'The Dating Project' takes on hook-up culture

Catholic production company Paulist Productions will soon release “The Dating Project,” a documentary that follows five single people as they navigate the changing dating scene in America. The singles featured in the film include two college students, two career women (one just beginning in her career and the other in her 30s) and a man in his 40s. The film is directed by Jonathan Cipiti (visual effects supervisor for “The Drop Box” and “Irreplaceable”), and attempts to show a wide spectrum of ages and experiences single people have today in the dating world.

“Fifty percent of America is single, and the way people seek and find love is radically changing. It can be a very difficult culture for people to experience,” said Chris Donahue, president of Paulist Productions, referring to the present “age of social media, texting, hanging out and hooking up.”

Featured in the production is Professor Kerry Cronin of Boston College, an advocate of traditional dating. She explained, “About eight or nine years ago, I realized that students weren’t dating, and I sort of was finding out things about hook-up culture. And I thought, ‘Well, this is crazy.’ So, I started asking students to go on what I refer to as ‘traditional dates.’”

Young people share insights into what is the often-challenging world of dating and a longing for a more traditional style of dating:

— “Dating in today’s society is cruel.”

— “I don’t really think anyone in our society knows how to date. It is not a skill that our generation really has.”

— “In college, I’d definitely say hooking up is a 100% more common thing than dating.”

— “I wish it could just be old school. He looked at me ... I looked away.”

— “There’s not that gentleman and lady kind of feel to dating.”

— “There’s a ridiculous amount of pressure on people. Mr. Close Enough is out there. Mr. Perfect, he’s nowhere to be found.”

Cipiti explained, “When setting out to make ‘The Dating Project’ our goal was pretty simple, we wanted to give people a platform to talk about dating.  I really think we found that with this film.  This film not only brings up an important conversation, but truly challenges and empowers viewers through making us all look at our own lives, and realizing our own self-worth not only in our dating relationships, but throughout our lives.”

Cronin noted that since the hook-up culture has dominated much of college life, young people do not know how to date. Seemingly easy things, like asking someone out for coffee, become a challenge. People don’t know how to ask someone out, where to go, what to do, what to talk about, what not to talk about and when to initiate physical contact and what kind of contact to have. Hence, her challenge is to put electronic devices aside and relearn basic skills of communication.

Paulist produced the project, Donahue said, because it tries to create films and programming “that uncover God’s presence in the contemporary human experience. And what could be a more human experience than that of falling in love and maintaining a relationship?”

When filming wrapped, Donahue said, he had learned much about the “hook-up culture” of today’s dating world, including that young adults are often uncomfortable talking to each other face-to-face. Instead they often prefer to interact through texting or some other form of social media.

The hook-up culture is a challenge for many young people, he said, “with many people likely to hook up but not go out on a date. People are interested in the immediate gratification.”

He believes that women in a college environment may often be pressured for sex, “doing things at a party after alcohol and drugs that they wouldn’t do in a normal situation.”

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He hopes the movie will lead viewers to approach dating differently. He said, “We leave people with a dating challenge. We suggest that they ask each other out face-to-face, go on dates that cost less than $10 and last less than two hours.” Donahue explained, “People get boring after that.”

Donahue said he’s not against social media. In fact, he’s observed that dating websites that introduce people to one another can be helpful. But still, “We’re just encouraging people to talk.”

Paulist Productions was founded by Father Bud Kieser more than 50 years ago. Its credits include “Romero” (1989), starring Raul Julia, and “Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story” (1996), with Moira Kelly and Martin Sheen.

“The Dating Project” will be released this fall. Producers hope for a limited theatrical run and that groups will host screenings in parishes and on high school and college campuses. For more, visit thedatingprojectmovie.com.

Jim Graves writes from California.