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Timothy Goodman and Jessica Walsh decided to date for 40 days to confront their own relationship issues. (Santiago Carrasquilla)
Timothy Goodman and Jessica Walsh decided to date for 40 days to confront their own relationship issues. (Santiago Carrasquilla)

The love experiment: A 40-day dating challenge Add to ...

Two people: one romantic, one commitment-phobe, together as a couple, like it or not, for 40 days.

It sounds like daytime television, or the plot of a new Hollywood rom-com. But it’s a real-life experiment being played out by two New York designers and close friends with a gift for storytelling.

To work through their individual relationship issues, Jessica Walsh (the romantic), 26, partner at design firm Sagmeister and Walsh, and Timothy Goodman (the commitment-phobe), 32, independent designer, illustrator and art director, decided to go through the motions of being in a relationship after years spent chasing love.

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They’d been platonic friends since 2008, often poking fun at each other’s dating habits. While on a trip to Miami late last year – Goodman was seeing several people at the time and Walsh was heartbroken over a breakup – they thought it might be interesting, and possibly therapeutic, to confront their own relationship issues by analyzing their behaviour while dating one another. To their surprise, the love experiment has generated international interest and rumours of movie deals.

There would be rules: the two would have to see each other every day for 40 days, go on three dates a week, see a couples therapist once a week, go on one weekend trip together, not date or sleep with anyone else (they were allowed to sleep with each other, and spoiler alert: they did midway through the 40 days), and fill out a daily questionnaire to be posted online. The end goal was unclear at the beginning; they had a vague hope that each would take something away from the project to use in future relationships. But somewhere in the back of their minds, they also acknowledged the possibility that, at the end of it all, they would be in a serious relationship with each other.

“We knew that our stories weren’t unlike a lot of other people’s stories,” Goodman said. “Life is long and people go through phases and maybe part of what we learn is to forgive ourselves and not be so hard on ourselves.”

Bizarre as it might have sounded, the scheme might not be such a bad idea.

“I think that’s the way we should all do it,” said Nancy Ross, a Toronto-based relationship consultant. “Make friends first and then decide we’re going to figure out how do intimacy. They are intentionally making the decision to see if they ultimately like each other at a really deep, feeling, conscious level.”

Called 40 Days of Dating, the exercise took place from March 20 until April 28 this year, but is being played out online from July 8 through the end of the summer.

It’s much like a modern day version of When Harry Met Sally, except it’s being chronicled online and happening over a shorter period of time.

To populate the website, which is attracting between 200,000 to 300,000 daily visitors, the pair recruited designer friends for graphic illustrations, and took photos of mementoes from the dates: ticket stubs, presents, wrappers. Illustrations that appear in the daily recaps were done by Walsh and Goodman.

The project has grabbed the attention of 20-somethings around the world.

Sarah Hitchings, 25, lives in New Zealand and said she’s been hooked on 40 Days ever since a friend posted a link.

“It’s like a soap opera,” she said. “The dating game is a very complex one and there are a lot of games that are played so to see another person experiencing what we all face all around the world is fascinating.”

“We all literally wake up and look at the blog every morning,” Azita Ardakani, 27, founder of lovesocial.org said. The Vancouver native, who lives in New York, said she sent an e-mail out to her friends when she first ran across 40 Days.

“I can’t remember the last time there was something like this that everyone kind of went to the watering hole and then talked about.”

The ups and downs Goodman and Walsh go through are familiar to readers, who say they find it hard not to root for the couple. They have trouble meeting up because they’re both so involved with work. Their differences lead them to be frustrated with one another. During the first few weeks, Walsh is determined to define what will happen during the course of the 40 days.

Goodman, on the other hand, is not.

“I just want to have fun. I don’t need to define it all,” he writes early on. “Truth is, I probably could date Jessie in ‘real life’ if I didn’t already know too much. I know how quickly she falls for guys, how fast she wants things to go. I have commitment issues as it is, so this scares me.”

At one point, they almost call it off. Walsh is suffering from headaches and says the project adds to the stress in her life. But she gets back into it, and on Day 18, they kiss (and everyone reading cheers).

“It was much harder than I thought it would be,” Goodman said. “It kind of turned our lives upside down for 40 days.”

“The project made me realize to let go and not feel the rush or pressure that I used to,” Walsh said.

The experiment is almost the perfect set up for a movie – When Harry Met Sally 2, perhaps? Goodman and Walsh, who won’t reveal the project’s romantic outcome just yet, are being coy about what else lies ahead.

“A lot of people have been writing us saying that [this would make a good movie],” Goodman said. “A lot of somewhat important people, so that’s pretty exciting, but we’ll see.”

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