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MODERN LOVE

Has dating changed in the era of #MeToo?

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    Sue McMahon, professional board-certified life coach at Living from the Heart LLC.

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    James Elliott of Toledo.

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    Josh Joas of Toledo.

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    Karen Guzzo, sociologist and associate director of the Center for Family and Demographic Research at Bowling Green State University.

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    Sheila Eason, president of the Northwest Ohio Human Resources Association.

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    Tommy McMaster, of Granville, right in cap, talks about how the #MeToo movement has impacted the dating scene while eating lunch with friends at Levis Square on June 14, 2018.

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    Tommy McMaster of Granville.

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When it comes to dating, Joan Ruby of Perrysburg knows what she prefers.

“I’m old school,” she said. “I like to be pursued.”

But Ms. Ruby, who describes herself as “over 60” and who has been on and off the dating scene for years, has recently noticed a shift in the way that singles mingle. Whereas once she could have counted on a gentleman to make a first move — to introduce himself, to invite her on a date — she’s now being nudged into a more assertive role.

“You have to be a little bit more aggressive nowadays than you used to,” she said. “[Men are] a little more apprehensive to come onto you as a woman, because they don’t want you to get the wrong impression.”

Is it a limited observation or part of a broader shift in dating norms on the heels of a national reckoning on sexual harassment and assault?

Since the #MeToo movement took off in October, 2017, with the revelation of decades-long abuse in the film industry by producer Harvey Weinstein, a series of high-profile sexual assault allegations has rocked the country. From Hollywood to Washington, revelations borne of the movement have stripped prominent actors, legislators, and journalists of long-held respect and prompted nationwide discussions on the nuances of power, consent, and coercion.

But it might be too early to say whether — or how — these conversations play out in the way that singles approach and interact with one other, experts said. As Professor Shara Crookston of the University of Toledo points out, it can be more difficult to look at personal relationships through the lens of #MeToo than the largely professional ones that have made headlines.

“A lot of times those power issues can be more difficult to see in intimate partnerships, like dating,” said Ms. Crookston, who teaches in the women’s and gender studies department.

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Karen Guzzo, sociologist and associate director of the Center for Family and Demographic Research at Bowling Green State University.

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Karen Guzzo, a sociologist and associate director of the Center for Family and Demographic Research at Bowling Green State University, said she hopes that the movement and the dialogue it’s opened on consent will improve relationships going forward. But she, too, said it’s too soon to say.

“I think it’s a little early for things to have really rippled through,” she said.

For their part, Toledoans Josh Joas, 29, and James Elliott, 31, said they’re approaching dating the same way post-#MeToo as they did pre-#MeToo; then and now, they said, it’s all about reading the individual and the situation.

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James Elliott of Toledo.

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“It’s a person to person basis,” Mr. Joas said. “It’s different for everybody on how you would approach someone … there are so many factors.”

On guard

Sheila Eason has heard the comments: It’s not safe to compliment a female co-worker anymore.

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Sheila Eason, president of the Northwest Ohio Human Resources Association.

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Ms. Eason is president of the Northwest Ohio Human Resource Association, and, as a human resources consultant for the Maumee-based Employers’ Association, she had been leading training sessions on workplace sexual harassment well before the #MeToo movement trained a spotlight on the topic. While she said that a compliment in itself no more qualifies as sexual harassment today than it ever has, she recognizes these concerns as a response to the #MeToo movement.

“Is that a correct response? That’s debatable. It’s their opinion, their perspective,” she said. “I think that [some men are] being guarded and saying, ‘Listen, I don’t want to be accused of this, so I’m not going to do anything. I’m not going to compliment my co-worker anymore, because I’m afraid I”ll be accused of sexual harassment.’”

The same sort of guardedness is echoed by bloggers and social media users who have wondered aloud whether #MeToo is blurring to too great an extent the line between appropriate and inappropriate advances. Professor Guzzo at BGSU said it’s those in their late 20s and 30s who are especially taking note, in some cases looking back on past encounters with a new understanding of consent and coercion.

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Sue McMahon, professional board-certified life coach at Living from the Heart LLC.

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If or when a sense of guardedness or fear crops up during a first date, it can hamper the important get-to-know-you stage of a potential relationship, according to Sue McMahon, a professional board-certified life coach with training in relationship and systems coaching. Ms. McMahon is founder of the Sylvania-based Living from the Heart LLC.

Think of it in terms of the “third entity,” she suggested, drawing on a relationship systems coaching strategy that casts the relationship itself as a hypothetical “third entity” in the space between two people. If both parties show up to dinner with fear — either that the other will behave inappropriately or that their own behavior will be interpreted inappropriately — that entity, the budding relationship, suffers.

“He’s in his head; she’s in her her head,” she said. “So the third entity? It’s not getting anything. And I doubt there’s going to be a second date.”

Generational divide

Northwood High School senior Isaiah Bolyard is well-versed in conversations on consent in navigating teenage relationships. But he’s noticed that doesn’t always put him on the same page as some of the older members of his family and church community, some of whom he hears wondering whether the #MeToo movement is really necessary.

It’s an observation that underscores the generational differences in responses to #MeToo. While interviews and statistics suggest that older adults are less likely to consider the implications of the movement in relation to their own lives, the youngest entrants into the dating scene in many cases have grown up with the conversations that are central to #MeToo.

“Older people have lived [for a long time] with the fact that women weren’t always heard and men abused their power; if women ever spoke out, they would be humiliated or denied,” said Caroline Lathrop, a 2018 graduate of Ottawa Hills High School. Her generation, in contrast, has come of age seeing “that all this is completely changing.”

“The #MeToo movement has kind of proved we are here to be better,” she said.

A NBC/Wall Street Journal poll published in the early weeks of the movement found that fewer men over 50 are reconsidering how they interact with women in light of #MeToo compared to men under 50 — 42 percent to 54 percent. Both male and female respondents in this age bracket overall see workplace sexual harassment to be “somewhat less common than their younger peers,” according to the same study.

At the Glass City Singles dance that Ms. Ruby attended recently, where the ballroom-dancing crowd skews older, several regulars said they either aren’t familiar with #MeToo or don’t see it as something that will affect them or their interactions going forward.

Teens and young adults aren’t necessarily undergoing a major change in the way they approach dating and relationships in light of #MeToo, either. But, in many cases, that’s because they’ve been talking about the issues tied to the movement since well before the issues made headlines.

Senior Hannah Cubberley, for example, recalled that her orientation week at Bowling Green State University included a session titled “Can I kiss you?” that encouraged students to ask permission before they kiss someone. Ms. Cubberley is Undergraduate Student Government president at BGSU.

Mr. Bolyard and Ms. Lathrop are both peer educators with Teen PEP, or Peers Educating Peers, another way that conversations about dating and consent are beginning as early as middle school locally.

Teen PEP, run out of ProMedica Toledo Children's Hospital, has been training teens to educate their high school and middle school peers about bullying, teen dating violence, and sexual assault for 20 years. Director Danielle Cisterino-Hajdu said a focus is defining and emphasizing consent in sexual relationships — a long-important topic that’s become central to the #MeToo movement.

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Tommy McMaster, of Granville, right in cap, talks about how the #MeToo movement has impacted the dating scene while eating lunch with friends at Levis Square on June 14, 2018.

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“It seems like we’ve already started to move toward this anyway,” Tommy McMaster, 21, who is working in Toledo this summer, said of his generation. “It’s great to see the rest of the country kind of follow this.”

Looking ahead

When CeCe Norwood was planning this year’s Women of the World Symposium, which she organizes locally each March, #MeToo presented itself as an obvious theme.

It’s also one that’s relevant to her own professional background: Ms. Norwood, founder of Nirvana Now!, has been working for decades on issues related to sexual violence.

She’s happy to see these conversations brought to the fore with the #MeToo movement. But she, like others, can only speculate about what it will mean for the dating scene.

“I think that it stands to be seen whether this is going to make a cultural shift,” Ms. Norwood said. “My personal concern, having done this work for 25 to 30 years, is that we’ve got all of this media exposure to it, but then when all of that dies down, then what? Will be there any real cultural shift in how we look at relations between people? Is it going to be different?”

She hopes so. Professor Guzzo does, too.

“I will be really curious to see if parents are having more discussions now with their kids,” she said. “Parents of daughters have had these conversations for a lot longer. What I’d hope is that more parents are having these conversations with their sons.”

She also wonders if men will be more attuned to what women are saying in the wake of #MeToo, if the narrative that “no” means “keep trying” is on its way out.

“Is it going to making dating harder?” Ms. Guzzo said. “It should make dating better.”

Contact Nicki Gorny at ngorny@theblade.com or 419-724-6133Contact Adelaide Feibel at afeibel@theblade.com  , 419-724-6050, or on Twitter @AddyFeibel.

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