I met my husband on a dating app. I was 24 and in the throws of “dating.” I put dating in quotation marks because when I say dating, I mean actively putting myself out there at events, parties, bars or at church as single and ready to mingle, but not actually being asked out on real dates and not really understanding why.
I watched my friends go through the same confusing experience—young, smart, beautiful women who wanted meaningful relationships but felt like they couldn’t get past step one: a simple cup of coffee at a cafe with a man who had asked her there. Offers to “hang” were not lacking, and flirty conversations at bars were not hard to find. But rarely, if ever, were we being asked on traditional dates.
Thus is the premise of “The Dating Project,” a documentary that asks a simple question, “Has America forgotten how to date?” The documentary follows five singles who are navigating the world of hookups, busy schedules, text messages and the all-too-common, fear-of-commitment syndrome.
These five singles include Matt and Shanzi, two college students at Boston University; Cecilia, a young, professional; Rasheeda, a Christian woman in her 30s who works 70-hour weeks as a television producer; and Chris, an actor in his 40s who feels that commitment “limits” him.
And at the center of this documentary is quick witted and sharp Boston College philosophy professor, Dr. Kerry Cronin.
Dr. Cronin is set to debunk the “hookup culture” that has seemingly taken the place of dating. What does “hooking up” mean you might ask? Don’t worry—it’s not just you—no one really knows. Is it kissing? “Fooling around” a little? “Full-on intercourse” We can all agree that the term is vague, if that. Hooking up means something different to everyone. And that, as Dr. Cronin explains, is the problem.
“Dating is a social script that is no longer supported by our culture,” she says.
Matt and Shanzi attribute a desire to hookup instead of going on a date to the lack of commitment that comes with casual sex versus the seriousness of a date. It’s true, asking someone out on a date means that you’re admitting that you like them and want to explore the possibility of a romantic relationship with them, a vulnerable place that potentially subjects you to judgment.
But when did having sex with someone you don’t know become more casual than chatting with them over a cup of coffee?
That’s what Dr. Cronin is out to prove wrong. She assigns her classes to a daunting assignment: to ask one person on what she calls “a level one date.” This means that students must ask their potential date face-to-face, they must spend under $10, no physical contact beyond a hug is allowed and the date must not go longer than 90 minutes.
To this college class, the confusion and utter cluelessness over how to ask someone out on a date is eye-opening. How is it possible that a group of college-age students genuinely don’t have the social skills and cultural support to understand the simple concept of asking someone to coffee instead of asking them to make-out in the closet at a frat party?
While Matt, Shanzi and their classmates embark on the terrifying and new concept of dating, “The Dating Project” follows the life of older singles as well.
Cecilia and Rasheeda share similar accounts of feeling used by men who want the physical intimacy of a committed relationship, but don’t want the relationship. Cecilia recalls dating a man she met on Tinder for three to four weeks with no mention of a relationship before asking him, “What they were doing?” His response? “We’re dating but not dating dating.” As you can imagine, that did not clear things up for her. Rasheeda struggles to find a man whose values align with her faith-based ones, and can’t remember the last real date she was one. And Matt, the actor in his 40s, is plagued by a fear of commitment, convinced that there will always be someone better, just a swipe away.
What is the common denominator here? Whether scared of rejection in college or fearful of commitment in your 30s and 40s, traditional dating with the intention of finding a relationship is dying. And that’s scary. But thankfully, there is hope.
It’s easy to say that relationships and sex are no big deal. But they are a big deal, a really big deal—and it’s ok to admit it.
As “The Dating Project” comes to a close, we watch as the nervous college students from Dr. Cronin’s class prepare to pop the question to their potential dates. “I feel really, really good right now,” one young man shares with the camera after successfully asking a girl he’s liked for a while on a date. You can see it in his face: the excitement, vulnerability and nervous anticipation of what’s to come. In reality, asking someone on a date, or getting asked, is invigorating, exciting and incredibly flattering.
So, why do we continue to shy away from it? It might work out, it might not. But dating, real dating, is worth it.
When my now-husband looked me in the eye on our first date and told me that he only dates with the intention of a relationship and potential marriage, I felt a combination of sweet relief and uncomfortable nervousness. I’d been groomed my whole dating life to hear the words, “I’m not looking for anything serious” or, “I’m just looking to hang out and have a good time.” His words were all I had wanted and been waiting to hear. But now, in person, they were overwhelming.
It’s easy to say that relationships and sex are no big deal. But they are a big deal, a really big deal—and it’s ok to admit it. If we all stop pretending that we don’t like the person that we like, if we stop letting fear of rejection dictate our happiness, maybe we can bring dating back. Maybe dating with intention won’t be as scary and uncommon as it’s becoming now.
Throughout the documentary, singles from all age groups refer to “the old days” or “old-school dating” with starry eyes. “I want a boy to pursue me like in the movies,” laughs Shanzi, who admits to not knowing what “being pursued” feels like.
We all want to be pursued, we all want love, we all want to feel special by one, special person—so, as Dr. Cronin simply suggests, just go on a date.
And vow to #DateDifferently.
“The Dating Project” is in theaters for a one-night only showing on April 17, 2018. For tickets and more details, visit www.thedatingprojectmovie.com.
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