he says. “So, the project was a way to explore this?” I ask. “It is self-indulgent,” he admits. “But why is what we did any different than what a filmmaker would do? Or a poet? Or a writer? We put our life into our work.”
Putting your life into your work can get messy. It was this realization that caused many of Tim’s and Jessica’s friends to disapprove of their project from the start. “They were just worried about us getting hurt ... because it would ruin our friendship and make everything weird,” Tim explains. “They thought Jessica was using this project to be in a relationship with me, and I was using this project to sleep with her,” he continues. “We have,” Jessica adds, then corrects herself, “had a really good group of friends.” Why their friends continue to care, now that the project is clearly over, isn’t clear to me. “I can’t explain why they would still be against it,” Jessica says, implying that this has something to do with how it ends. Tim jumps in. “I’ve lost friends … friends who have sided,” he says.
At first, I’d gotten the impression they’re still dating; Conner had gotten the opposite. This talk of friends “taking sides” makes me think they must be broken up (or else there wouldn’t be two sides). But anyone who can feign a relationship for 40 days can surely do it for one meal.
What’s beginning to become clear is how little there is to see. They’re two talented graphic designers who dated for fun and got Internet-famous by accident. “We had no concept of how far this would go,” Tim says. “All the attention was not what we thought. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s just trying to juggle it all right now.”
After The New York Daily News ran a story on the two of them in July, juggling became the name of the game. In a matter of days, their blog went viral, earning the attention not only of America but the world. “It is interesting how we’ve attracted different countries,” Tim says. “So many interview requests from Germany. Every radio, every paper from Germany! " He says with a smile. “Brazil, Canada. Oh, and the Philippines,” Jessica adds, with equal excitement.
While the feedback they’ve received has been largely positive, they haven’t been immune to criticism. When they decided to delay the release of their final four posts, speculation swirled that the talent rep firm CAA, which recently signed them as clients, had paid for the rights. “They don’t even know the ending,” Jessica assures me. “They’re into preserving our integrity.”
As the dinner winds down, I suggest we end with a game. “The squiggle game,” it’s called. Conner’s idea. One person draws a squiggle on a Post-It, the other tries to make it into something real. Jessica and Tim are pros—as I imagined they’d be. She turns random lines into outer space; he transforms a mess of lines into a smoking man. Both of them, oddly, draw naked women.
At one point in the game, Jessica—whose playful nature seems right at home—accidentally scribbles Sharpie on her own forehead. “Oops!” she laughs. Then, instead of wiping it off, draws football lines across her cheeks. “Here, let me do yours,” she says to me, reaching across the table to draw a Frida Kahlo–style Sharpie unibrow on my face. A few squiggles added to Conner’s face and we’re one happy marker-faced family.
Minus Tim, I realize, whose marker-free face looks suddenly upset.
“I feel like you’re angry,” I say point blank. Earlier in the dinner, I’d broached the topic of how some of his blog posts (such as the one in which he admits to dating three women at once) have landed him the label of “misogynistic.” I suspect it’s what is bothering him. “I think it’s funny that people put you in the box,” he says with a tone that implies otherwise. We discuss the idea of misogyny further, and I tell him that I see both sides of this nice guy/mean guy story. “Do you?” he bites back.
His aggression, while a bit vague, is directed at me. I wasn’t sure why at the time. I’m still not. Maybe if enough people tell you you’re an angry misogynist, you become one.
Over dessert, we look through the Post-Its full of squiggly pictures. I comment on the fact that Jessica's and Tim’s are so similar that they almost look drawn by the same artist. Both are silent for a moment, then Jessica jumps in. “I like your work,” she says to Tim. “I love your work,” he responds. “I don’t think there’s a contemporary graphic designer whose work I respect more than yours,” he says with conviction. “You’ve never said that,” she replies, visibly stunned. Tim is positive he’s said it before. Jessica’s even more sure he hasn’t.
Forty days of dating, writing about it, having sex, seeing a couples’ therapist, and there’s a vital thing that’s been left unsaid. Maybe that’s the answer to his dating troubles, I think, on the walk home—or to hers.
Even more likely, I decide, there just isn’t one.