Ever since the New York Times released its first report on Weinstein back in early October of 2017, the news has been flooded with high profile men who’ve been accused of sexual harassment. But the much-needed reckoning (or witch hunt, as some might call it) didn’t stop there. The conversation opened up. People began to grapple with whether you can love someone who’s been accused. They asked whether you can appreciate art created by someone who’s harassed others. They bonded and obsessed over a fictional New Yorker story about bad sex (and the reactions to it), and they wrote countless think pieces about one woman’s questionably consensual but deeply upsetting experience going on a date with Aziz Ansari.
These stories have touched the lives of all women, including those far outside media, entertainments and politics, because they’re so familiar, because we’ve been there too. #MeToo. And for women who are currently dating, or trying to date, the endless tales can be a reminder of the dangers that come with opening yourself up to a stranger—and the stark differences between how men and women approach consent, sex and assault.
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Ahead, eight women reveal how they’re approaching dating in a new, post-Weinstein, #MeToo world (one that likely wouldn’t exist if we weren’t also in a post-Trump world) and what it means to open your relationship up to these difficult, necessary conversations.
“What’s startling for me, post-Weinstein, is how little has changed in the way I date. If anything, it’s reinforced the reasons for why I date men the way I do. After I agree to meet up with a guy who I’ve connected with on an app or chatted up while out with friends, I find myself starting a specific, subliminal routine. I suggest the date spot, somewhere public and familiar and often in my neighborhood. I text a friend about it. I give my date’s name a quick Google to make sure nothing weird pops up in the first page or two of hits. I text a friend about it. I plan the night, line up when I’ll come and go. I text a friend about it. I text when I head out the door. I text when I come back in. It’s not because I want to leave a cell-tower scatterplot of my Friday night plans, but I fear what might happen if I don’t.
I’m not the only one who runs this drill: when going on a date with someone new, every woman I know has a network of friends on the other side of her phone screen. It’s how we’ve been taught to move in this world. When it’s late, walk with a group. When you can’t walk with a group, carry one in your purse. We acknowledge a truth in our quiet routines—that even if we aren’t heading into a hotel with a powerful man, we know better than to go alone.
It feels like we’re all pulling back the layers of that truth, the reasons why women feel so vulnerable with men known and unknown. We know that it doesn’t matter whether we’re in a boardroom or a bar: power is never in our hands equally. It never has been. I’m hopeful that the stories that women have revealed , and the consequences of those revelations, will help us see real change. But until then, I’ll keep my girlfriends with me in my group chat.”
Danielle Prescod, 29, Style Director, BET.com
“I found myself unexpectedly single at the beginning of 2017. This meant that I was thrown back into the dating shark tank as Donald Trump was being sworn in as president. As if finding strangers to fall in love with on the internet wasn’t already a virtual minefield, now, misogyny and racism disguised as patriotism were new lenses through which I had to sort potential suitors.
As a Black woman who is open to dating any race or religion, I felt incredibly vulnerable. I would find myself sitting nearish men in a indistinguishable stream of dimly lit bars. The setting is romantic but all I feel is rage. I’m enraged when a new date (so, a stranger) finds unnecessary reasons to touch me. I’m enraged when they say something inadvertently sexist. I’m enraged when they slut shame other women as a means of complimenting me. And yet, I feel trapped because I have no alternative way to try to get to know someone to become a potential partner.
I don’t just march misogynists into my life. My screening process is intense. I ask a lot of questions and try my best to carefully analyze the photos of anyone I meet. A sampling of inquiries include: What do you do? Where do you live? Where are you from? Who did you vote for? Do you have tree nut allergies? Etc. Still, when I add up all the dates I’ve been on this year, including the good ones, what I remember is: The casual racism, the constant interruptions, the arrogance, the insistence that he knows best about literally anything and everything.
A date recently asked me ‘where I was from’ after telling me I had ‘an exotic look.’ When this kind of nonsense happens I cut it off right at the head. In response to this dude, I just went silent, too angry to even engage. I’ve blocked more guys from more means of communication than I can count over the last 12 months. As for whether I think about dating differently in the wake of #MeToo, I think I handle it the same as I always have, which is with a vague sense of paranoia that men are extremely dangerous.
Believe it or not, I still feel hopeful though. There are tons of relationship examples that I can look to for inspiration. Woke bae is out there somewhere. Plus, I think that the more educated that people become, the more that they can change. I remember things that my own father would say years ago that he would never say now and that’s because he’s got two razor-tongued daughters that continually check him at any opportunity. So maybe it’s about working together. Who really knows what the answer is. I’m just trying not to have a rage blackout at a bar before I’ve gotten through my first cocktail. At the moment, I don’t have a concrete solution for this problem and I also don’t have a boyfriend either.”
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“As our culture has shifted and become slightly less accepting of men who sexually assault people, I have found that I now have zero tolerance for any sort of perpetuation of rape culture. My standards are way higher. For example, I was talking on the phone with the guy I’ve been seeing for a few months. We were talking about Matt Lauer and he said something along the lines of ‘that stuff’s inexcusable, but why didn’t the women come forward years ago when it happened?’ A year ago, I might have let it slide or just made a small comment, especially since we haven’t been seeing each other that long. I may have offered a very brief explanation of the challenges women face when reporting assault and harassment, but then let it go. Instead, he was subjected to a long rant about how such reports often fall on deaf ears, how reporting often creates more conflict in the woman’s life than in the perpetrator’s, how shame is dealt unfairly in such situations. I stopped short of delving into my own experiences—I wanted him to understand this on an intellectual level, not just out of care for me. He listened. I tried not to give him too much credit for simply listening (though in the end it mattered).
Honestly, if he had responded differently, it would have been hard to continue to date him. If he had responded in condescension or acted as if it didn’t matter, that would have been an issue for me. It wouldn’t have mattered so much a year ago. But I expect more now. I expect to be heard. I’m not so quiet now.”
“As the sexual harassment scandals expose society’s blind spots, in turn, my man’s blind spots are coming to light. It’s been sobering, plus an opportunity for deeper communication. It’s taken intense effort to stay with our conversations rather than bolt in fear, frustration, and sadness over feeling misunderstood. For me, these scandals conjure bitter personal memories of sexual harassment, plus painful memories of uncountable times men and society silenced me, explicitly or implicitly.
My frustration’s flip side? Empowerment. In solidarity, I’m finding my voice. As I speak up about these issues for the first time, my boyfriend, in turn, is seeing things in a new light.
When my boyfriend and I began dating over a year ago, and immediately had the most open, intuitive, authentic communication I’ve ever had with a man, we were thrilled. To him, I’m a whole person, my own universe, rather than simply a satellite in his universe—a first for me in a romantic relationship. But recently, I’ve often struggled to maintain composure and openness while explaining things to him that every woman I know understands intuitively: Why didn’t they just say no? Call the police? Alert the media? Why did they continue to engage with their harasser, professionally and personally, even after the awful things he did?
When a man literally holds your life, including your ability to put food on your table, in his hands, the dynamic changes. To me, that’s a given. To my boyfriend, that was debate-able idea.
I have felt deep frustration and yes, anger, perhaps even moreso because my man is one of the good guys. Apparently even good guys have blind spots. In making victims ‘wrong’ by questioning their choices and actions, we perpetrate the cycle of shame and silence. My initial impulse was to avoid making waves with him. To shrink and go silent to protect myself. Yet silence spoke hurtful volumes in my heart. I realized: stay silent, stay part of the problem. So I spoke up, and continue to.
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Yes, we’ve had some uncomfortable arguments. Incrementally, we’re finding deeper respect, mutual vulnerability, and understanding. He may never ‘get’ what so many of us experience. But he’s opening to our stories. My speaking up plays a key role in this. I’ll take temporary discomfort over the pain of silencing myself any day.”
“I’d never told any of my past boyfriends—or dates—that I had been sexually assaulted in college. It had never come up and I had this sense of shame built around the ordeal. I wanted the guys I dated to like me—not to see me as a girl carrying around baggage. Looking back, that’s messed up, right? But, when the Harvey Weinstein news (and the whole slew of men that accusations that followed other men followed suit), things changed for me. I felt really empowered by women approaching the media with their own vulnerable stories, and I felt even more empowered by the women in my life sharing their own stories, particularly with the #MeToo hashtag on social media.
Something in me clicked one night, and I typed up my own personal story for my blog in hopes that it would help me process and move forward… years later. Well, the guy I was just starting to date happened upon the blog (girls aren’t the only ones to cyberstalk pre-date, I suppose)—and he asked me about it. He commended my strength and apologized for his gender. Everything was so sincere, and it no longer felt like baggage. It felt like a part of my life that made me… me (that I definitely could have lived without, for sure). Since that moment, our relationship has progressed and I can now say I’m falling in love with this date. And I attribute part of that to his patience and understanding and sadness around the situation. Who knows if things will work out, but for what its worth, dating in the post-Weinstein era has shown me that vulnerability is key and if a guy condones or diminishes any of your prior sexual assaults or harassments, he’s not worth your time.”
“My reckoning began with the ‘Shitty Media Men’ list. While I never saw the actual list myself, as a woman in the media, I knew of men at all levels who were harassers/assaulters/rapists. I met a man a few months ago who works in the media. I loved that we could relate on work matters, but I knew all too well about the industry’s thinly-veiled secret culture of misogyny. I was quite wary that he, too, would be a ‘shitty media man.’
My litmus test was simple: casually mention scandals in the media and gauge his reaction. Immediately, each time, he condemned each man. He believed the survivors. That made me feel a type of comfort I’d never felt before; I felt safe confiding in him about my own assault when I was 19. While it should’ve been the bare minimum for him to react how he did, it’s become so rare to find a man willing to listen to my story and not ask invasive questions I wasn’t ready to answer or offer refutations about what they would’ve done in that moment.
While it didn’t work out with that person, it was heartening to know that there are men—albeit few and far between, I’m afraid—who are fighting back against the ‘boys’ club’ culture that’s so pervasive within the media.
Straight-up asking a man on a first date what he thinks about Matt Lauer (Charlie Rose, Bill O’Reilly, et al) is weird and awkward, and I don’t necessarily endorse it. But it’s imperative to me to find out his stance on sexual assaults that happen within his orbit. Does he hold these men beyond reproach because he respects their work? Or does he condemn them because he’s a decent human being?
I was naive enough to believe that I’d never have to vet men on such a basic rubric. A man’s proximity to a sexual assault shouldn’t dictate his response. If a man who works in the next cubicle over assaults someone, he should believe the survivor just as much as he would were it a man outside his immediate world.
Because if a man doesn’t believe the assault accusations against men he idolizes whom he’s probably never met, how the hell is he going to believe me and my story?”
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Madison Feller, 24, Assistant Editor, ELLE.com
“I tried to avoid talking about all of the sexual assault news with my partner. It’s been difficult enough to navigate the horrifying, and all too familiar details on my own, and I was worried about where that kind of conversation might go.
But when Louis C.K. made his statement, I got a text. My partner asked me if I had read it. No, I said, not in full. (To be honest, I started it, got exhausted, and exed out of the window.) I finished reading the entire statement when I got another text: ‘Weird to see an actual apology.’ I replied saying that, actually, Louis didn’t apologize. I grew more exhausted. He told me that at least Louis’ actions had never escalated to rape, but he probably wouldn’t be a fan anymore.
I was annoyed. Why didn’t he see this situation the same way I did? Why wasn’t he as angry?
I went pretty silent for the next few days. I wondered if there was a perfect thing to say in light of this kind of news? Was it right to expect it? Am I settling by not having someone who would’ve simply texted me, saying, ‘FUCK THIS’?
I mulled over these questions. I talked to my best friend. She was kind and helpful and reminded me that no one can be a perfect ally. I thought of my dad. The guy who played me Ani DiFranco as a kid and taught me to be financially independent. I thought about the time I asked him why he gives so much money to the NFL when they hire men with records of domestic violence, and he said that he loves to watch the games for the strategy. It wasn’t a good enough reason for me. I could understand why he’d be hesitant to dismiss something that he’s loved for such a long time, but it’s a privilege for people to ignore things like that if it means they get to keep doing what’s comfortable. Of course, I haven’t cast my dad aside as not being good enough to women.
Even through my annoyance, I could see my partner did some of the right things when it mattered. He mentioned that the apology doesn’t change Louis’ actions from being unacceptable. He was willing to listen to what I had to say about it.
No one is a perfect ally. Does it mean we should accept the men in our lives who perpetuate rape culture and degrade women? No. But I can appreciate the men out there who are willing to hear the opinions and the perspectives of women, and then consider their own thoughts and actions. I don’t think any man deserves an award for simply listening, but during a time when it seems so rare, it turns out that it really does make a difference.”
Alyssa Bailey, 27, Associate News Editor, ELLE.com
“Before the Harvey Weinstein allegations broke—and opened the floodgates about the systemic sexual assault and harassment plaguing so many industries—dating in New York City taught me that this was how the world works.
To be safe, you must follow the rules: Don’t leave your drink unattended or accept a drink from man, because he may roofie it. Don’t make eye contact with the guy who catcalls you on the street—he’ll just see it as an invitation to talk to you. Remember that creepy old doorman who tried to ask you out after seeing you pass his building on your way to the gym each morning? You haven’t forgotten how uncomfortable that made you feel, and it’s been months.
But above all, don’t, absolutely don’t go back with a guy to his apartment unless you want to engage in some sort of sexual activity—especially with the guy you only went on two dates with who said you would just watch a movie. It wasn’t just a movie, and he didn’t respect “No” when you gently, but firmly, said it.
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I didn’t know it was sexual assault. I was in my early twenties and thought it was just another twentysomething guy acting like a twentysomething guy, trying to get laid. He didn’t rape me, so I didn’t think it was serious or that anyone else would. I left his place feeling numb and like some life had been drained out of me. But I took the subway home, went jogging the next morning, and life went on. I didn’t talk about it and continued going on dates with different guys. No real damage done, I figured. I’ll just never put myself in that situation again.
Two years later, I was at home around Christmas, telling a longtime guy friend about a friend whose boyfriend had done a similar thing. It was disturbing and seemed wrong, I said. “Alyssa, that’s because it is. He sexually assaulted her,” he said matter of factly.
“Sexual assault? Do we have to use that term? It seems so heavy,” I replied, not wanting think about my own experience.
“Yeah,” he replied firmly. “Because that’s what it is. I’m going to call it what it is.”
“Oh,” I had the sinking feeling he was right. “Then I’ve been sexually assaulted too…”
A little more than a year later, it would finally sink in this wasn’t just happening to me or my friend. I opened my Facebook, saw the “#metoo” hashtag all over my newsfeed, and saw everyone I knew.
“What are the consequences for straight twentysomething guys who assault girls on dates?” I’d ask my friends in the weeks to come. They don’t have power. They don’t have influence yet. They can’t lose their job like Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, or Weinstein. They aren’t likely to be publicly shamed or even privately. And it isn’t like the court system makes it easy to prove even rape. This is how the world works, “and how the fuck am I supposed to date earnestly when this is what we’re dealing with?” I’d ask my friends and myself.
I’m still trying. And it’s a strange place to be in, gutted and disgusted reading every sexual assault headline. With every new story, I feel a little bit of what I felt that night, and rage burns in me that anything worse happened to anyone else. That it has so many times. (And I’m not alone in having that kind of reaction. News like that is psychologically triggering.)
Then I turn off my computer, turn around, and go on a seventh date with one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met off an app. We’re just walking around Brooklyn, and I like him! my heart says. But can I trust him or anyone? He’s a good guy, but aren’t all men monsters?
The guys I’ve been dating recently—the only kind I will date now—are the ones who will do what you’re supposed to: ask for consent always, with anything, each time. I demand it or I won’t see them again. Easy come, easy go; that’s dating app world.
I’ve told all the guys I’ve gone on dates with recently about my assault—how that makes me much more hesitant to do anything physical too fast. They’ve actually been really nice about it. One kissed my hand. Another called me brave. None of them shamed me or accused me of provoking the guy; all acted appalled by it, the way anyone should.”