National Edition

Getting an 'A' in real-world dating

Published: Tuesday, May 27 2014 6:25 a.m. MDT

Young adults who struggle to know how to date in a culture that endorses a lack of commitment and instant gratification learn how to develop dating and relationship skills in a seminar at Boston University.

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In the age of hookups, hang-outs and digital communication, dating is a skill young adults no longer possess.

At least that's what Kerry Cronin, a professor at Boston University, has found, according to an article in the Boston Globe. She teaches a philosophy class for freshmen and sophomores, and one of the extra credit assignments she gives each year is for her students to take someone on a real date: no alcohol, no kissing, no sex.

Dating, Cronin told the Globe, "has been supplanted on campuses by a hookup culture that can entail anything from kissing to having sex with strangers or acquaintances rather than committed partners."

The courage and civility of asking someone on an official date are values that have been forgotten by today's youths, in Cronin's opinion. Learning the "correct" way to date will help college students move away from a shallow culture of instant gratification and form strong, long-lasting relationships.

However, others feel that the new, less-serious dating culture is just as beneficial to forming relationships. Eliana Dockterman wrote a rebuttal for Time, in which she said, "I’m here to inform that professor that we 20-somethings don’t need help, thank you very much."

Her argument is that meeting someone in a casual group setting like a party allows college students to get to know each other better than a stiff and awkward date.

"The dates are still there," she says, "they just come later — after college kids are sure they’re interested in someone else and that there’s a possibility of a longer commitment. After all, aren’t dates more enjoyable when they’re with someone you already know that you like and are sexually attracted to?"

Cronin disagrees, and explains that you can't really know a person until you spend time alone with them. “In a group, you get to know another person as mediated through the group dynamic,” she says.

Dockterman's article reflects the conflict facing college students, many of whom want a committed relationship, as reported by the Deseret News, but are unwilling or unable to return to the traditional method of dating.

Some students are afraid of vulnerability, some are afraid of awkwardness. "During class discussions, my students often admit to hoping that relationships will simply unfold through hooking up," Andrew Reiner, an English professor at Towson University, wrote in a New York Times article in February.

Reiner recounted a conversation he had with a student: “ ‘After all,' one student said recently, 'nobody wants to have The Talk,' the dreaded confrontation that clarifies romantic hopes and expectations. 'You come off as too needy.’ ”

The students simply don't know how to date and are more comfortable numbing themselves to real feeling in order to have fun in college. Cronin tries to reach out to students with class assignments that will teach them the dating script, and Reiner agrees with that method.

"For this résumé-driven generation, schools would do well to add a grade-based seminar about love. The course could cross many academic disciplines: the biology of intimacy; the multicultural history of courtship; the psychology and sociology of vulnerability," he says.

Emily Hales is an intern on the national team, covering issues facing families in the United States. She is a communications major at Brigham Young University.

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