Dan Sheehan, a 27-year-old writer in Los Angeles, has felt a palpable shift in the dating world over the last six months compared to the last time he was single two years ago.
When the bill comes on a first date, he doesn’t jump to grab it first. Drinks with a potential partner can feel like a “job interview,” he said, and people on dating apps are flaking on meet-ups more often. That’s partly due to the monotony of online dating, but the tense political climate, the depressing news cycle, and the discourse surrounding #MeToo — a movement meant to highlight women’s experiences with sexual assault and unwanted sexual advances — have put a damper on the dating experience, he said.
“There is a weird apathy on both sides,” he said. “In and of itself dating is kind of exhausting even when there isn’t a larger political movement around it, so I think having to do it in addition to being reminded of this terrible stuff going on is hard,” he said.
That #MeToo-fueled chilling effect adds another layer of dreariness to the already monotonous and soul-crushing world of online dating, which is now a billion-dollar industry. It pays to have singletons coming back for more dates and swiping in location-based apps, but it also makes dating far more random, tedious, and perilous.
Incredible news, I’m a babe pic.twitter.com/t0NZAjrXwY
— Dan Sheehan (@ItsDanSheehan) December 7, 2017
Men and women must navigate new rules on dates
Single Americans say they are “extremely confused” about dating, particularly in the past three months following the #MeToo movement, a recent survey of 3,000 singletons by dating service Three Day Rule found. The October 2017 revelations of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein touched off the global #MeToo movement, which led to conversations about what is appropriate both inside and outside the workplace.
Men are concerned about crossing boundaries, having their actions misinterpreted, or even adhering to traditional gender roles like paying for a date, said Three Day Rule chief executive officer and founder Talia Goldstein. Meanwhile, some women said they were too worn out by inappropriate behavior or triggered by the news to want to spend time with men, and some worry about how and when to call out men they’re dating for harassment.
“I have definitely seen fatigue, for so many reasons,” Goldstein said. “It’s partially due to the #MeToo movement, but partially because people have been online dating for so long it really is exhausting.”
Navigating a night on the town is not an easy challenge
Some actions are fine for some women (and men) but may raise questions for others: Is is OK to go in for a hug when first meeting a woman on a date? Should a woman feel like her personal space is invaded or not? What if a man reaches across the dinner table and takes her hand, or moves in for a kiss across the bar without warning? Is that natural behavior on a date after a few drinks or totally unacceptable?
Goldstein said one male client told her he put his arm around a woman’s shoulder on their first date as they walked, but then became worried it was in appropriate, so he moved his arm around her waist. He panicked that that, too, was inappropriate, and ultimately he ended up linking arms with her and awkwardly walking to heir destination. “He was so nervous everything he was doing was wrong,” Goldstein said.
There was a time women would not go to a bar alone, let alone pay for themselves. Take this historical gem: A non-relative male paying for a meal was once so unheard of that it was regarded as tantamount to prostitution with police officers arresting single women, said Moira Weigel, a Yale University PhD student and the author of “Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating.”
Paying on dates is still fraught, and more so recently: On one date between two Three Day Rule clients, the woman offered to pay the bill and then became frustrated when the man let her pay, Goldstein said. Often women are making gestures to split a bill or pay to be polite when in fact they want to be treated, she added. “Don’t make hollow offers,” she said. “There is a lot more that needs to be communicated in dating today.”
Dating in America has a thorny history, particularly for women
Given that historical context to modern dating, it’s no surprise that women have joined a worldwide movement to have their voices heard and their wishes respected. While the #MeToo movement arose in part due to sexual harassment in the workplace, the last six months have been a lightning rod for all sorts of micro-aggressions that many women have felt, but may not have voiced before.
Some 81% of women have experienced sexual harassment since their teenage years, a recent nationwide survey from nonprofit Stop Street Harassment found. There are 321,500 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the U.S., according to sexual violence non-profit RAINN, the majority of whom are women. This comes as reports of rape linked to online dating have risen 450% in the last five years, putting pressure on major apps to incorporate more safety measures into their platforms.
As online dating has accelerated the courtship process from a social ritual to a right swipe, the #MeToo movement has started a conversation not all men are ready for. At the same time, there’s also a conversation about what is appropriate or not in gay bars. Some gay men say they can be more forward and sexually aggressive, while others say that’s never acceptable. A recent report by Vice, for instance, found that “sexual harassment is pervasive and under-reported in gay bars.”
Uncertainties over political division and sexual expression
The hesitance to date could also be simply because politics have become so polarized that single people don’t want to risk sitting across the table from someone who doesn’t share their views on a date, said Chelsea Reynolds, Ph.D., an assistant professor of communications at Cal State Fullerton who researches sexuality and media.
Political similarity is a top priority for daters, research published in the Journal of Politics by researchers at Yale University and Stanford University found in 2017. Tens of thousands of people have signed up for TrumpSingles.com in the past year to find fellow Trump supporters looking for love and 72% of people on OkCupid say supporting the president is a deal breaker in relationships.
The #MeToo debate is putting a damper on some healthy discussions and expressions of sexuality, said Reynolds, who noted the discourse surrounding it is making hookup culture on apps like Tinder
and Grindr more contentious in her own classes.
“The #MeToo movement seems to be exacerbating daters’ anxieties about sexual assault and hookup culture,” she said. “In years past, young people were extremely excited about discussions surrounding sex, online dating, sexuality, etc., but now they’re worried about political correctness.”
Some bicurious women may be more comfortable dating other women
Another potential side effect of the anxiety surrounding dating? More sexual flexibility, Reynolds said. In her informal research in recent months she has found a lot of self-identified “straight” women on OkCupid and Tinder looking for other women for hookups and bisexual-identified women who say they are dating men more infrequently these days.
“Bicurious women might feel more comfortable exploring their sexualities in a low-pressure context today, because the potential for sexual assault is perceived as being lower with two female partners,” she said. But there is another complication in this theory: Bisexual women report higher percentages of sexual assault than lesbian and heterosexual women.
Although some straight men are bemoaning the shift in dating rituals, Sheehan said it is not really that complicated. Men simply need to listen and ask questions. “It is pretty easy to know what actions would constitute sexual harassment,” he said. “If you analyze situations and are aware of your own character in any way, you don’t really accidentally do any of these things. If you are trying to build a better relationship with all of this happening the key is communication.”