By Darcel Rockett
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A new documentary, “The Dating Project,” follows five singles (20-somethings to 40-somethings) in their quest to find love.
Dating is hard, right? You seek, you don’t find … you keep seeking. Or you seek, find, but it doesn’t end well, and you keep seeking. The scenarios are many, but the long-standing question still remains: Will I ever find that one person who is right for me?
A new documentary, “The Dating Project,” in theaters April 17, to show you’re not alone in your singledom. The film, a one-night Fathom Event follows five singles (20-somethings to 40-somethings) in their quest to find love.
Kerry Cronin, associate director of the Lonergan Institute and philosophy fellow at Boston College, is our guide.
Cronin has gained fame on her campus for assigning students to ask someone out on a date. For 12 years, she has required students to follow certain dating parameters, like asking for a date in person and no physical interaction (except an A-frame hug).
Dates with more than two people aren’t allowed, and the asker should have a plan for the date (asking the other person what to do isn’t allowed). Cronin coaches students on how to date successfully _ she explains what a proper date looks like and how the dates should advance without skipping important steps to cement a foundation for a solid relationship.
“It’s almost like the structure of manners,” Cronin said. “At their best, manners are supposed to let us know how to act and how to work around social awkwardness, but at their worst, manners make people feel excluded and that there’s some secret way that they’re supposed to act that they don’t have access to.
“Dating is the same kind of thing _ at it’s worst, it can make you feel like there are normative ways you’re supposed to act, and if you’re not doing that, you’re excluded, you’re out. So at its worst, it can be a really rigid system that only rewards people who are in certain circumstances, but at it’s best, what it can offer us are ways to navigate social vulnerability and social awkwardness.
“At its best, it can be something where you’re just saying I just want to go get coffee with you. I’m not asking you to marry me.”
The Chicago Tribune talked to Cronin and Megan Harrington, co-writer/producer of “The Dating Project” to find out why a film like this is necessary. The interview has been condensed and edited.
Q: What was the impetus for doing this film now?
Harrington: People aren’t as happy; people are more lonely and kind of just doing what they’re told romance is supposed to be and finding that it’s a little bit empty. What I discovered along the way of doing this film is we are all in control about how we approach this (dating), how we treat others and how we’re allowed to be treated. And if we want more, then we can do that.
If we want to go out on a date, then let’s start dating in a way that professor Cronin lays it out because it takes a lot of pressure off of people. This is the script we’re going off of for this date, and now I don’t have to worry as much about what this is supposed to entail.
Q: In the film, you mention dating apps make it seem relationships aren’t big deals, but they are. Can you expound on that?
Cronin: One thing that hookup culture has done is reduce everything to just hanging out. We never really say to each other or to ourselves what we really mean or what we want. We’re sort of putting our own desires and longings on hold because we’re not supposed to go there, that’s “too serious, that’s too much to ask, it’s too vulnerable, it’s too awkward.” But when we do that, we stop admitting to ourselves how things leave us feeling.
As a person who is interested in philosophy, that’s really problematic because I’m interested in self-knowledge. Hookup culture doesn’t really let us engage fully in real self-knowledge. It asks us to hide things from other people and even from ourselves. I want dating to bring that social script back a little bit, to bring a little bit of social courage back into the dating story.
Q: Why does dating confound so many generations?
Cronin: I think what’s happened since the early ’90s is hookup culture has become such a dominant social script _ first on college and university campuses, but then it really took hold in the wider culture. Hookup culture became so dominant that traditional dating really was pushed aside; I think dating really became a lost social script. I think, for older people, it became a cultural thing rather than a generational thing.
Q: You’ve been teaching this “dating assignment” for over a decade, do you think dating has gotten worse or better?
Cronin: I think it’s gotten a little bit worse in the past two to three years. I have seen a shift that more students are just opting out of the whole thing (dating) altogether _ they’re not dating, they’re not hooking up as much either. But it’s not that they don’t want to. They just can’t see their way forward at all.
I feel really sad about that. I think it has to do with the extended adolescence trend that’s going on, and I think a lot of our really productive conversations about sexual assault are also scaring a lot of people off of dating.
That to me is a conundrum.
Q: Your solution to dating is to date differently, but how is that accomplished?
Cronin: What I want to say to people is dating is something that is really about social courage, and it’s about building skills of being able to really see the person who is sitting across the table from you and trying to reveal parts of yourself in ways that are appropriate, to see dating as a way of relating to people that is not necessarily on the way to a serious relationship.
I would like to bring back an easier, casual dating that doesn’t necessarily involve intense physical intimacy or the possibility of real heartbreak and drama because that’s what scares so many people off of dating. If we can make dating something that’s more fun and not all these high stakes, then maybe traditional dating can make its way back on the scene in a robust way.