Cronin Keeps the Conversation Going
Published: Thursday, February 14, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 14, 2013 02:02
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, professor Kerry Cronin presented a lecture entitled “Dating and Relationships: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Part of the “Be Well” lecture series, in conjunction with the Boston College Office of Health Promotion, the talk sought to provide an overview of the dating culture and state of relationships on campus.
An associate director of the Lonergan Institute and a Philosophy Department Fellow, Cronin is perhaps best known at BC for her talks on dating, relationships, and the hookup culture. Her insights have made her a popular speaker not just at BC, but at other schools as well.
As Cronin explained in her lecture, she considers three general classes of college students’ relationships. “When I talk to students at BC, they find themselves in one of three positions: the pseudo-married couple, those who opt-out, and those hooking up or hanging out.”
Each comes with its own baggage. “People find the pseudo-married couple boring. Another problem is that they find themselves in more intensely than they want to be. They might not be entirely ready for this kind of relationship,” Cronin said. “When you opt out, you’ve got to find something to keep you busy. What you’re really doing is filling up your calendar.”
Cronin finds the third category the most problematic. “I used to call this the ‘hooking up’ category. But talking to students, I’ve realized nobody wants to call it that anymore. Leave it to BC students to come up with a whole new category—if you don’t ‘hook up,’ you ‘hang out.’”
The major drawback to such an informal designation, she explained, is the lack of clarity. “You’re hanging out with people, spending time and getting to know the person. One of the most important rules of the hookup culture is you don’t talk about it when it is happening. In ‘hanging out,’ you’re also not supposed to ask what’s going on”
Added Cronin, “It’s like the Cliff Notes version of actually dating someone.”
What makes such an arrangement appealing, she noted, is the lack of emotional risk. “When you’re hanging out with someone, you’re trying to substitute for dating without the awkwardness or the vulnerability,” she said. By the same token, though, the individuals involved obtain no emotional satisfaction. The phenomenon of “hanging out” only heightens this lack of gratification. “In a hang-out, it rises to the level of expectation, but none of these expectations can be articulated help—not to the person we’re hanging out with, nor ourselves.”
In response to this trend, Cronin challenged the audience to the “dating assignment,” a task she traditionally assigns her classes. “Everyone in this room now has the dating assignment. Here are the rules: it must be a daytime date, with no alcohol,” explained Cronin. “You should ask the person in person. If you ask, you should also pay.”
In spite of all her instruction, Cronin admitted how difficult dating can be. “These are the basic rules, but they take a lot of courage,” she said. “We can laugh about it, but I know what it takes, especially in a culture dominated by hooking up and hanging out. You risk feeling awkward.”
“People get freaked out,” she said. “You’re not asking me to coffee, you’re asking me to two golden retrievers, kids, and a house in the Hamptons. It’s not the fault of the people, it’s the fault of the culture.”
But Cronin emphasized the importance of taking that risk. “Aristotle says you need to know some important things about yourself, and one of these things is what you really want for yourself, what you really desire. Hooking up and hanging out don’t allow for any of these questions.” Furthermore, concerning the dating assignment, “I’ve never had a student tell me that it was a terrible experience or that they wouldn’t do it again.”