Can This Professor Save the Lost Art of Dating?

Kerry Cronin - Rules of the 1st Date
Kerry Cronin teaches philosophy at Boston College.

Churchin21stCentury / Screencapture 

Students in Kerry Cronin's philosophy class at Boston College have an unusual way of earning extra credit. They can ask someone out on a date. But it doesn't count if it's a group date or a party hookup. It has to be an honest-to-goodness, real-life date in which neither alcohol nor smartphone apps are used to make things easier. In an era in which kids have grown accustomed to communicating via text and anonymously sharing their feelings via apps, it's no wonder that this assignment is both feared and praised by the students who take her class.

The idea for the “Dating Class” — as it’s often called on campus at Boston College, a private Jesuit Catholic university near downtown Boston — actually came about more than 10 years ago when Cronin was speaking with some of her students about graduation and jobs and what they hoped to accomplish when they left school. In that conversation, Cronin realized that not one of those students had ever been on an actual date. And many were terrified about their prospects for dating once they were out in the real world.

"All of these students were bright, intelligent and extroverted," Cronin said in an interview with The Christian Century. "These were not kids with no game," she added. "In another era, they would have been actively dating, but all of them reported that they had not dated at all while at the college."

Rather, these kids — and many kids in late adolescence across the U.S. — meet romantic interests via the "hookup culture," in which alcohol and/or drugs act as social lubricants and memory erasers that make it less awkward to connect with their peers. But while one of the rules of Cronin's dating assignment states that the askee be a legitimate romantic interest for the asker, the professor says this exercise is less about romance and more about courage. Because ultimately, looking someone in the eye and asking them to have a cup of coffee with you on a Sunday afternoon is more intimate than getting drunk and making out with them on a Friday night.

Looking for the actual words

First date
Cronin added the dating assignment to her curriculum when she realized that students were craving information about how to connect with a romantic interest. (Photo: Voyagerix/Shutterstock)

Cronin is trying to teach kids how to be awkward and vulnerable, how to ask for what they want, and how to deal with rejection without crawling into a corner with a red Solo cup. And she has found that students are actually craving this information. A few years ago when she was giving a talk on the campus hookup culture, one student asked, "How would you ask someone on a date?" Cronin began answering with a theoretical response when the student interrupted and asked for more specifics, "Like, the actual words."

So the rules for Cronin's dating assignment are specific. (She talks about the assignment in the video at the top of the file.) Not only must the askee be a romantic interest, but the asker must request the date in person (not via text, Facebook, Snapchat or voicemail.) The person who does the asking should plan and pay for the date and it should last no longer than 90 minutes.

The point of this date (referred to as a Level I date in Cronin's syllabus) is simply to learn more about the other person and find out if you might want to pursue things further. It should not involve alcohol, drugs or even physical contact other than what Cronin describes as an "A-frame hug."

If the date goes well, Cronin offers tips for pursuing a second and third date, at which point it should be clear whether or not there is a spark of romantic interest for either party. If not, Cronin says it's time to move on. And if that's the case, she offers the following advice in her curriculum:

"Memorize these words: 'It has been really nice to get to know you and I had a good time. But I think I just don’t feel this 'clicking' or heading in a romantic direction.' End of story. No really, don’t say’ll just be digging yourself in beyond that point."

It's a simple script for the complicated world of romance. And one that may help students get to know themselves and each other more effectively than a swipe to the left or right.