‘Are you sure you want another drink?’ This was the fourth time my date had asked me that question. I’d said yes the past three times, and I did so again, though this time I was less sure about my decision. ‘Good,’ he said, looking at me earnestly across the table. ‘I just want to check I’m not forcing you into anything you don’t want to do.’
My date was a 34-year-old I’d met on Tinder, and this was our first (and last) date. While I’d initially appreciated his consideration, by the end of the night, I was just confused. Why did he think he was forcing me? Did he not think I was capable of making a decision? I’d only had a couple of glasses of wine.
Things only became clear when I asked him outright what was going on. ‘I don’t think a man should ever assume a woman’s consent,’ he shrugged. ‘It’s important to ask. I mean, look at Me Too.’
The Me Too movement began in October 2017 when stories of sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood were gaining more and more traction. This came 10 days after the New York Times ran a story detailing numerous stories of sexual harassment against movie producer Harvey Weinstein The actress and activist Alyssa Milano asked people in different industries across the world to join in and share stories of sexual harassment with the hashtag #MeToo.
Since then it has been used millions of times, and the name Me Too is now a synonym for the rapidly growing movement towards true equality between the gender, as well as a movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault. It has reached celebrities, governments and businesses across the world, not least the media who write about it daily.
And inevitably, such a seismic shift in our attitude to, and how we talk about gender relations is going to have a huge impact on dating and relationships – how could it not?
‘I’d say it’s something that 60% of my clients ask me about,’ says dating coach Johnny Cassell. ‘It’s a fantastic awareness campaign and we should be aware of the concerns of how women feel. But it is having an effect on the dating scene. ‘My male clients fear approaching a woman to flirt because they don’t want to be labelled as someone who is harassing women. My female clients still want to approached - so long as it’s done right - and they’ve noticed the effect of the movement too.’
One of his clients, Marina, a 25-year-old woman working for a fashion start-up, says she’s recognised a shift: ‘Men are still quite forward online, but it can be different in person. I think some men can be afraid to talk to us on in a night out in case of things being interpreted differently later. And in the last year or so, they've been less likely to buy me a drink or open a door for me.'
A lot of this confusion in men comes from their newfound awareness of sexual harassment, but a lack of education to go along with it. As Francis, 26, tell me: ‘I just don’t know whether my behaviour will be interpreted as gentlemanly or sexist. My female mates say that it’s obvious when the line is crossed, but I actually don’t know when it is - especially if we’ve all had a few drinks.’
Many men are fully embracing Me Too and identifying as ‘allies’ of the women’s movement. A quick look on popular apps Bumble, Tinder and OKCupid shows around a quarter of men aged 28-35 (within 25km from my London home) identifying as feminist.
But while I may have been irked by my date’s behaviour, for some women it’s been a welcome change. Priya, 32, has been in and out of the dating scene for several years, but only recently has she noticed men very obviously supporting gender equality and discussing feminism with her. And one of the biggest benefits for her has been in the bedroom.
‘I feel like all the men I’ve dated lately have been so much more respectable and considerate,’ she said. ‘They kept checking in to see if I was comfortable - plus, every single one of them went down on me the first time we slept together. It’s about time men put female pleasure first, and I do think this change is down to the external climate around feminism, #MeToo and #TimesUp.’
Relationship expert Jo Barnett thinks Priya’s experience will be similar for many women dating today. ‘Me Too is raising awareness, meaning that the kind of guys who send unsolicited dick pics will be more wary. It also allows the more supportive men to stand out - and I think this will spread to existing couples not just in the dating scene.’
Speaking to friends, I found that to be true. Some couples tell me the movement has allowed them to share stories of their past with each other - from incidents of harassment and assault to more complex situations akin to the allegations of sexual misconduct against Aziz Ansari.
Back in January, the comedian was accused of persevering with sexual advances towards a woman after she asked him not to - raising more slippery questions around consent that most of us will have come face to face – when does persistently persuading someone to sleep with you become something more sinister? If a woman is physically able to leave a situation she’s uncomfortable with, how much of the onus is on here to do just that? These aren’t easy, black and white questions to answer.
‘That situation led to the biggest fight I’ve ever had with my boyfriend,’ says one 28-year-old woman. ‘He couldn’t see my point of view, that sometimes it’s really hard for a woman to say no and leave. It ended with him suggesting some women are to blame for their own assaults, and I was so disgusted I cried. It took us days to work through it, and he’s since said that’s not exactly what he meant, but I’m still not fully over it.’
On the flip side, another friend told me, ‘I felt that women do have a responsibility for their own actions. My boyfriend felt it’s all on the man. It was kind of surreal because he was being "more feminist" than me for the first time in the four years we’ve been together. I guess it’s a good thing - but it’s definitely unexpected.’
From the Brett Kavanaugh hearings to the recently publicised accusations of rape made against footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, the impact of #MeToo continues to rumble on in public life – and it’s something we’ll need to continue negotiating in our personal lives too. There is no one consensus among men and women today on Me Too’s impact on our relationships. For some, it’s become the key to better sex to stronger communication in relationships.
But for others - like those who are asked four times if they do want that drink - it’s become a source of confusion. Things are changing, not just in the wider world but in our own Tinder matches and our previously-sturdy relationships - and it’s happening so that we haven’t worked out what the rules of a post #MeToo world are