It seemed so simple back then, didn’t it? Women got hit on, or subject to workplace harassment, and we called it just a part of life. Okay, maybe that part’s obviously not okay. But there’s some very real confusion around what it’s okay to stand for when we’re actively dating and what isn’t okay, even if it’s undeserved confusion. (Feel uncomfortable? Something’s probably off.)
We asked some of our writers to send us some thoughts on dating in the #MeToo age. Here’s, Ashley M. Jones muses on one very basic tenet of a healthy–and sexy!–dating life: communication.
Dating’s hard. It’s nearly impossible now to be completely vulnerable with someone, to feel like you don’t have to think two steps ahead about ways to fight back or escape if things go wrong. I like trusting people—but when that trust can be converted into an ugly misinterpretation of consent, or in many cases, a complete ignorance and unwillingness to hear a very audible “No,” I get a little worried. I wonder, “to what does he feel entitled if I let him pay for this food?” I think, “if I invite him over, will he assume we’re going to have sex?” The Old South might make the case for chaperones, but that should be unnecessary. Couples should be able to have clear and honest conversations about sexual limitations and expectations. No human should feel complicit in their own assault.
But it can’t have always been this way, can it? Back in the 90s, as I watched Laura Winslow tell off her cute-but-frisky (read: pushy) boyfriend, Daniel Wallace, in her pretty pink “Family Matters” bedroom, I thought, look, it really is that easy to make a boy stop pressuring you to have sex. If Laura can do it, so can I. Daniel listened to her when she said no—sure, after a few failed attempts at convincing her. But he stopped. He stormed off, climbed out of her window, and fell out of the tree he’d used to climb up in the first place. This was my education. This, and my parents’ constant warnings to keep my legs closed and my eyes open.
I’ve been fortunate—I don’t have a horrific story of sexual assault to tell. Only stories of sexual harassment. But I have friends and they have stories, and those stories did not end with their assailant huffing “Okay, fine” and falling out of their bedroom window. Their stories are bloody, painful, and frightening.
#MeToo has highlighted several of these cases. They are, largely, of a high-profile nature, claiming the careers (but not dollars, necessarily, as those men are sometimes just taken out of the public eye and not off the payroll) of many rich men. But the rest of the iceberg is regular women who have been dealing with these issues for a long time. I’m glad to know moves are afoot to provide support for those of us whose stories don’t come with the glitz, glamour, and ultimately, the privilege to out our oppressors and still survive financially. I hope this movement does more than create a hashtag—I want it to create some semblance of change.
If anything, #MeToo has renewed my conviction that I have agency when I decide to spend time with a man, romantically or not. In my adult life, I’ve tried to communicate, clearly, what my comfort levels are with our physical expression. I’ve exercised “No,” and the knowledge that anyone who forces himself on me or tries to pressure me into anything at any point in the experience is someone to whom I owe nothing.
The Daniel Wallaces, Harvey Weinsteins, Louis C.K.s of the world are lying when they say you want it, when they degrade you into doing anything you don’t want to do. A date is not a binding contract—you only have to do what you’re comfortable. In the age of #MeToo, we need to speak up during our dates, after them, all the way through our relationships. In the age of #MeToo, we need to speak up during our dates, after them, all the way through our relationships. Communication is our right and exercising it is vital.
Protection does not belong to predators. This, too, we need to keep on telling ourselves.