If you can ask someone out on a date, refrain from physical contact, stay away from alcohol, and pick up the tab for the whole date, you just may get extra credit in one Boston College course.
Professor Kerry Cronin, a philosophy professor in Boston, Massachusetts, and a doctoral candidate at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College, is reminding students there are smart ways to get to know someone — ways that don’t include the ever-present cellphone or the roulette wheel-spin of a Tinder swipe.
Known as the “dating professor,” Cronin offers extra credit to students who invite someone out on a date — and actually go out on that date. She also reflects the struggles young people face today in her new 70-minute documentary, “The Dating Project.”
LifeZette reached Cronin by email about her unorthodox and fascinating assignment.
Question: What are you most hopeful about regarding “The Dating Project”?
Answer: One of the most fun things to happen when I first handed out the dating assignment was not just that 25 students went on a date — but rather, they started handing out the rules of the first date. My students brought the assignment home to their housemates.
Students at Boston College live in apartment-style housing, and live with anywhere from five to seven kids in large apartments. So the best thing was that students started talking to each other about the dating assignment. This was very encouraging; this was meeting a need for them. When you can do something fun like this and make it appealing and something where people are trying [it] together, it makes more of an impact and spreads faster.
I think the same thing will happen with “The Dating Project” movie — people will begin to have conversations about dating, and begin to date differently.
Q: What is the one thing you hope students get out of your extra-credit dating assignment?
A: It’s not about romance. It’s about courage. Dating takes social courage, and we need to teach our young people its virtues. Several years ago I talked to seniors about graduation and a young woman said, “You know, I have grown and flourished in so many ways — intellectually, professionally, personally, and [also] in my capacity for friendship, but the area of dating is the one area of my life where not only have I not progressed, but I am worse off. I’m less courageous, and have not dated anyone.”
Q: Legions of millennials, despite their myriad devices, don’t know how to begin forming lasting relationships with members of the opposite sex beyond “the hookup.” How serious is this?
A: An extended adolescence has spilled outside of college into party culture. The larger culture is not offering help on how to date well, casually, and in a context that is not hypersexualized. The hookup culture started in the 1970s and gained traction in the ’80s, and yet I think during those years the dating “script” persisted.
In the ’90s, the dating script fell away, and the hookup culture dominated. When I talk to young adults, it’s amazing to me how little common sense they have about dating, and how this aggressive hookup culture has taken hold. Ultimately, young people want someone to tell them there is another way.
“We have a lot of [young people] who are 28, 29 and 30 years old but who are 14 in terms of dating.”
Dating asks people to slow down to figure out how to say who they are, and risk rejection and awkwardness. It asks social courage of people — something that needs to be built over time. It also asks people to figure out how to break up with someone else in a kind way if they’re not really interested. It [pushes people] on whether they really mean things. Do they really mean the words they are saying and the things they are doing with their bodies, and the affection they are showing to someone?
People need to learn these things, but when they put them in dark private spheres, they get into tough situations, which we see played out in where we are today.
Q: What should parents be teaching their kids about social interactions that many are not?
A: The older generation can help in two areas. One of the bad things I’ve heard from young adults is that their parents tell them not to date. Parents tell them it’s something to do after they graduate and get a career, but the problem is, we have a lot of [young people] who are 28, 29 and 30 years old but who are 14 in terms of dating.
We need to teach and guide young people in ways to break up. It’s important for young people to know that if someone breaks up with them, they will be fine. There is a lot to be learned about other people and ourselves by dating. For parents to shut that down is counterproductive to helping young people form healthy relationships.
Another way the older generation can help the next generation is to tell their own stories about dating — how they met, and so on. Sometimes parents and grandparents should talk about great relationships that didn’t turn into marriage, and talk about friendship, too.
Elizabeth Economou is a former CNBC staff writer and adjunct professor. Follow her on Twitter.