A 12-Step Program For Empathy, From The “40 Days Of Dating” Couple

Jessica Walsh and Timothy Goodman have a new blog that documents their year-long resolution to become kinder, more empathetic people.

In 2013, the New York designers Jessica Walsh and Timothy Goodman conducted a now infamous experiment: they dated each other for 40 days and chronicled the process, through daily blog posts, on their 40 Days Of Dating site. The idea was for the two longtime friends to help each other with their respective relationship problems–Walsh a hopeless romantic, Goodman a commitmentphobe–by dating for the supposed time it takes to break a habit.


Despite a polarizing response–some found it romantic, others called it a hoax–the site went viral, garnering a remarkable 300,000 unique visitors a day. In addition to a cult following, the pair got a movie deal from Warner Bros and turned the blog into a book, published last year. Now they’ve returned to their native medium with a new experiment-turned-website, 12 Kinds Of Kindness, which documents their year-long resolution to become kinder, more empathetic people through a series of self-prescribed steps.

Like 40 Days Of Dating, which ended in Walsh and Goodman deciding to just be friends, the experiment started out with a resolution for self-improvement. “Jessie and I were talking about how that project took shape and how we treated each other, and we just kept coming back to one thing: the idea of empathy and kindness and what that means,” Goodman says. Based on programs like Alcoholics Anonymous that are designed to change behaviors, the pair formulated their own 12-step program, which required them to tackle a new challenge each month.

Walsh and Goodman created the steps by finding common axioms and taking them very literally. In an effort to place herself in someone else’s shoes, for example, Walsh tries to understand the motivations of extremely religious people by sampling a few religions herself. At one point during the process, Goodman faces his fears of going bald by shaving off his hair. As the months go on the resolutions get more and more personal, with Goodman embarking on a search for his biological dad and Walsh confronting a past with mental health problems.

That sense of build-up is indicative of what Walsh and Goodman do best together: storytelling that seamlessly works in elements both online and off. Though resolving to be a better person might not pique a voyeuristic internet’s interest quite as much as, say, a relationship confessional, they’re using a lot of the same tactics that made 40 Days so addicting, even for the naysayers. The story will unfold in 12 installments, feeding readers morsels of a larger story not unlike a TV series would. Each step is documented with a series of videos, GIFs, illustrations and pieces of typography, all rendered in Walsh and Goodman’s bold graphic style.

Walsh and Goodman describe themselves as “self-obsessed millennials” and see the project as a way to become more self-aware in an effort to be more empathetic toward others. Though some might see irony in solving that problem with such a public display of introspection, Walsh and Goodman say they also have plans to expand the project to make it more participatory, to be revealed as the project rolls out. “It’s sort of a modern day, non-religious way that any one can attempt to examine their lives and apathy and attempt to become kinder,” says Goodman. As with any good first-person story, the idea is to use the personal to resonate with people universally.


About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.