In early October, the New York Times broke the story of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged decades-long history of sexually harassing and assaulting women. That story eventually helped expose scores more incidents of sexual abuse by powerful men, prompting the #MeToo movement, where (mostly) women used the hashtag to share their own horror stories of harassment, abuse and assault.
Then, in January, a story about Aziz Ansari put the spotlight on misconduct in the context of dating. The piece, published on Babe.net, recounted one woman’s encounter with the actor, and her story was subsequently cast as everything from just a bad date to sexual assault. Despite the varied reactions, there was one clear takeaway: #MeToo has changed the conversation around power dynamics and consent in dating.
But has #MeToo actually changed how people date? How they get intimate? What they talk about on a first date? Here, five women and three men* on how the movement has impacted their love lives.
The woman who went on an awesome date — but heard whispers about him a few days later
I went on a date with a guy I’d known casually for a long time. He was extremely handsome and extremely smart, and we’d had a flirty vibe for a while. We went for a drink and it was lovely. I was impressed by his eloquence — he had intelligent things to say about the role men should play in eliminating societal bias against women and also how to be a good partner. He asked me what I thought, made space for my point of view, and he paid the bill, which I thought was a nice gesture. We left and didn’t make out, but he made it clear he was interested and we made plans to do it again.
A few days later while I was out for lunch with two friends, one of them said she’d heard from multiple people that he had a history of abusing women, like intentionally getting them drunk, or disregarding issues around consent, or worse. I was like, oh s–t, that nips that in the bud.
I have had some dating experiences in the past that have not gone well, so any sense of violence or manipulation or twisted power dynamics is not something I’m interested in at all. If I were younger, I might have made a different decision, and had I not had a really bad experience which made me think about the complexities of power in a relationship, I might have made a different decision. And that’s really unfortunate. On the flip side, it would be unfortunate to miss out on opportunities because people were saying something that wasn’t true — that said, in my experience those whisper networks have always borne out. — Samantha, 32
A recently single guy rethinking whether he deserves his ‘good guy’ card
When the Weinstein stuff happened, I went on a handful of first dates, and it really dominated conversation. Like a lot of guys, I started looking back at past actions and behaviour to try to examine them according to what we are learning now.
It’s pretty easy as a guy to say I’ve never harassed someone below me like that, I’ve never been physical, I’ve never conspired with anyone to do anything like that, I’ve never had a PR agent on retainer. I’m clearly not that guy. You can reflect and ask what does this mean more generally.
But with the Aziz Ansari thing, I’ve been speaking with someone I’ve been dating for awhile now about it — it’s more subtle. I do have to think about times when I’ve maybe ignored signals — not the way he did, but you do have to look back at your own actions. I wonder if anyone I’ve ever been with could say, “Oh, I didn’t like that experience.” It leads to more thought and discussion.
I think before this year, I probably had more of a male feminist certainty about my behaviour, and thinking of myself as this “clean record guy.” Over the last year, I’ve been pushed to think about and rethink some things. — Zach, 33
The divorcee getting back into dating
I have been single for a little over a year. I was dating in the summer, and in September I decided to to take a break. And then #MeToo happened and I was like, I’m really glad I’m not dating right now because there’s no way I can’t ask a date what they thought about it. And if someone said, “I feel like this movement is going too far now,” I would lose my mind and try to get out of there as fast as I could.
Recently I went on a date with someone I know. This is someone I have a long history with, we’ve been friends for years, and there have been additional benefits added to the friend plan in the last year. So while walking home, I asked him what he thought about #MeToo and I instantly thought to myself, Oh my God, why am I doing this?! I’m on my way to my house and he’s totally going to mess up this answer and I’m going to have to sleep with him anyway because I haven’t had sex in six months, but I’m not going to enjoy it as much.
And he said, “You know what, it’s been really eye opening, because the thing I have to remember and the thing I struggle with is that I have to take a step back or give up a seat to make room for women at the table. It’s always challenging when you have to give up something for someone else.” So he answered it pretty well, and I was encouraged by that. — Mariam, 43
The dude whose dates don’t want to talk about #MeToo
I’ve been dating since the Weinstein story dropped in October, and any time I’ve brought it up, which is like three or four times on dates with different women, they’re like, “Let’s talk about something else.” They acknowledge it’s messed up, and I don’t know if it’s bad conversation for a date or what, but it goes nowhere. I wanted to talk about it because it’s something that’s in the news all the time, instead of talking about sports or the NBA All-Star Game, I’d bring it up, like, “Where’s your head at about this?”
I don’t know why these girls don’t want to talk about it — maybe they’ve gone through something, or they’ve had conflict in a conversation about it with somebody else, or they are on a date and just want to have fun.
I’m good with the women I’ve gone out with not being interested in talking about it. Most of us know it’s messed up, however we know it’s been going on for so long that this should have been addressed sooner. It’s like complaining about the rain: it’s raining, we know it’s raining, why are you going to complain about it? What’s that going to do? — Frank, 38
The woman on a first date with a guy who told her about sexual assault charges against him
I went out on a few first dates in the fall, and #MeToo came up pretty naturally in most of those conversations. One guy had a long conversation with me about consent, and eventually revealed that he had been charged for assault, which really changed his understanding of it. He wasn’t convicted and he gave me a run-down of his version of events. Basically he thought he was persuading someone to be intimate, but she obviously did not feel the same way. It was a shock for him to realize that what he thought was persuasion could be interpreted as coercion — but it was a wake-up call. He told me about how the experience changed how he approaches dating and in particular, he now looks for really clear, verbal consent.
I thought it was refreshing to see someone to get this honest with a near stranger, especially since it didn’t paint him in a very flattering light. I think we need more of these kinds of conversations, where men can talk about where they’ve messed up and how they needed to learn and grow. — Tara, 31
The guy who wants to talk more about miscommunication
There are people like Weinstein and other people who are taking advantage of their position of power — even what Louis C.K. did was totally inappropriate. They fall into a particular category. But talking about the Aziz Ansari story, the fact that this situation is even associated with those issues — it’s not correct. You can have miscommunication. Guys need to be more sensitive and women need to communicate when they want to shut it down.
With dating, we’ve all done things we weren’t totally into — this goes for guys too. My perception is that at a certain point if you pull back as a guy, the other person may be hurt. Even if you like the person, you can not be comfortable or feel like it’s going too fast, and that’s also okay. I’ve been in a situation where it shouldn’t have gone there, and felt regret after the fact.
But in this Weinstein/#MeToo era, is it fair for that to be in the same conversation? It’s like there are predatory men who use their power to get off, but then there are also relationships where there’s poor communication, which transfers to the bedroom, and does that mean we get labelled the same way? I have a hard time taking this issue of Weinstein and seeing how it applies to day-to-day dating. — Rajiv, 36
The woman who was annoyed at her date for continually pushing boundaries
I went on a date recently after a six-month break, and I can’t say #MeToo was at the front of my mind during most of the date, but it did come to mind when he came home with me. “Home” was actually a friend’s place where I was crashing for the night. She was asleep and knew I might have someone over, and knowing she was there in the house made me feel more comfortable bringing him back with me.
We started making out, and as things progressed it was clear that he wanted more. I made what I wanted clear by pushing his hands away — but he was persistent. I didn’t feel like I was in danger — it was all kind of in between giggles or me saying “I said stop” in a playful way rather than a forceful way. I ended up going further than I planned, but I didn’t feel like I lost control either. In the moment, I was mostly annoyed that I had to police the situation. It made it way less fun.
After the incident, I feel like #MeToo made me judge him more harshly than I needed to, just because I was using that as a framework rather than how I felt in the moment — which was that I felt fine. But when I put that other lens on it I felt like, no, this isn’t fine. Doesn’t this guy realize that this is a very sensitive topic in our part of the world right now? Why did he think he could push me further than I wanted to go? But I also judged myself: Was what I did okay?
My barometer of what’s okay is thinking about how I’d feel sharing the experience with my friends. If it’s something I’m embarrassed to tell them, I know it’s wrong. I won’t be seeing him again, but if things worked out with this guy I’d feel weird having them know he wasn’t on his best behaviour. But those are things you should be telling your friends because that’s how things add up — when you start saving face for somebody and all of a sudden your friends don’t know about the history of this kind of behaviour, those are the signs of potential future bad behaviour. — Cindy, 32
The gender studies PhD student who just wants to talk about music on a date
The last date I went on was with this guy who seemed pretty nice. We met on Bumble and went out for drinks and dinner. He knew I was doing my PhD in gender studies, and the date felt a little scripted, like he’d done a little bit of homework. He didn’t directly talk about #MeToo as a movement, but I could tell that was he was alluding to it when he wanted to get certain things out of the way, saying stuff like, “I’m a traditionalist, I want to pay for the bill, but if it offends you we can split.” Or telling me little anecdotes, like about how a lady yelled at him for holding the door open the other day. I was like, okay, that’s not really the point.
I think it’s interesting for some guys where it’s the first time they have to talk about consent. Whereas guys who are woke don’t really feel the need to bring it up — when you enter a situation where you need to discuss consent, it happens more naturally. It’s a bit of an indication of who has suddenly woken up to it. But this whole hashtag activism stuff is about being a decent human being — it’s not that radical of an idea. So can we be normal humans and go on a date and talk about music and stuff? — Suhana, 28
*Stories have been edited and condensed for clarity. All names have been changed.
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