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The Dating Deficit And The Decline of Courtship Culture


Catherine Fowler Sample, writer and producer of the award-winning film “The Dating Project.” The film is a new documentary that follows five modern-day singles, age 20 to 40, in their quest to find authentic love and meaningful relationships. They discuss how the dating scene has changed in America over the last one or two generations.

Catherine Sample discusses the dating scene in America

Family Policy Matters
Transcript: The Dating Deficit And The Decline of Courtship Culture

Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. The dating scene in America is dramatically different than it was one or two generations ago. Single americans today often wonder why it’s so hard to meet others, to date, and ultimately to marry in our current culture.

Interestingly, a new documentary follows 5 modern day singles, ages 20 to 40, in their quest to find authentic love and meaningful relationships. The documentary also highlights one Boston College professor’s unique and popular dating assignment that is meant to get her students thinking about and experiencing traditional dating.

We are joined by Catherine Fowler Sample, who is the writer and producer of the award-winning film “The Dating Project,” and we’re excited to speak with her about that film today. Catherine, welcome to Family Policy Matters. It’s great to have you with us on the show.

CATHERINE FOWLER SAMPLE: Thanks for having me, John.

JOHN RUSTIN: Catherine, today’s dating scene has really shifted from the traditional idea of courtship and commitment to one that seems to be more focused on, frankly, hooking up and hanging out. What is the difference in these mindsets and why is this concerning? 

CATHERINE FOWLER SAMPLE: We have experienced a collapse in courtship culture, and we have now what I’d like to call the dating deficit. A deficit is when there’s not enough of something, and we don’t have enough dating going on. And that’s because, as you said, hooking up and hanging out has really usurped that “old fashioned,” so to speak, dating culture. Really, the difference in those mindsets is that courtship and commitment culture really allow for accountability and expectations in relationships. One of the parts of the documentary—the 20-something girl that we followed, she is asking this guy what the relationship is. They’ve gone out around six times and they’ve been dating and she’s like, “I just want to know what you would define this as.” And he says, “Well, we’re dating, but we’re not dating dating.” It was just like one of those moments when people are laughing in the theatre, and everyone got how ridiculous it is, but it’s because we can all relate. There’s that lack of accountability and expectations to be able to expect that, “Okay, this relationship could have a trajectory.” And it doesn’t mean you have to commit in every relationship you enter into. Obviously, if it’s not meant to work out, it’s not meant to work out and that’s important to then move on. That’s one of the big differences is that accountability and expectations are missing in the hangout hook-up culture. And that’s one of the things that we’re striving to restore through The Dating Project.

JOHN RUSTIN: Catherine, what was for you, kind of the “Ah-ha!” moment when you realized that something was really wrong with our current dating culture in which physical intimacy has become more casual, and committed dating relationships have become more rare? And then why did you decide that you were going to try to address this issue with a movie?

CATHERINE FOWLER SAMPLE: I was at a birthday party in Santa Monica, California, and I was one of a dozen girls in attendance, and at one point during the evening I looked around and I realized that every woman there was single. It hit me as strange because each girl was pretty and she was confident and had an impressive professional resume, there was no good reason that any one of the girls couldn’t have been in a relationship. And so that’s really when the idea of a dating deficit hit me, that there’s something going on here, and this party is a microcosm of what’s happening in the dating world, and that there’s not enough dating going on. So, that really sparked an interest in me to get to the heart of what was going on in the world of dating relationships. And so that inspired us to set out to make “The Dating Project.”

JOHN RUSTIN: I know as you were in the process of making “The Dating Project” movie, that you came across Dr. Kerry Cronin, who is a professor at Boston College, who is featured in the movie and talks about the fact that when you ask young people today, many will say they wantto date, but that they really don’t know how. Why is the idea of dating so elusive and confused today?

CATHERINE FOWLER SAMPLE: It is very elusive and confusing. Dr. Kerry Cronin, as you mentioned, is a Boston College professor who assigns her students to go on dates because she saw the social script of hook-up culture had dominated the social script of dating culture. I’d like to define hook-up for everyone so that everyone can be on the same page; hooking up really can mean anything from kissing to actually having sex, and it’s the idea that sex is casual and commitment is casual. And so, something got lost as the generations got older and who knew what dating was. That didn’t transfer to the Millennial generation. It may be because the voice of the media has just been so strong in setting the tone for how people are meeting and finding love. This has created a lot of confusion because the social script of dating was something that everybody knew how to date. And a social script is like manners, unwritten rules of the culture, to know to say please and thank you, to chew with your mouth closed, but no one’s ever writing that down for you, and that’s how it got lost in that it wasn’t being transferred. When we have the social script absent it’s like two musicians trying to duet without being on the same page of music, instead of a symphony you have a cacophony.This can easily be applied to going on a date, if you’re not on the page on what to expect, which is what a social script provides, there’s confusion and embarrassment and unfulfilled expectations, and that’s just in the span of a passing date. So you can only imagine how it magnifies as the relationship progresses. So that’s what we’ve experienced in not having that social script of dating, and that’s what Dr. Kerry Cronin has tried to restore by giving her students a dating assignment.

JOHN RUSTIN: Catherine, tell us about the dating assignment that Dr. Cronin offers at Boston College, and what happened when you followed some of her students for your film?

CATHERINE FOWLER SAMPLE: She realized a decade ago, she was going out with several seniors at Boston College, and they were talking about graduation and what their post-graduation plans were, and it came up as to whether or not anyone was dating or on the verge of getting engaged. All the students were, “No, we’re not even close to being engaged. In fact, we have not been on a date since coming to college.” That really blew her mind because she had been a Boston College student in her former days and it had been a very pro-dating campus and all of that. So after talking more to different students, she started to realize the dominance of the hook-up culture on the college campus. She decided that for her class the next semester, she would assign them to go on a date. And although everyone wanted to, it sounds funny and novel…. But she thought, I’m just going to tell them, as kids, to go out there and go on a date. And everyone wanted to do it. But by the end of the semester, she found none of them had gone on a date, and it was because they didn’t know how. People were asking stuff like, “How do I ask someone out? What are the actual words? Where should we go? Who should pay?” That sort of thing. So, then she decided to create more of a formal assignment that was given during one point in her philosophy class, as kind of a character-building thing. And kids were then given the different rules for what a date should look like. Some of the rules were: It’s 90 minutes; If you ask, you should pay; that sort of thing. Then people felt, after getting those rules—which really was a social script—they felt confident enough to then ask other people out. What we found in the documentary, we went to the college at the time that the assignment was given, which was around Valentine’s Day, and the young men, in particular, that we were following, they were just like on cloud nine. One of them—It was just after he’d asked the girl out, they hadn’t even gone on the date yet, and he was like: This is such an amazing feeling! So much better than anything I could have had while hooking-up! Then the other young man who we followed, he had gone on a date and it was just like going out for a burger for 90 minutes with a girl that he liked. And he said how it was one of the best experiences that he’d ever had. I think it really speaks to our innate desire to connect in a personal way, and really feel affirmed by getting that undivided attention from another person. We’re not really seeing that so much anymore because we’re all on our phones, and we’re all so distracted with so many different things, especially in the technological sphere, that we’re not even slowing down to just say, “Hey, let’s grab a cup of coffee and cut distraction and get to know one another.” That’s the beauty of restoring casual dating and just bringing it back and making it normal again.

JOHN RUSTIN: Wow! That’s so neat to hear about the excitement about it and the experience, once these individuals sort of understood the concept. I think this is something that is not uncommon in our culture today where folks in my generation just sort of take things for granted and expect that everybody understands what dating is about, and that sort of thing. But for a lot of younger people, that’s just not the case. And I think it’s great to have gone through this process to understand that better and to see the positive experiences that I’m sure many of these people have as they go through the class and learn what dating is about and work within the confines of these guidelines that help just two individuals to come together and invest time in each other and enjoy that time together. Catherine, I know that you have your own personal story that’s kind of related to this project as well. Give us a little insight into that, if you would.

CATHERINE FOWLER SAMPLE: My husband and I, we met while I was making “The Dating Project” and it was neat because I found the value of dating outside my interests when I met my husband. I was working in the film industry and I had been dating filmmaker-types with creative backgrounds. And when I met my now-husband, I found out that he was in finance. I initially thought we might be very different since we came from such different industries, but even though he’s more of a numbers guy and I’m more artistic—like he’d prefer to read the Wall Street Journal; I’d rather watch Gone With The Wind—I quickly discovered that it was a superficial difference that didn’t matter. It actually made us a more dynamic couple and we ended up hitting it off in every other area and falling in love and getting married, and we now have a baby. And he’s just the most amazing man I could imagine. So, it was fun to be able to meet my husband while making a dating documentary. I didn’t expect it.

JOHN RUSTIN: Speaking about dating, I know online dating is becoming more and more common these days. But frankly, it still does hold a bit of a stigma in our culture, at least for some. What advice would you offer to those who want to have both a positive and potentially successful experience in the online dating world?

CATHERINE FOWLER SAMPLE: Online dating is now something that’s just a common part of the 21st century dating landscape. I think, especially among Millennials, it’s not really so stigmatized anymore even with the apps and all of that. So it’s like, you can use it well, it just needs to be done wisely. I always say that people should have healthy parameters, and one of those is to take it offline, and recognize you are not supposed to be pen pals. Meet in a safe place, that’s kind of the point of online dating. People are going to meet online because a lot of times they know that people who are there are interested in actually dating. Ironically enough, it’s one of the places that provides that area of a social script, like “Okay, we know that we’re here, interested to date.” Obviously that doesn’t happen in every case. Some apps have more of a hook-up connotation, but it’s an opportunity to meet people that you normally wouldn’t, and just having those realistic expectations, not putting so much pressure on it like it has to work, but it can be a good thing. There was actually a study done by Stanford University recently that said those who are meeting online are actually moving towards marriage faster than people who aren’t. That may be part of that thing that I was talking about, that people know that they are there because they are interested and looking for a meaningful and committed relationship. So, it can be another avenue to meet someone in this day and age.

JOHN RUSTIN: Catherine, this has been an interesting discussion, and I want to give you an opportunity before we leave today to let our listeners know where they can go to learn more about “The Dating Project” movie, and your good work.

CATHERINE FOWLER SAMPLE: The website is: You can find out more information there. You can host a screening at your church or school, and it is available on DVD in stores at Target and Walmart, and for digital HD streaming on

JOHN RUSTIN: Great, and with that Catherine Fowler Sampler, I want to thank you so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters. 

CATHERINE FOWLER SAMPLE: Thank you so much John. God bless you.

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