There is a story making the rounds about a Boston College professor trying to entice her students to go on dates. The shocker for older generations outside the men’s sphere is that dating is now a dead practice. But what makes the article stand out to me is the way that serial monogamy and casual dating are framed as lost virtues that need to be recovered:
If students don’t learn how to date while they’re in college, while surrounded by thousands of peers all in a similar stage in life, Cronin says, it only gets harder to build those skills after graduation…
Cronin has received all sort of pushback to her dating project – from super-Catholics, from super-feminists and from students who’d rather focus on getting a job than getting a date. Her defense? “Not everybody is called to romantic relationship, not everyone is called to marriage,” Cronin says. “But everybody’s called to relationships — that what it means to be human.”
And that’s what she’s trying to foster. She tells students: “This is mostly not about meeting your soul mate; it’s mostly about social courage and challenging yourself to be a little countercultural, to do something you know you want to do. And to just be okay with being a little awkward, a little vulnerable and asking a little bit of yourself.”
This is a quixotic desire is to take a snapshot of the sexual revolution and freeze the frame there, but it won’t work. The supposed virtues of serial monogamy and casual dating are not in fact virtues at all. Conservatives long for them out of nostalgia, not a real sense of morality. Moreover, what has destroyed our popular conception of the courtship ritual is the massive extension of the period we expect this ritual to take place (both before marriage and after divorce). The longer we stretch the process out, the more ridiculous the seeming formality of the process (with no real rules) becomes to the young people we expect to participate in it. That older generations pine for a bygone era doesn’t make this seem less ridiculous to young people; it makes it seem even more ridiculous.