by Katie Daniels
Whoever says that college students are satisfied with the campus status quo of ambiguous hookups and casual one night stands missed the spectacle of hundreds of undergrads sprinting from Devlin to Robsham and back again for a chance to get a seat at Kerry Cronin’s annual “Bring Back the Date” talk.
For the past three years, the St. Thomas More Society has invited Cronin, who also teaches in the Perspectives program and leads the Lonergan Center, to speak about dating in a hookup culture.
The club scheduled the talk for the Thursday before Valentine’s Day. But for Cronin, the stories she shared to a lecture hall so full students spilled out into the hallway, have little to do with
the holiday. Her insights into the dating culture instead result from eighteen years of study on how college students handle their romantic lives.
Cronin cited a pivotal conversation she had with eight seniors, only one of whom had been on a date during their four years at Boston College, as the impetus to understand the tenuous web of hookups, friends with benefits, and “things” that BC students have substituted for the rituals of dating. “If what you’re talking about isn’t relevant to [the student’s] lived experience,” Cronin said of her decision to study dating habits, “then you’re not doing Jesuit education.”
She classified students into three groups. The first are the “pseudo-married” couples who she joked, “everyone secretly hates.” She then divided the remaining students into those who are “hooking up” as well as students who are “opting out” of romantic interests altogether, claiming that their busy schedules prevent them from meeting someone.
Cronin disagrees. Over the course of her lecture, which was briefly interrupted by the bomb threat announcement, she clarified that casual dating is not necessarily about romance. Instead, she encouraged students to consider it an act of courage, “where you get to ask somebody to look at you and see who you are, and what you want to reveal to them.” Here, she believes, is where dating differs from hooking up.
After reading thousands of written reflections from students who have gone on “Cronin Dates” inspired by her talk, she says that most agree they “wish dating was an option.” In the absence of dating, students turn to a hookup culture where Cronin says that “You’re supposed to leave your feelings and emotions at the door.”
“But what you see is how absolutely lonely and sad [students] feel after hooking up. The feelings you thought you left at the door weren’t really left at the door.”
To prompt her students to bring back the date, Cronin began requiring an unusual homework assignment: ask someone on a date or flunk her class. She offers guidelines as well. According to Cronin, you must ask someone of legitimate romantic interest out in person and set up a casual “Level 1” date within the next few days, such as a trip to White Mountain. The date itself should not last more than 90 minutes, should take place during the day, and should not involve any alcohol or physical contact besides an “A-frame” hug at the end.
Despite her high standards for a proper date, Cronin says that the true goal of bringing back the date is not learning the rules but rather learning “how to be courageous, to ask someone to see who you are, to ask more of yourself and other people. To be moved by somebody else—it’s what it means to be human.”