How #MeToo Has Changed the Dating Game

We’re living in a time when a new famous name makes headlines each day (literally) for sexual assault or harassment allegations against them – and the list keeps growing.

Frankly, we’re heading towards the point where, though always disappointing, the headlines are no longer shocking; it’s almost a rarity to find a man in a position of significant power who hasn’t been accused of some sort of sexual misconduct. The snowball effect of sexual misconduct allegations is, of course, fuelled by the impossible-to-ignore movements of the past year; the Women’s March, #MeToo, and #TimesUp.

The fiercely resonating #MeToo movement – which put workplace sexual harassment into collective public consciousness like never before – has surely changed workplace behaviour, prompting important conversations and a re-evaluation of office policies. It also hasn’t been without its pushback. It’s infiltrated the workplace in such a way that – as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg pointed out in a post not too long ago – we’re now seeing backlash in the form of men not wanting to make eye contact with female employees and coworkers, never mind be in the same room alone with one of them. It’s even affecting the hiring process, resulting in a preference of males over females (marking a major step in the wrong direction). In short, in conversations I’ve had, men are terrified. After all, one allegation (whether proven true or not) can ruin a reputation and send a career to irreparable shambles (just ask Patrick Brown).

The movements have also changed the dating game in a major way – some aspects of which we have yet to see (i.e. I have a feeling this won’t be the first consent dating app). Highlighting this are the recent Aziz Ansari misconduct allegations, which have inspired a growing dialogue surrounding conduct on dates and in romantic situations. While one New York Times article basically claims that all Aziz is guilty of is not being a mind reader and being a shitty date (and other articles have a similar narrative), some are shaking their heads in disgust at Ansari’s alleged actions. A Washington Post piece said the #MeToo movement was “at a dangerous tipping point” in the wake of the Ansari allegations. And it’s true.

According to the publication Babe – which first published the Ansari story – the young female photographer at the centre of the Ansari case said she felt victimized after a date with Ansari and used “verbal and non-verbal cues” throughout the evening to convey her distress with the unfolding sexual situation that went down at his place post-dinner. Allegedly, Ansari ignored these cues. Ansari’s defence was that he completely misread the situation.

When it comes to dating, I’ve learned that not everyone excels in the body language-reading department. Or the common sense department. A few years back, I was inspired to write a piece on why the merit of being on a date with a woman is never reason to touch her if there is zero indication that such a thing is wanted. It was in reflection of two first dates I had gone on a few years back, long before #MeToo was birthed. On one, my date who sat next to me at a bar felt it was totally fine to put his hand on my leg and rest it there five minutes in; on another, my date wrapped his arms around me at a concert by the second song, despite the I’m-not-into-this vibe I had been giving off. Not too long after, I almost lost a nipple in a fun make-out turned painful when it was pinched so incredibly hard for so long that the shower I took to wash off the scent of his cologne was agonizing as soon as the water hit it.

The thing is, shamefully, I felt too awkward to verbally tell any of them to stop – especially in the case of the nipple violator, as he was a man of power at the time. And no, that’s not something I’m proud of. But that was before #MeToo.

In the wake of the #MeToo social media domination, MTV conducted a survey of 18-25-year-olds to determine their thoughts on how the movement has affected dating. It found that 85 per cent of young people stated that the recent sexual harassment accusations have “started an important conversation,” and that 55 per cent reported that the #MeToo movement had inspired them to have more conversations about sexual harassment and assault.

When it comes to their dating life, men are now anxiously searching their memories – some going back decades – to reassess whether they did anything in the past that could be classified as sexual misconduct. They are lamenting over every sex bruise or scratch mark that accidentally graced the body of their ex-girlfriends, every first move they’ve ever made, and comments or compliments offered on dates. The MTV survey reported that one in three young men reported they could have done something that could have been seen as harassment.

The problem is that there can be a fine line between flirting and foul play in the dating game. When it comes to boundaries, many are pointing out the slippery slopes, grey areas, and – especially in Ansari’s case – the difference between a bad date and sexual misconduct. Or the difference between innocent flirting and sexual harassment during a night out. What may flatter one woman may offend another. For example, a girlfriend of mine loved a compliment about how nice her ass is the other night, while another friend would have turned away, offended.

So, what’s the solution? Perhaps if you’re not sure how a compliment will land (even something as seemingly innocent as complimenting a nice smile), ask if you may pay one first. When dating, conversations can turn to consent issues long before you hit the sheets – or even set foot into one another’s homes. It doesn’t have to be awkward either and can be done over dinner or cocktails as not to kill the mood hours later (understanding, of course, that said consent can be withdrawn at any point). Women – and men, for that matter; we can’t forget it goes both ways –  also need to be more assertive (something many females still struggle with), deliberate, and vocal in expressing discomfort. It’s time.

As passionate lover of love, I will be the first to admit that the never-ending allegations of sexual misconduct has meant that good, old-fashioned passion and romance is taking a major hit at a time when dating is more disconnected than ever. And that sucks. As progressive (and increasingly necessary) as it is, stopping to sign a consent form just doesn’t do it for me. Sorry. Nor is it overly exciting if everything dating and sex-related became female-led because men are just too nervous. I just hope it doesn’t face the same pushback as it does in the workplace, where men are no longer asking women on dates, have stopped making the first move when it comes to a (wanted) passionate first kiss, and become rigid robots in bed. I do, however, hope it serves as a wake-up call to make everyone wiser in the common sense and thinking-before-you-act departments.