Awareness about sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace exploded with the revelations and recent arrest of Hollywood Movie Mogul Harvey Weinstein. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have shone a light on the pervasiveness of the abuse of power in the workplace. But what about the dating sphere?
Suddenly, even “conscious” people are unsure if their romantic or sexual interest is being perceived as harmless flirting, or sexual assault. If you would like to enjoy the process of dating, flirting, and exchanging sexual energy during the #MeToo era, here are five things you ought to know.
Number 1: An etiquette manual that everybody agrees upon does not exist.
Not in the #MeToo era or any era that came before. The rules for how individuals interact in the dating sphere is a constantly shifting target that changes with time and culture. The subtleties of how to express sexual or romantic interest vary from one individual to the next. Heck, it can vary within the same individual depending on their mood and the person sitting across the table. So it’s important to understand that we’re all operating without a clear roadmap. That said, the signpost of active consent, (i.e., asking then waiting to hear an answer before taking further action) is still pretty solidly in place.
The idea of consent is related to the idea of clear communication. But as you and I know, there are subtleties to communication (both verbal and non-verbal) and this is where many of us are confused about the changing landscape. Communication (specifically interest signaling) is an area where many bemoan the #MeToo movement because they they think the delicious art of flirting (implicit interest signaling) will be lost. I disagree. I think we can still enjoy the subtleties of flirting while being clear when a boundary is being crossed.
Number 2: Clear communication doesn’t mean the end of good old fashion flirting!
I’ve found that if you do a good job of vetting candidates online (or on the phone) before actually meeting in person, boundaries that get crossed during a date are often misread cues (as opposed to malicious intent). Sexual chemistry, libations, flowing conversation, heightened hormones, (the combination of it all!) can easily cause someone to misread a cue. (And usually the cues we are giving are much more subtle than we realize). So instead of escalating confusion (or shutting down a flirty environment), how about graciously redirecting behavior toward something you are more comfortable with?
For example, if you feel like your date is getting too “handsy” you could smile and say, “While I do find you attractive, I don’t feel like we know each other well enough for this amount of intimacy. Do you mind?” Then wait for his reaction. If he’s defensive, pushy, or anything but compliant, you know immediately that he’s disqualified for a second date.
By the same token, if you feel like you’d like to get to know someone a little better, feel free to signal your interest — but wait for permission before escalating a physical interaction. For example, if you’re hankering for a kiss, you could look at his mouth and say “Wow you’ve got great lips. You’re probably a great kisser.” Then smile. If he has any modicum of intelligence (or interest), that kiss is probably happening sooner rather than later. 😉
[Emergency Alert: If one or both parties is exceptionally shy (dense?) then a plain ole, “I’d like to kiss you, would that be okay?” is the best course of action.] Bah-humbug.
Number 3: Keep Alcohol Consumption to a Minimum
Look, we’ve all indulged in a little liquid courage now and again, and if it feels right for you, I’m all for a glass of wine with dinner. But the thing about alcohol (and other relaxants) is that they lower your judgement (and communication skills). Dating should be an exciting, fun experience; it’s not the time to numb out!
So at the risk of sounding like a boring grandma, I’m only going to say it once: One glass of wine with dinner, and maybe an aperitif beforehand… but then off the sauce for the rest of the night. Okay?
Number 4: Set Clear Boundaries Around Sex
Most of the women I coach are seeking committed partnerships, and if that is the case for you, I advise taking good care of your heart and your body before engaging in physical intimacy. The 60s feminist movement was partly about empowering women to own and enjoy their sexuality as they see fit, which is a very good thing. But part of being empowered means making choices soberly, safely and consciously.
We’ve already discussed sobriety, but let’s talk about safety. Safe sex is a given. Letting someone know where you will be when meeting a new guy is a great idea.
If sex is on the table, be aware that many men will take you up on the offer, even if they are not interested in a relationship with you. If sex is off the table, it’s best to limit meet and greets to public spaces and be savvy about hazy signals such as sitting in a parked car or agreeing to “Netflix and Chill” on the couch.
Number 5: Don’t assume he’s going to pick up the check.
I’m a modern girl but I have to say, I feel very cared for when a man offers to pick up the check at dinner. Maybe you feel differently? If it strikes you as sexist for a man to pick up the check, then it’s perfectly fine to insist on splitting the tab. In any case, one thing the #MeToo movement has made perfectly clear is that a sense of entitlement to anything the other person has not freely offered you is inappropriate.
The corollary of a woman feeling used by her date’s assumption of casual sex, is a man feeling used by his date’s assumption of a free dinner.
That said, if you don’t want to pick up or split the check, then don’t make a hollow offer to split the tab. Wait until he offers to pay, or suggests that you split it, and then comply graciously. If going dutch is something that really bothers you, it’s probably best not to schedule that second date. In any case it’s not okay to shame someone for not buying your meal.
If he calls on you for a second date, go ahead and share how going dutch the first time made you feel. See how he responds. You’ll intuitively know what to do next.
It boil downs to this: all individuals need to feel appreciated and not taken for granted. So make sure to say please and thank you for every courtesy extended your way (opening the door, picking up the check, etc.)
Bonus Tip: If a small mistake is made, try to give the benefit of the doubt.
Here is the truth: what one woman considers an annoyance or even harassment, another considers harmless or even seductive. When you keep this mind, along with the fact that it’s impossible for others to read your mind, it’s much easier to give him the benefit of the doubt. That being said, if anyone ever crosses a no-go boundary for you, and something happens that makes you feel wary or unsafe, listen to your intuition and make your safety a priority.
So as a recap: stay open, give clear consent if you are up for physical intimacy (but don’t assume you are heading toward relationship status if you do have sex unless that has been clearly stated and agreed upon), generously give the benefit of the doubt if he misreads a cue, be clear about your personal boundaries, and don’t make assumptions about who picks up the tab. 🙂
P.S. Ready for your Happily Ever After? Join me for the 12 Week Love Life Makeover. Click here to learn more.