by Ben Howard
It's no secret to readers of this blog that I'm a bit of a hopeless romantic. I'm a sucker for romantic comedies and I even caught the Bachelorette bug for the last half of one season (Let's all have a moment of silence for Jef with One F). So when my friend Joanna sent me a link to the blog/experiment 40 Days of Dating it took me about five minutes to become completely addicted.
The concept behind the experiment is relatively simple. Two friends, New York-based graphic designers Jessica Walsh and Timothy Goodman, have issues with relationships. In order to sort through these issues they decide to date each other for forty days. They see each other every day, go on three dates a week, and go to see a couples therapist together once a week. At the end of each day they fill out a questionnaire reflecting on what they did that day and what they learned.
So far this probably reads like the pitch for a revamped version of When Harry Met Sally and that's true, sort of. I was initially fascinated by the mere "Will they or won't they" facet of the experiment. I'd read through the questionnaire and try to decide if one of the two was falling for the other, or, hopefully, that they were both falling for each other.
However, as I've continued reading through the days (Day 16 posted today), I've become fixated on a completely different aspect of the experiment. I'm continually fascinated by 40 Days of Dating because it highlights, perhaps inadvertently, how two people can have wildly different responses and interpretations to the same event. When you read the questionnaires, it puts in stark relief how deeply these dueling interpretations of events are shaped by perspective and context.
It's not that Jessica and Timothy have wildly diverging interpretations of events, but they do focus on different aspects and see differing significance in the same tiny situations. For instance, there is the Bread Pudding Incident on Day Ten. Jessica and Timothy attend a Knicks game together and during the evening they buy bread pudding which Tim eats by himself.
In Tim's point of view this is all that occurs. He wanted the pudding and he ate it. However, Jessica sees this incident as something slightly more. She says that "Tim is not very good at sharing." This small event, which Tim views as meaningless, has meaning to Jessica. There are other similarly small incidents like this, as well as larger fights and disagreements which really underline this divide in the way that people view the same reality.
I find this all so interesting because I think it magnifies the importance of communication, and on a grander scale, community in general. Communication is essential to understanding the experience of the other even if we're experiencing the same events. The concept that one view of reality is the objective view, or the true view, is deeply narcissistic and problematic. We need to listen to ourselves and learn from experiences, but we also need to listen closely to those closest to us to learn from theirs.
This is obvious in romantic relationships, but it's also true in wider communal interactions. For instance, there has been so much conversation is recent weeks about issues of race and justice. The easiest way to undermine these conversations, to shut down dialogue, is to assume that the experience of white middle to upper class Americans is the experience of all. It is impossible for us to inhabit the context of another person and experience the world as they do. What we can do, what we must do, is communicate openly and honestly. This means we must listen, but it also means we must share.
It may sound strange to extrapolate from a rom-com style blog experiment to deeper, far more entrenched problems like race relations, but I don't think it's that far of a step. Relationships are the bedrock of our society, whether they be romantic, personal, or civic. Open lines of communication are essential whether you're trying to heal the worlds problems or just date for forty days without killing each other.
*All images are from the website 40 Days of Dating.*
Ben Howard is an accidental iconoclast and generally curious individual living in Nashville, Tennessee. He is also the editor-in-chief of On Pop Theology and an avid fan of waving at strangers for no reason. You can follow him on Twitter @BenHoward87.
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