Book Review – 40 Days of Dating by Timothy Goodman & Jessica Walsh

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Back in the summer of 2013, mine wasn’t the only dating blog making headlines, and 40 Days of Dating was making far more headlines than 30 Dates!

Over in New York, two close friends had decided to stage an experiment, dating for 40 consecutive days, and writing about the experience.  The premise went viral, and  soon the two single designers who conducted the experiment, Timothy Goodman and Jessica Walsh, were appearing everywhere.  Eighteen months later, and the pair are back, with a book about their experiment, and the aftermath.

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Now, I have to admit, two summers ago, I tried to get into 40 Days.  I remember reading the first couple of days of the experiment, but struggling to get into it.  I attributed it to dating overkill.  I was knee-deep in my own dating experiment.  Maybe it wasn’t the right time for me to engage with 40 Days.  And so, when I saw the hype surrounding the new book, I decided to give the project another go.  I’m afraid to say I still wasn’t impressed.  However, this time I was able to pinpoint some of the reasons why 40 Dates of Dating is lost on me.

First off, I’m afraid I really don’t like the daters.  Even in the opening pages, I found myself quickly disliking Jessie and her take on life.  This only amplified as she continues on through the book, becoming more and more preachy about her lifestyle and everything-free hipster eating habits.  I’m not normally one to hipster-bash, but at times the preaching was beyond extreme.  I have friends from all backgrounds, and with all kinds of attitudes to life, and yet I found it hard to relate to Jessie in any way.  By contrast, Timothy seemed more likeable, though he still became rather frustrating as the pages went on, mainly as a result of his increasing obsession with Jessie.  As a result, I didn’t want to share their journey.  I didn’t want them to get together, and even if they did, it just seemed far too fake.  I genuinely ended up forcing myself to carry on reading, and if I hadn’t been writing a book review, I would have given up after just a few days (once again).  In the end, I skim-read much of the second half, basically trying to find a) the days where they had sex, and b) whether they ended up going out in the end.  (SPOILER ALERT – a) yes, b) no.)

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Secondly, the concept is really rather frustrating.  Yes, I of all people know challenges are always contrived, but this went a step further than most.  40 Days is such a short amount of time, and in reality very little of their 40 day experience resembled actual dating.  If they were dating each other, but not in a relationship, they wouldn’t have seen each other every day, or made excuses to meet.   I also found the weekly couples’ therapy a very odd aspect of the experiment, and another aspect which became a bit patronising and preachy.

Thirdly, and this for me was the main point … It all just seemed like one big PR stunt.  The book is beautifully laid out, as was the blog.  But because the blog was created after the experiment, it was all just too pre-planned for me, and seemed to simply be an exercise for the two designers to showcase their artistic talent.  You have to ask yourself why these two really did it.  Because their apparent reasons, to me, don’t make all that much sense.  The 40 Day diary entries are littered with resume-like work references, and it all just seemed rather disingenuous.  Throughout the experiment the pair just happen to give each other several carefully crafted, picture-perfect gifts, all of which highlight their graphic design talents …  Oh … and there seems to be a lot of product placement … namely OKCupid, who are basically the only online dating site the book mentions.

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Additionally, the layout of the book doesn’t work for me.  When I first read the blog, I remember how difficult I found it to read the accounts of each day side by side.  Whilst in theory I love the idea of two parallel stories, it was quite hard to read them, and I would have preferred to read one, followed by the other.  However in the book this is even more frustrating.  The entire blog is presented horizontally across the pages, as opposed to vertically, so creases and page breaks get in the way of several of the images.  Then, the latter section, which deals with life after the blog, is laid out more easily, buuuut …. Jessie’s diary entries are behind those of Tim’s for some reason.  So you already know what’s going to happen, and it almost leaves Jessie’s account redundant, because you know where it’s going. Also, the book has hand-written anecdotes, to add another angle to the blog posts … except they’re not hand written, because both Tim and Jessie’s comments are in the same hand-writing … pedantic, I know, but couldn’t they have used two different hand-writing fonts?!

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Finally, I read the book sitting on the plane back from Iceland this weekend, with the Rugby Boy reading snippets over my shoulder.  Interestingly, I think he hit the nail on the head, when he summed up why he hadn’t taken to it either.  ‘It all just seems too scripted’ he commented, in his normal, brief way.  And it does.  Even before they launched the blog, the pair filmed trailers for it??? The pair knew they had to ‘have sex’ for people to continue reading for 40 days (with one of her design company’s condoms, no less???!!).  They knew there had to be ups and downs.  And they knew there had to be some kind of cliff-hanger at the end.  Obviously if she had been more into him than he was, it would have been too cliche.  So instead, Timothy is the one left pining after Jessie, who handily gets a new boyfriend within minutes of completing the challenge.  #ermreally?(SPOILER ALERT …. She ends up engaged to the new boyfriend very quickly, which also made me wonder if she was actually even single during the challenge … or maybe that’s just me being cynical!)

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So what did I like?  I liked the modern feel of the book.  The use of phone screenshots and email snippets made it feel very blog-like and relevant to 2015.  I also really liked the graphics, and I think it’s a beautiful coffee table book … but I didn’t learn anything from it.  Other than perhaps how frustrating the full hipster stereotype can be!  Something which a number of the reviews of the original blog seem to echo.  Whilst the book has ‘dating’ in the title, don’t buy the book to learn anything about dating.  See it for what it is – a beautiful graphics project with a twist.  Otherwise, taken on face value, the book lacks depth, and despite supposedly over-sharing, lacks any integrity or genuine connection.  Looking deeper, it’s rather preachy (about aspects of life unrelated to dating!) and patronising.  But most importantly … it’s bloody expensive!  There is no paperback version!

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Before you spend £18.99 on it, definitely read their blog online.  That is the first half of the book.  And don’t spend £18.99 just trying to find out if they went out in the end … that answer is also splashed all over the internet … and not all that surprising in the scheme of things!

Miss Twenty-Nine xxx

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