The Rover interviews Professor David O’Connor after second annual Saint Valentine’s Day poster campaign
The Love and Fidelity Network (LFN) is a group based out of Princeton, New Jersey, that seeks to “equip college students with the resources, support, and arguments they need to uphold the institution of marriage, the special role of the family, and sexual integrity within their university communities.” In 2015, LFN began a national poster campaign, dubbed #BringDatingBack, to help students revive a dating culture on college campuses, and this effort was revived again this year.
Notre Dame was among 36 schools participating in the campaign as two student clubs, Students for Child-Oriented Policy and Rodzinka, are affiliated with LFN. According to the LFN website, “This year’s posters focus on specific tips that respond to specific fears students might have about going on a date. Our goal is to assuage student’s concerns by helping them recognize, in a lighthearted way, that going on a date just isn’t that complicated, scary, old-fashioned, or awkward. We want students to learn for themselves that their romantic lives don’t have to be dictated by campus norms; they can step outside the hookup culture box and try a novel way of getting to know someone—by taking them on a date.”
Reflecting on this year’s campaign and the issues it sought to address, the Rover spoke with David O’Connor, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Notre Dame and long-time teacher of the popular course “Ancient Wisdom, Modern Love.”
Irish Rover: Is dating dead? How does dating differ from being in a relationship, and what might the benefits be of bringing it back? If it’s true that dating is “dead,” what are some things you think might be responsible?
David O’Connor: The only person I date is my wife, so I don’t know if “dating is dead” for Notre Dame students. You tell me. I go on dates with her to do fun things, but also so she feels appreciated, and so that my attraction to her feels welcomed. I think of a date as an event, proceeding from an invitation, not just hanging out together. So a date has a structure to it, and in that sense is something “formal,” because it has form. Proposing and accepting a date also acknowledges romantic attraction, which includes sexual attraction; so a date is something serious and playful, in equal measure. One thing that kills dating, of course, is blurring the difference between “acknowledging sexual attraction” and “proposing sexual action.” I think the unstated and blurry social default many people have in their heads is “date equals sex.”
Calming talk about how dating “isn’t that big of a deal” strikes me as rather false. It is a big deal to acknowledge sexual attraction, and the ante to see those cards—inviting someone on a date—is both serious and playful. Adults ante up. But if the ante becomes too high, people start to avoid the game; it’s too big of a deal. Dating speeds up when sex slows down.
Rover: In your experience over the years at Notre Dame, how have students changed with respect to their expectations when it comes to dating and relationships and marriage during their time in school? What factors do you think are most responsible for the increase over time in the age at which people marry? Do you view this trend (delayed marriage) as, in general, a good thing or a bad thing? Is the current campus climate conducive to making college students prepared for marriage?
O’Connor: As students got richer, their anxiety about being ready to marry got greater. I have much more confidence in the students’ moral resources than they have themselves. They are capable of making themselves into spouses. I think many students are delaying their joy and their maturity by delaying marriage. The campus climate doesn’t respect these moral resources in our students, nor does it cultivate them. For better or worse, their marriages will be the moral center of the lives of most adults, not their careers or their Christian volunteerism. I would say the rhetoric of responsible adulthood on campus has these three things completely out of proportion.
Rover: What advice would you give to young people with respect to discerning marriage in a relationship? To what extent should dating or being in a relationship be oriented towards marriage?
O’Connor: All sexual attraction should be oriented toward marriage, so dating will be, too. Time is not short, but it is moving. You don’t have to date only someone you plan to marry. But as soon as you decide this person isn’t someone you would want to marry, stop dating them. As to “discerning marriage,” or for that matter “discerning” a vocation to the priesthood: I believe in decision, not discernment. Students have the moral resources to grow up fast. Wanting to make a life with someone you love, which includes making love with them, is a wonderful way to focus your mind.
Tim Bradley is a senior studying economics and theology. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.