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Opinion: The lost art of dating

David Shribman

Meet the dating czar. 

She’s Kerry Cronin, the associate director of the Lonergan Institute, a philosophy and theology research center at Boston College, and she’s concerned about your social skills. 

She doesn’t think you know how to ask someone out on a date. She doesn’t think you know how to behave on a date. She doesn’t think you know the first thing about listening to your date, sharing your own life story and perspectives with your date, showing empathy to your date. She also doesn’t think you know who pays for your date. 

She’s right about all that. She’s right about, well, almost everything. 

The governing assumption that Cronin brings to The Date Debate is that the date is not dated. Dangered, maybe. Embarrassing, often. Difficult, always.

And almost none of the students she encounters at Boston College have dated — dated the way, say, their grandparents dated, which is to say asking someone out, picking someone up, planning a nice outing or evening for someone, paying someone else’s way, getting to know someone else. How quaint. 

“This is a lost social script,” says Cronin, who for two decades has taught in the great-books program at Boston College but might be best known for teaching BC students how to go on a date.

“What’s helpful about teaching people how to date is teaching people social courage, teaching people how to ask someone else who he or she is, listening — and being listened — to.” 

This all started when Cronin was teaching a senior capstone class here on this lovely campus just outside Boston. The topic of friendship came up, and then the topic of the hook-up culture came up, and before long the professor was issuing a challenge to the entire class: Go on a date. 

The students were flabbergasted. 

And then they fussed. They didn’t know when to ask someone on a date. (Anytime.) They didn’t know where to go. (Anywhere.) They didn’t know whom to ask. (Seriously — was that a problem?) 

These were 22-year-olds. In an entire three-and-a-half month period, only one of the 15 seniors mustered the courage to go on a date. 

Eventually the barriers fell, and eventually Cronin became a cult figure on campus, if only because cult provides the first four letters of the word “culture,” and she was all about changing the culture on campus, and for the better. 

“Dating teaches you how to begin to say things that you really mean, which is on the way to being able to make a promise and keep it,” she says.

In recent years, Cronin has taught mostly first-year students, and for them the dating thing is not exactly mandatory. It’s an extra-credit assignment. 

“The best part of the assignment is that they come back and talk about the date,” she says. “They talk about how it felt to make themselves vulnerable, about their fears, about how they chose the person to ask. They talk about how hard it was to take a chance.”

Cronin does not believe in splitting the check. (“You’re treating someone, showing generosity and concern for someone else.”) She does not think that people on a date should look at their iPhones. (“The students are so comfortable behind their screens that the very first rule is that they have to ask their date out in person, not by email or text.”) 

The whole point of this is not so much to acquire a life partner as it is to acquire life skills. Listen for a moment to the Dean of Dating: 

“You learn a lot about yourself when you try to let someone get to know you. You learn a lot about yourself when you try to let someone become a part of your emotional varsity team. It’s important to let someone in and to let someone become part of your emotional landscape. It also teaches you how to put somebody’s needs and desires maybe ahead of your own, in a healthy way.” 

David Shribman is executive editor of the Post-Gazette.