Date Differently: A Review on The Dating Project
By Guillermo Moreno
February 14, 2021
“When was the last time you went out on a date?” is one among various questions that individuals are asked throughout Pure Flix’s The Dating Project (2018). Directed by Jonathan Cipiti, this documentary tackles the questions surrounding dating and relationships, questions that, at the cultural level, members of the dating pool have stopped asking because of the hook-up culture. The Dating Project follows five singles, including Shanzi and Mat, two freshmen in college, Cecilia, a woman in her mid-twenties, Rasheeda, a woman in her early thirties, and Chris, a man in his forties, as they journey through their love lives with the struggles that come with living in today’s hook-up culture. They approach dating in the midst of the hook-up culture, having to deal with attraction, facing the fears of rejection and commitment, the perennial quest of finding love, and wrestling with what it's all about.
The title of the film is based on an assignment by Dr. Kerry Cronin, a philosophy professor at Boston College, in which students are assigned to go on traditional dates. This consists of several rules including: 1) asking someone in whom one is romantically interested in out on a date (being clear that it is a date); 2) spending no more than $10 dollars on the date (the person who invites has to pay); 3) the date cannot be longer than 90 minutes; 4) the date must be planned; 5) no physical affection beyond an A-frame hug; and 6) and no consumption of drugs or alcohol.
It is an assignment created in response to the hook-up culture on college campuses and society. Instead of expressing clear interest in someone with the intention of pursuing a relationship, people today engage in meaningless hook-ups due to a lack of authentic communication, a fear of rejection, and a fear of commitment. This is an effect due to multiple causes, but a key note is that, upon being interviewed with questions on dating and relationships, people don’t know what it is to date but they know that it’s something from the past. One person described dating as “old-fashioned.” Viewers of the film get insight from the five individuals in the film on the several challenges to modern dating, including social media, the difficulty connecting with like-minded people, working long hours, the fear of rejection and commitment, and society’s endorsement of the sin of lust. Realizing that students were not dating nor knew what it was, and that hooking up is a major cultural issue, Dr. Cronin assigned her students to go on dates as the antidote to hooking up.
Dr. Cronin expressed that the social script of dating is not supported by our culture, due what it means to ask someone out on a date. To paraphrase, Shanzi shared that asking someone out on a date is a much bigger deal than hooking up because the former requires being authentic and intentional. Hooking up is much easier because physical intimacy is shared without any fears of rejection from the other person or having to commit to that individual. Dating, on the other hand, seems like moving too fast towards a serious relationship. Interestingly, if the fear is of being in a serious relationship, that begs the question: why would someone be afraid of being in a serious relationship?
Chris is vocal about this fear due to his experiences in relationships and coming to terms with what it means to be a man. Serious relationships presuppose commitment, which can be viewed as a limitation on our freedom. Broadly speaking, this is a false sense of freedom, in which someone is able to do whatever he or she wants. This notion is one that the hook-up culture does not want to give up. Rasheeda alludes to freedom in a different sense, which is availability, having to put off pursuing relationships for the sake of other priorities (work and success). With so little time, it’s difficult not only to date but also to have meaningful relationships. As Cecilia puts it, it’s hard to find someone with whom one is on the same page.
The film provides clips of others being asked questions about dating and relationships, and some responses include an uncertainty of how to date. The Dating Assignment (the title of Dr. Cronin’s assignment) provides the model for dating, requiring communication and intentionality.
Having shared what the hook-up culture is like on campus, Dr. Cronin’s students, including Mat and Shanzi, later shared their experiences with the dating assignment. They explained the radical difference from how much better dating is than hooking up. The excitement is different. There is clarity. There is relief when someone expresses intentionality towards getting to know someone else. In dating, people get to know one another in a way that is mysteriously more intimate than sexual activity with someone whom one does not know. Or is it mysterious? Getting to know someone for his or her personality is true authenticity, a recipe for intimacy.
Hooking-up, on the other hand, disregards the personality of the individual and sees him or her as a mere means to an end. The other individual then becomes a kind of sexual or emotional outlet. The Dating Project critically displays not merely that this is what the culture is like, but that this is what the culture is; hence the term ‘hook-up culture.’
On top of all that is the pressures of our social lives. Among these culprits are social media and peer pressure. Dr. Cronin instructs her students to ask someone out in person, not via electronic devices. Yet, since social media is inherently part of the culture at this point, meeting people today is seen differently now than before. Doubtless, people still meet in person and pursue relationships. But dating websites and apps in many respects contribute to the culture’s dependence on social media and electronic devices, not to mention the proliferation of the hook-up culture. Of course, online dating is another way to meet people, as Dr. Neil Clark Warren, founder of eHarmony, said in an interview during the film. But the model for dating, including in-person communication and intentionality, is always necessary.
Referring to intentionality, Lori Gottlieb, author of Marry Him, provides the analogy of pursuing jobs and careers. One does not just sit outside an office building, and an HR person comes out and tells the former that the latter is hiring and thus offers a job to the former. In the same way, men and women must be intentional with their relationships, know what they’re looking for in a significant other and in marriage, and strive for it.
These are among the challenges that are expressed prominently by Cecilia, Rasheda, and Chris. They share concerns about interacting with people who they believe are trying to use them (or struggle themselves with using others). It’s difficult being vulnerable when someone could exploit or abuse the former. Furthermore, societal pressures push singles who are seeking authentic relationships to settle or to compromise any values they have of saving sexual intimacy for marriage.
In this sense, chastity is promoted in The Dating Project, for the sake of virtue and for faith. Rasheeda, Chris, and Chris’s mother, who is also interviewed in the film, express faith. Rasheeda is vocal about dedicating herself to God, and Chris’s mother compares and contrasts dating now to what it was like when she was dating. Her experience was similar to the model that Dr. Cronin provides in the dating project: getting to know someone with the intention of pursuing a committed relationship, and being pure in dating relationships. She beautifully described that sacrifice is what keeps a relationship going, and that is what young people do not understand nowadays. This is an allusion to the false sense of freedom, in which people do whatever they want. This shows that, since sacrifice is what keeps a relationship going, that what is lacking in our culture is true freedom: being able to sacrifice.
As Mat, Shanzi, and other college students share their experiences in embarking on the dating assignment, they described how they asked someone out on a date, how their date went, and the motions of it all. Above all, they came to the realization of discovering not only the other’s personality, but theirs as well. The clarity that came with communication and intention shows what persons seek in others and perhaps in themselves, too. One student claimed that asking a girl out felt so good that it trumped any feeling that could come from a hook-up.
Cecilia, Rasheeda, and Chris expressed their challenges of being single in their stages of life. Simply meeting people was among the difficulties that they shared, let alone finding someone with similar values and the same goal of a meaningful relationship. Part of the difficulty comes with romantic interest. Chris points out in the film that when it comes to dating it’s a competitive market. The pressures of hooking-up are certainly present, but these individuals express their will and faith. Amidst the hook-up culture, they strive for purposeful dating and meaningful relationships, sharing their experiences of meeting people and of dates that they have throughout the progression of the film.
Dr. Cronin addresses that in our culture relationships and sex are not seen as a big deal, but in reality, they are the big deal. With the concept of dating, The Dating Project demonstrates that the hook-up culture can be transformed into a culture of dating, just as the culture of death can be transformed into a culture of life. The film concluded with follow-ups of the love lives of the five interviewees, in which they either continue dating, have found relationships, or even have gotten engaged. It also concluded with a praiseworthy solution to dating and relationships that Dr. Cronin gives to the film’s viewers, one that is best to be disclosed at the end of watching the movie itself.
Having watched The Dating Project in theaters, it was surprising how good a film it was. It was good because it hones in on the real experiences that singles have had when it comes to our love lives. It focuses on our desires and needs, our guilt and our shame, and on our common hope for love and for happiness. As The Dating Project says in its website, it is a movie for every single person.
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