Home Dating Issues Review of “I Always Think It’s Forever” by Timothy Goodman

Review of “I Always Think It’s Forever” by Timothy Goodman



An infographic, as the term implies, is information made visible. By their very nature, infographics condense data down to essential, component parts. At their best, they are simplifying taxonomies, effective communication at a glance. If you crowd your infographic, viewers will lose themselves, drowning in details. But in stripping away context and nuance, they can also make signal blur into scribble, generic sloganeering standing in for what should be a dynamic story.

Designer, muralist and — from time to time — author Timothy Goodman knows a good deal about what makes for an effective infographic. He’s built a career out of the form, designing and packaging products for brands like Uniqlo, Guess, Samsonite and West Elm. One of his home decor designs, for example, wraps around a mug, proclaiming this basic (and debatable) formula: “Cheap coffee > No coffee.” Many of his designs are cheeky, if solipsistic, like a powder-blue Couronne handbag covered in loose lettering, reading, “I have to feel what I’m feeling to feel alive.” His Keith Haring-inspired murals and billboards can be spotted all over the country, from schools and corporate headquarters to the public spaces in between.

These are not all, to be sure, conventional infographics, though they share a certain flair for distillation and synopsis. Many of Goodman’s art wall statements are akin to word and image clouds, often spuriously audacious pronouncements splayed in big, bold block lettering, with individual words smushed together for maximal effect. “Love is undefeated,” reads his Houston Street mural in New York. “You’re lovable and you’re worthy of love,” avows another.

With “I Always Think It’s Forever: A Love Story Set in Paris as Told By An Unreliable but Earnest Narrator,” Goodman has taken his fervor for statement and design to a new level. Or, rather, he’s shrunk his usually sprawling decrees to 6½-by-8-inch margins, serially assembling them between two hard covers. Can a muralist and product designer infographic his way into telling a compelling love story, from coup de foudre to coeur brisé?

Goodman’s hybrid visual memoir lays out his account of passion and heartbreak over the course of a single year. It opens with his 2019 flight to Paris, a much-needed career break meant for self-discovery and exploration; moves through a brief but intense — and tediously corny — love affair with a Frenchwoman, Aimée (“I felt my heart’s story being rewritten. I saw the vision of our future children”); and eventually takes us through their breakup and its aftermath. All along, our narrator stresses the strength of the strong feelings he is experiencing. To wit: “I have to feel what I’m feeling to feel alive.”

Like many of the products and murals that Goodman designs, the book is an ode to the circulation of neatly repackaged platitudes loosely disguised as products of enlightenment and self-actualization. Indeed, the book is introduced, and framed, as a manual for “earnest” men, which is to say, men with plenty of feelings. In the boilerplate self-help parlance patchworked throughout, he reassures his readers that it is okay, “healthy” even, to put all those feelings on display. The resulting jumble — strings of choppy sentences juxtaposed with single-page colorful mantras and infographics about dating and love songs — is not always coherent. Goodman’s prose most closely resembles the language of ChatGPT: at once familiar and slightly awkward, as if Goodman himself weren’t quite conscious of the things he was writing, and always pointedly inoffensive. The results are predictable if sometimes incomprehensible, a collection of disparate cliches and algorithmic banalities: “I’ve learned about the kind of partner I actually need, about the kind of partner I need to be, and that I should always be striving to see and be seen.”

Early in the work, Goodman tells us he is intrigued by a French word he learned while abroad in France, “dépaysement,” which translates roughly into disorientation. He takes the word to describe “this great feeling of living as a stranger somewhere far away from your memory.” But what his description of this love affair with the French Aimée — she of the Chuck Taylors and “one of the all-time greatest laughs” — evokes is a grand reprise of all the gooey sentiments diffused on Goodman-packaged products and walls everywhere. The story is, in a word, foreseeable, even if it ends before he wants it to (and before they can realize his dreams of, what else, marriage and children — a boy and a girl).

This is not Goodman’s first extensive foray into love as a subject. In 2013, he and fellow designer Jessica Walsh collaborated on what they described as an “experiment,” which played out on a popular online blog called “40 Days of Dating.” The collaborators, who were both single and friends before the experiment began, diligently — and earnestly — attempted to romance one another. In this early project, Goodman described himself as commitment phobic while Walsh purported to fall in love perhaps too easily. In twin online journals they tracked, to a painstaking degree, their recurrent conversations about how the experiment was going and why they thought they would or would not succeed as a couple. (Reader, they did not.)

In his latest work, Goodman seems to have transformed from a commitment-phobe to the one now too easily in love with love. But if the premise of these various projects is to learn more about what love is, the art — and sentiments — fall flat. Infographics, after all, have a variety of functions. They can highlight comparison and contrast, track a process step by step, or map items in relation to one another. But they can’t really capture the messy kinesthetics of attraction, submersion or even disengagement. You can’t convincingly, or movingly, slogan or chatbot your way into, or out of, the disorienting effects of love or loss. The details are too diffuse.

Tahneer Oksman is a writer and scholar. She is an associate professor at Marymount Manhattan College, where she teaches courses in writing, literature and cultural journalism.

I Always Think It’s Forever

A Love Story Set in Paris as Told by an Unreliable but Earnest Narrator

Simon & Schuster. 192 pp. $22

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