Putting the Casual Back in Casual Dating

Putting the Casual Back in Casual Dating May 22, 2014

Boston College students have been signing up for a class on dating, using it as a precommitment device to go on actual dates.  (Extra credit is given to any student who asks out someone s/he is romantically interested in — in person only).

[Professor Kerry] Cronin says this all came together for her during a lecture she gave about the campus hookup culture eight years ago. She says she was nervously anticipating controversial questions about sex and intimacy, but instead one student asked, “How would you ask someone on a date?”

As she began to answer, the questioner became more specific: “Like, the actual words.”

That year, Cronin gave the option of going on a date to students in a seminar she taught to juniors and seniors that examined relationships, spirituality, and personal development.

Only one of the 15 students did. The next semester, she made the assignment mandatory, and some students began choosing the course specifically for that reason, saying they had trouble asking people out on dates on their own….

Her assignment delineates specific boundaries so students know what to expect. The date has to be 45 to 90 minutes long with a person of legitimate romantic interest.

The student has to pay and has to make the invitation not by text or e-mail but in person, which Griffin did at a BU dance recital he attended with a mutual friend. The date cannot involve alcohol, kissing, and sex.

As far as Cronin can tell, the dating script has become rare enough at college (replaced by the sex-first model, in many cases) that asking someone out feels odd at best and bizarrely intense and high-stakes at worst.  Casual coffee dates have become a contradiction in terms.  That helps explain why students feel like they’d benefit from the excuse of a class assignment to go on the sorts of dates they’d actually desire.

I had this problem in college, too.  I’d never dated anyone, and I couldn’t find clear models by observing my friends.  So, in lieu of better options, I wrote a craigslist ad.  I briefly described myself, pointed out that Yale had a lot of free theatre, and asked people with .edu email addresses to suggest a show they’d like to see with me, followed by coffee and conversation.

I got a fair number of obscene (and obscenely detailed) replies, but four people met my criteria, and I went on four dates as a result.  None of them wound up coming to anything (in fact, one gentleman overslept so badly that he missed our meeting–a 2pm matinee!), but I really appreciated the outings.  Plus, seeing a show first, gave us a ready-made topic for conversation.

Except… I was a little unlucky in my choice of shows.  One guy saw Equus with me, which does not lend itself to ever feeling romantic ever again.  Another boy and I saw a show that ended with an incestuous sex act between the protagonist and his disabled sister which was ostensibly going to restore his poetic gifts.  (Really not what I had expected from the Yale Rep’s description of the show as a drama about the immigrant experience).  After that scene, we didn’t even go to coffee, but just both ran away.

If nothing else, going on those dates (and chatting about them frequently) gave my friends a clue that I was ok with being asked on dates (and possibly open to yenta-ing), which I think had some causal relation to ending up with a boyfriend by the end of my sophomore year.  Normalizing casual dates lowers the activation energy required to actually ask someone on one.

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