Dating should be revived, doctor orders

“Dating doctor” Kerry Cronin encouraged students to turn to dating — rather than hookups — as a source of intimacy and fulfillment at a Monday talk in St. Thomas More Chapel.

Cronin, a professor of philosophy at Boston College and widely known there as the “dating doctor,” outlined problems with the prevalent college hookup culture in front of about 30 students. Cronin said that students tend to use hookups, which she defined as physical or sexual interaction without intended emotional attachment, as a substitute for intimate relationships. But Cronin argued that the practices of dating and relationships hold greater long-term benefits to students than the hookup.

“What the hookup culture teaches us is disconnect, and not attachment and learning who we really are,” Cronin said.

Cronin said the hookup culture is grounded in student anxiety over graduating without sexual experiences.

Students use hookups to attain the emotional “intensity” of relationships without the intimacy and potential awkwardness of dating. But she said random hookups tend to be unfulfilling and do not help students feel more desirable in the long run.

“It promises a feeling of desirability which it doesn’t deliver on,” Cronin said. “What we crave is real intimacy, but it’s too scary and dangerous and awkward. What [we] substitute it with is intensity.”

Only about 40 percent of students participate in the college hookup culture, Cronin said. These students often gain social status and recognition from their hookup activities, which Cronin said is partly what makes the culture attractive.

Though Cronin said the meaning of “hooking up” is often unclear when used in conversation, she claimed that students on college campuses have a “hookup script” ­— implicit understandings and expectations about how to behave in a hookup situation. Not all hookups are the same, Cronin said, as she elaborated on different types of hookups such as the “friend hookup,” the “mistake hookup” and the “revenge hookup.”

While the reasons behind hookups vary, Cronin said the defining characteristic of all hookups is a lack of intimacy. Students have told her that all hookups follow similar rules, she added, such as that hookup partners should drink equally, know where their shoes are, tell stories of their hookups the next day and remain emotionally detached.

In an effort to combat this culture, Cronin said she has students in one of her philosophy classes at Boston College ask someone on a date for an assignment. Students today struggle with the concept of dating, Cronin said, calling it a lost social skill. She relayed humorous anecdotes about her students’ dating attempts, describing how one panicked male student ended a date with a high-five when he could not figure out what to do.

While Cronin admitted that many dating customs are now old-fashioned, she said college students should still pursue relationships despite the risk of embarrassment. Cronin said the communication involved in dating is the “antidote” to the hookup culture, and helps students both with self-esteem and with figuring out their personal desires.

Jeff Marrs ’13 said he was glad to hear issues of sexual climate and dating discussed, noting that these problems are frequently overlooked.

Grace Hirshorn ’15 said she was struck by Cronin’s emphasis on the courage it takes to ask someone on a date.

“The act of courage is ‘I just want to get to know you better,’” Hirshorn said. “Hopefully many people will take the time to find that courage.”

The event was organized by St. Thomas More as part of Sex Week 2012.

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