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“The Dating Project,” Hookup Culture, and the Need for Change

May 4, 2018


I just saw The Dating Project with my husband, eleven young adults, and a priest. It’s a great film. It will be available on digital and DVD soon so that more people can share in the conversation that it ignites. Spoilers ahead. 

For those that are unfamiliar, The Dating Project is a documentary from Boston College that was started by a professor who challenges her students to “date old fashioned.” She lays out levels and rules for the dates which are fantastic. The film features this professor and several young adults wading in search of love and fulfillment in the prevalent “hookup culture.” 

There were a few points that struck my heart and which seem to be desires across the board: freedom, communion, and pursuit. 

Pursuit. We desire pursuit. For the feminine genius, it most often is the desire to be pursued with the masculine ingenuity as pursuer. There’s an element of this within the “hookup culture,” but it is devoid of lasting expression or, better yet, an end game. There’s an ease that comes with a “hookup” in a dark corner of a loud party when compared to the daunting task of commitment, vulnerability, and overall effort included with dating. One of the singles in the film said that she wants to “feel special.” And I believe that the same is true for all of us. We desire to feel pursued and to feel loved. 

Communion. “Not every person is made for marriage or for family life but every person is made for relationship.” At the very deepest point most of our desire is for communion. Hans Urs von Balthasar stated that even “the Trinity is three persons for the sake of communion.” As a reflection of the divine economy, our hearts long for communion and relationship. 

Then within true communion lies another desire of the human heart: vulnerability. In fact, communion cannot exist without vulnerability. The best image that we have for vulnerability is Christ crucified on the cross—naked, arms open, bleeding wounds, and a heart full of love. What is at first glance repulsive is the perfect example of vulnerability and the best invitation for communion—a call to our humanity to enter into his divinity. The cross lays before us the “end game”—sainthood and unity with God—through suffering, love, vulnerability, and some would say, trust. 

Then there’s freedom. The world offers us freedom and leaves us with nothing. One of the singles in the video said that he never settles down because he is always expecting “something better to come along.” Isn’t it just like the enemy to offer us an abundance of “choices”? So many choices that choosing seems impossible and we become frozen in our uncertainty. Now we are left with a very mutated view of freedom. 

We are tricked into believing that “freedom” lies in the ability to do what you want, free of consequence and inundated with choices. As St. John Paul II said, “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” 

And the truth is that every choice comes with consequence. If your identity is rooted in the person of Jesus then the logical thing to do would be to choose him. If the glory of God is man fully alive as Irenaeus says, then…isn’t it logical to choose life itself in all that you do? Then this means that there is a right and wrong way to do everything, including dating. 

The hookup culture says that we can give away ourselves in sex and other forms of promiscuity but it fails to mention that the human desire for sex is vastly different than the other human desires. As a society we have reduced this desire down to the same desire for drink when we are thirsty, for sleep when we are tired, and for food when we are hungry. In Dietrich von Hildebrand’s In Defense of Purity he says that sex is peculiarly intimate and a union of body and soul; thus, it is essentially deep. To offer sex as if it were not offers a fragment of an object and results in a fragmented subject. 

At one point in The Dating Project, a student spoke about how he had finally asked the girl that he had liked if she would go on a date with him, and he said (as best as I can remember) that asking her was “better than any hookup he had ever had” or could imagine. 

Our hearts long for a pursuit, for vulnerability, for communion, and for authentic freedom. Where can we find all of that? We can find it in the person of Jesus relentlessly pursing you, naked and bare in the cross, inviting us into communion with him, and giving us the gift of eternal freedom. 

Dating differently, and trusting him even when dating, doesn’t mean complete abandonment of courtship. It does mean practicing temperance, prudence, and the utmost care when in pursuit of the other. These are human hearts we are dealing with and they are fragile. 

See the movie. Dr. Kerry Cronin (the psychology professor from Boston University that catapulted this documentary) gives some beautiful practicality to this discernment in dating. And in the meantime, giving your heart and your whole self to the one who created it is the best place to begin the ultimate love story. He has great things for you. Let’s trust him in that. Let’s date differently. Hope you get to see the movie.

“Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth.” (JRR Tolkein)