Prof battles hook-up culture in documentary on modern dating

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With 50 percent of Americans single and fewer people tying the marital knot, it seems more difficult than ever to find that special someone. Welcome to the hook-up culture and hanging out, the demise of traditional dating.

The trend has not gone unnoticed by Kerry Cronin, a professor of philosophy at Boston College. She came up with a creative homework assignment: Students had to ask someone to go on a date with them. It turned out to be a more complicated task than she envisioned.

“The Dating Project,” a documentary recently released on DVD that follows the lives of five single men and women ages 20-40 grappling with the issue of dating, was the brainchild of Cronin who appears throughout the film as she lectures her students about how to date. Wait — there’s an actual process? Who knew?

“They had no idea what a date was,” Cronin says in the film. “The whole concept is no longer being supported in the culture.”

A scene from the movie during one of Cronin’s lectures explains the three levels of dating and gives students specific parameters for each. They have to ask one person they are romantically interested in to go on a date. And not via text message either — the big ask has to be in person. The only physical contact is to be an A-frame hug; no wingman or best friend can come along; and no group dates allowed. It all ends after 90 minutes.

The entire undertaking is stunningly foreign to a generation raised on technology.

Many of the trends Cronin has noticed were predicted 50 years ago by soon-to-be St. Paul VI in his encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” when he foresaw the widespread use of artificial contraception leading to a rise in the loss of respect for women and in general immorality.

Miranda Maciel, 23, who along with Danielle Burr co-hosts the “I Got Issues” podcast produced by the Diocese of Phoenix, said the themes from the film express a different approach to relationships for her generation.

“None of it was brand-new information but it was all so eloquently expressed,” Maciel said. “No one ever said to me, ‘This is how you date.’”

She said she’s used the popular dating apps Tinder and Bumble that appear in the film and that traditional dating can seem intimidating to young people.

Mike Phelan, director of the Office of Marriage and Respect Life for the diocese, said he is aware of the angst regarding dating. The dating apps, he said, are really just short-term loneliness fixes.

“Loneliness is a huge problem,” Phelan said. “Even 20 years ago there were dating expectations that have now completely flat-lined.”

Other cultures have a plan for this, Phelan said, but “in our culture, you just swipe right or swipe left on your phone. You hook up but you don’t really risk anything.”

The unwritten rules of the “hook-up culture” dictate that there should be no commitment and you check your feelings at the door. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out that way.

Cronin said in the film she’s not trying to revert to the 1950s but there are some good things to be salvaged from that era. “The hook-up culture promises you this is the easy, causal thing to do … but if you’re going to make out with somebody, that’s more casual than going for a cup of coffee? They know that doesn’t make sense.”