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Legatus Magazine

Cover Story
Brian Fraga | author
Oct 01, 2019
Filed under 5 Minutes With

How youth handle dating, relationships affects maturity into “adulting”


Most college professors may give extra credit for completing optional projects or for participating in class.

Kerry Cronin, a philosophy professor at Boston College, will give her students extra credit for asking someone out on a date.

“Most of the students I give this assignment to are excited, but they’re also terrified because many of them have never asked someone out on a date,” said Cronin, who has become a sort of expert on how young adults today view dating, relationships and sexuality, and how all that has been impacted by technology and lax social mores on most residential college campuses.

Cronin, the associate director of the Lonergan Institute at Boston College and a faculty fellow in BC’s Center for Student Formation, will be sharing her insights into how young people today navigate sex and relationships as a speaker at the 2020 Legatus Summit. She recently spoke with Legatus magazine.

What will you be talking about at the Summit?

What I will probably be sharing for the Legatus audience, since I doubt they need dating advice, is an overview of what I see happening with romance, dating, and relationships among their sons, daughters, and grandkids. I’ll be talking a little bit about how we as older adults can help young adults navigate this strange new relationship landscape.

In what ways has the dating landscape changed?

Starting in the 80s, and continuing through the 90s and early 2000s, there was a loss of a lot of important and helpful social scripts. That loss came along with a time of jettisoning in American culture the social scripts that were seen as limiting and restricting. Well, we ended up throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and leaving young adults without a lot of signposts and cultural milestones for “adulting.” And with the Internet and technologies waiting in the wings to take over our lives, that all became problematic, really fast.

What is the “hookup culture” that has often been written about?

I would define a hookup as any kind of physical or sexual interaction with no intended emotional contact, and no perceived intention of a followup. I would say most students assume that any dating relationship pretty much has to start with a hookup. The attitude is, “Hooking up with somebody is no big deal.” It’s become the dominant social script, and most people are kind of situating themselves relative to this culture.

How do students respond to your dating assignment?

They’re excited, but they wonder, “Why?” Because it’s just not even on their radar. They know it’s something that sounds simple, but they hate feeling vulnerable. And these are good-looking, highly successful, achievement-oriented people, so of course I used that to my advantage. I’ll say, “This is part of adulting. You should be able to do this.”

How do dating apps factor into all this?

Young people will often tell me, “Asking someone out in person is really weird. People think you’re weird when you do that.” They have a certain attitude of, “If I’m on a dating app and I swipe right [meaning you find that person attractive], I’ll find out if that person is also swiping right on me.” But you never find out if that person swiped left on you, as in rejecting you. An app like Tinder will only give you positive feedback, no negative feedback. Standing behind the veil of technology helps you to avoid vulnerability

What lessons do you hope your students will take from the dating assignment?

In all areas of your life — work, studies, most of your friendships — the more effort you put in, the more successful you are. But in the case of romantic relationships, that calculus doesn’t always necessarily work. So students tend to be more terrified of “the ask” than the actual date. But, almost to a person, they’re glad they did it, even if in most cases it doesn’t lead to any big romance.


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