You may have heard about it by now: Yahoo News, the Daily Mail, and even Buzzfeed are among the outlets positively aflutter with the news that two young, successful, attractive designers from the Big Apple have embarked on an experiment to date each other for 40 days. That's it? Yes. Two hot designers based in New York City are contractually obligated to date each other for 40 days ("The time it takes to break bad habits," say the love addict and commitment phobe on their website), and they're documenting the whole thing with the designer's version of selfies: text-based illustrations and short films of themselves getting covered in glue. Love it or hate it, people are really, really into it.
Part art project, part quirky reality/romantic comedy, the website features a series of videos showcasing the terms of the arrangement, as well as a daily questionnaire filled out by both participants and illustrated by one of 70+ designers along for the free publicity. It's a feast of color and bold lines that offers plenty of attention for both Jessica Walsh and Timothy Goodman, the guinea pigs of this experiment. However pretty the site is, however, the content reveals all the fretting and overthinking that any new relationship might garner in a diarists' careful recordings. She accuses him of being wishy washy; he says he feels trapped. They both want more but are reluctant to make the first move. Yawn. And yet, I find myself obsessively checking back on the project. I even went to their Facebook and Instagram pages (both of which are bombarded by comments from thousands of fans and hecklers).
What's shocking about this project is that it really isn't shocking at all. "Life is full of experiments," one of the illustrations announces, and it's right. What is dating if not an experiment? And when you look at a dating culture rife in self-analysis - online dating being the most obvious example - how can anyone look at this project and see anything except the inevitability of its existence? For the busy, ambitious, contemporary 20-something who supposedly doesn't have the time (or maybe the skillset) to launch themselves into the dating pool without the help of online algorithms, it seems almost natural to take one of the last frontiers of real-life-prospective partners (the single friend) and subject the whole thing to a contractual public-art project.
But let's start at the basics. Online dating is the well-established answer to contemporary working singletons, reality TV their entertainment of choice. Thanks to our online lives, the fourth wall between mystery and intimacy has long been blown to smithereens. We Google everyone we know and keep tabs on exes and prospective lovers with ease and discretion thanks to our smartphones. We all know someone who found their soulmate online. It's the new norm. But what's fascinating about the Walsh/Goodman project is how thoroughly it straddles the weird line that determines what "real dating" is and isn't anymore. Because as odd as it may seem to manufacture the circumstances under which these two give romance a try, the one thing that makes this entire enterprise no different from even the most traditional form of "dating" is their mutual fear of the whole thing. Make no mistake: animated drawings and cute videos aside, these dudes are scared shitless. Jessica is terrified of not finding "the one"; Timothy is running balls out from commitment - both have no idea how to navigate the rickety bridge that leads from Friend Zone to Bone Zone and possibly to love. And that's what all the hype is about: These design kids, it turns out, are just like us.