Challenging culture

On the one hand, when it comes to trying to get us to spend our money and focus on love and romance during the month of February, advertisers don’t waste any time in attempting to grab our attention. They start gearing up Dec. 26, and that’s no exaggeration. That means that by the time the month actually begins and Valentine’s Day rolls around, we’ve been awash in a sea of red and pink hearts and reminders in the malls, the grocery stores, on TV and radio, that we absolutely must grab the finest chocolate, the most beautiful flowers and the perfect card — or risk looking like the proverbial loser in the romance and love departments.

On the other hand, despite Madison Avenue’s best efforts to convince us that love and romance matter, the world’s idea of love at the same time often is reduced to twisted relationships portrayed through the constant drumbeat of oversexualized images and media messages.

One recent and very glaring example is the latest installment in the “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie series, based on the “mommy porn” books, and released, you guessed it, just in time for Valentine’s Day. No wonder so many are dazed and confused when it comes to relationships.

The numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that half of the country is single and fewer people are committing to marriage. According to the producers of the new documentary “The Dating Project,” the ways folks look for love have changed dramatically. The idea of actually meeting someone at work or in church and then getting to know them gradually through dating for a few months, even longer, is quite frankly a thing of the past. Our virtual world doesn’t help matters any, leaving a lot of folks still looking for love but not knowing quite how to find it beyond their cellphones.

The film from Steve McEveety, well known for his work on “The Passion of the Christ” and “Braveheart,” is an eye-opening examination of the challenges facing singles of all ages as they try, with the help of a popular philosophy professor, to swim upstream against the current hook-up or “pornified” mentality, and get back to the basics.

It all began when Boston College Professor Kerry Cronin started to notice a decreased dating trend among her undergraduate students, students who didn’t know the first thing about relating beyond texting. In addition to dating, one-on-one conversation, she discovered, had also become not only passé but a truly foreign concept.

“And I thought, this is crazy. So, I started asking students to go on what I called ‘traditional dates’ as part of an extra credit assignment,” Cronin said.

Who knew that the extra credit assignment would be such a challenge. But given the hookup culture and the preferred methods of connecting such as texting verses talking, Cronin found that basic social interaction had pretty much disappeared. As a result, “The Dating Project” was born.

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It hits theaters April 17 for a one-night event featuring an exclusive discussion with Cronin. The film follows the professor and five singles ages 20-40 in their search for real relationships and true love. In one particularly moving scene, a college student taking part in the dating project explains how the actual face-to-face meeting he had with a young woman at the campus coffee shop was much better than anything the hookup culture had to offer.

The film is a must-see, and not just for singles hoping to find true love someday. Despite the sobering look at what our culture has wrought, you will walk away seeing, once again, the beauty and truth of Church teaching. We really are made for each other. We just need some clear direction on how to find our way back home. “The Dating Project” is a good place to start.

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and SiriusXM Channel 130.