this is how me too has changed dating for our generation
“Nobody said this was going to be easy, but it’s a reckoning and it’s still coming. We’ve only just seen the start of it.”
Scrolling through the news online at work last year, Lucy was struck by something that resonated with her. It was a report breaking the story of sexual misconduct allegations in Hollywood, and what she was witnessing was the genesis and spectacular unfolding of the #MeToo movement’s reawakening, after it was started years ago by Tarana Burke. It would influence the course of Lucy's life where love is concerned, and alter the way she reflects on her past -- especially one harrowing experience in particular.
Rewind three years and Lucy, who’s now 30 and head of buying for a publishing company in Manchester, was the victim of a heinous sexual assault during a Tinder date that left her physically hurt and psychologically traumatised. “I felt so disgusting,” she says. “It affected me a lot.”
She remembers never giving consent on that night, but for years questioned if she was partly responsible for what happened to her, and would sometimes downplay the gravity of the incident in her mind. “I genuinely didn’t know if I had given him the right to do that, whether I’d invited that in, given the wrong impression,” she explains. “Now, with #MeToo, I can look back with honesty and say I did not give consent for that.”
Unsurprisingly, the profoundly distressing experience shaped the way Lucy, who’s been single for five years, approached dating and she became extremely wary of men. But things have changed.
The surfacing of accusations in October last year that ultimately led to the felling of film industry titan Harvey Weinstein, who was charged last week (May 25) with rape, a criminal sex act, sexual abuse and sexual misconduct in cases involving two women, inspired a watershed. It heralded a new era in which men’s behaviour -- both past and present -- around women was called into question.
The number of women coming forward to share the painful truths they’d had to live with for years multiplied by the day. The deluge of searing revelations became too strong to contain. Beyond the bounds of Hollywood, the #MeToo hashtag was shared virally as the aftershocks of sexual misconduct allegations reverberated through spheres as diverse as pornography and politics to become a vehicle through which women’s voices could finally be heard.
Women speaking out en masse about sexual misconduct, being taken seriously and not being blamed for the abuse of men has been extraordinarily empowering. It has for many, not least Lucy, shifted the way in which relationships and the dating landscape are navigated.
“Because of what happened to me, I’ve always been quite guarded, but the new clarity on what is defined as consent has made me more comfortable,” says Lucy, who’s now dating guys she meets on apps. “I’m more able to say what I want, I’ve got more power to say ‘no’, to shut things down. The movement has given me a voice and allowed me to own my dating decisions.”
Someone who also takes “less crap” now when dating and feels that same sense of shared experience is 28-year-old half French, half Cameroonian Sarah. For the newly single bartender living in Sydney, Me Too features a facet that had been absent from earlier feminist movements. Seeing such a potent statement coming from a woman of colour – African-American social activist Tarana Burke first used the phrase "me too" to create an “empowerment through empathy” drive for sexual abuse survivors in 2006 -- made her realise her voice was finally being heeded. It’s had a powerful impact and she expects the changes in her sense of self will filter through to her love life.
“Me Too untangled something for women of colour,” says Sarah, who has been with both boys and girls romantically but is dating boys she meets in bars and through friends at the moment. “We’re so much more visible right now and I have felt more empowered in the last two years than I have throughout my entire life. I love myself more and appreciate myself more since, and that will impact on the relationship I’ll have with the person I’ll end up with. It’s been great for the love I have towards myself.”
Women adopting a bolder approach to dating certainly hasn’t rung the death knell for no-strings-attached-consensual sex, as some critics would have you believe. Instead, Lucy feels more in control in this regard. “I know how to ask and I can separate it from what happened to me before,” she says. “I know I asked for one and didn’t ask for the other.”
"Lucy says she is noticing more profiles on Tinder and Bumble including statements that explicitly declare respect for women and clarify the person understands what constitutes consent."
Meanwhile, Harriet, a media professional from London who’s not had a serious relationship for four years, recently tried naked speed dating. She approached it almost as a social experiment because she thought it would be “sleazy, exploitative and anachronistic”. But it wasn’t as she expected.
“It was the complete opposite of what I thought it would be,” says the 26-year-old, who’s been seeing people non-exclusively and dating casually. “It turned out to be one of the most liberating celebrations of genuine equality. I think everyone should do it. It subverts the whole women as pursued and men as pursuer model of dating that we’re still in.”
Although Me Too founder Burke has highlighted that the movement is about women and survivors of sexual violence and not perpetrators, the atmosphere is having a palpable effect on the way some men approach dating. Lucy says she is noticing more profiles on Tinder and Bumble including statements that explicitly declare respect for women and clarify the person understands what constitutes consent.
This, she says, makes dating feel safer. “Putting something like that in your bio, it immediately tells me you’ve got an extra layer. It makes me not want to switch off and it makes someone far more approachable and attractive.”
Thomas, 26, is freshly entering the world of dating in the wake of Me Too after a five-year relationship. He says the movement has compelled men to question more and reflect on past encounters with new eyes.
“I remember asking my girlfriend at the time if there were any occasions where we were going to have sex and it was a bit more one-sided in terms of consent,” says the civil servant from Bristol. “Thankfully she said no, but it put pressure on me to think back and reassess my interactions with people. For me, as a man, that’s a major point to take away from Me Too.”
Thomas refuses to use dating apps – he thinks Tinder should have been called out with the resurgence of the movement because it “reinforces nasty parts of patriarchy” -- but is hoping to meet people organically in social situations. When that happens he says he’s going to be extra aware of physical boundaries and believes it’s more important for women to be in control. “I’m not going to immediately hug someone because I don’t know if they’re cool with that. I don’t want to take these things for granted.”
Ned, who’s 27 and a musician from London, came out of a relationship at the beginning of the year. He’s been dating a lot recently and, similar to Thomas, says he’s now more mindful about people’s feelings. He’s looking for even the smallest of social cues to determine how to act in romantic situations. “I’ve never enjoyed putting pressure on people, I’m quite the opposite, but even more so now I’m just really, really careful to consider how someone might be feeling.” He’s pleased Me Too has put greater emphasis on the meaning of consent.
So too is 26-year-old Stanley, also from London and a music producer, engineer and composer, who says he is open to explicit conversations about consent and being exact in the terminology used. He’s been single for about six months and likes being set up by friends because “it tends to be a positive experience”, but doesn’t go on as many dates as he used to. He says he comes from “a place of hope for better relationships between everybody”.
He acknowledges he’s matured in recent years as he became acutely aware of what is right and acceptable. “Some of the things people describe about the male condition are true,” he says. “As much as anyone would like to think they aren’t, they’re there. And if I’m being perfectly honest it’s something I’ve extirpated from my character.”
Harriet sympathises, to a certain extent, with men who now have to be hyperaware, but says an attitude change was long overdue. “Women have had to be vigilant for millennia. We’ve had to be nervous and fearful. So I know it sucks for some guys, but welcome to the fucking party.”
She believes though that the shifting world in which people are discovering love and fun is on the cusp of an even greater revolution. “It was never going to come without pain, there’s too much water under the bridge, too many sexual assaults covered up and too many people with past experiences that they’re now having to offer up,” she says. “Nobody said this was going to be easy, but it’s a reckoning and it’s still coming. We’ve only just seen the start of it. Exciting times are ahead.”