Has the #MeToo movement led to a change in the way we date and flirt?
Has the #metoo movement led to a change in the way we date and flirt?
Men who ask women on dinner dates deserve to fail.
“It’s just so cliche,” says Rupert. “It puts so much pressure on things, having to sit there and try to talk to somebody you don’t know, stuffing your face, with your best table manners, and then it’s ‘who pays’ and it’s awkward. It’s the worst game.”
Rupert has game. Rupert has two girlfriends, but only one knows about the other. On a slow week, Rupert (no, that is not his real name) has sex with an additional two or three women.
He used to be jealous of his gay friends who scored on the hook-up app Grindr. Then along came Tinder. At first, he says, Kiwi women thought Tinder was a dating app, a digital path to True Love and The One.
Now: “No shit, you can chat to a girl on Tinder and she will come over, probably within two days, without ever having met you, she’ll come over to your apartment and bring a good bottle of pinot and stay that night. It has become even better than Grindr because they provide the wine. If you want to, you can actually do that. And I could probably do that five nights a week.”
Rupert, a 41-year-old company director, has just got up to shut his office door.
On the other end of the phone, I am processing what he has just said.
Me: “How can you say that out loud and not realise you sound like a complete pig?”
Him: “There are a whole lot of people out there going ‘that’s what I want to do’. They’re not being manipulated into that situation. It’s just free will. It’s females making their own choices in life. It’s not always about guys being bad. A lot of the sexual revolution that’s going on is about female empowerment and liberation and them doing what the hell they want, and why the f*** not? Gays can do it, we can do it, anyone can do it. It’s great.”
It is just five months since American film producer Harvey Weinstein was publicly accused of sexually abusing dozens of women over a period of at least three decades. The story, broken by the New York Times and The New
Yorker, drove the creation of the #MeToo social media campaign and the Time’s Up movement. Since then, thousands of women worldwide have shared stories about the sexual misconduct of men.
The story you are reading started life as a look at flirting in this post-Weinstein world. Today, phrases like “toxic masculinity” and “consent is sexy” dominate the lifestyle section of any given news cycle. Lisa Bonos, writing for the
Washington Post, recently gave a typical analysis: “This is what it is like to date in 2018. Plenty of heterosexual men are confused about how to make the first move in a way that is confident and mindful of a woman’s boundaries.”
So, when I approached women to talk about contemporary flirting, I expected them to say yes, they felt more empowered. And I expected men to say yes, they were thinking harder about their behaviour. What I didn’t expect was this: “This one guy, I thought I’d have some casual sex with him. I thought, I’ll just go over and we’ll have a weekend and see how it goes, and he just became . . . well, he was in LOVE. He thought it was all on. He became HORRIBLE,” says Carole, 49.
Or this: “I’m just friendly. I like women. But I haven’t got a clue. A woman could be standing in front of me naked . . . and I would be like [adopts tone of dawning recognition], ‘oh — you want to f***?’” says John, 45.
When I asked for stories about flirting, what I didn’t expect was the frank-funny-horrifyingterrifying-sweet-sad spectrum of experiences that define dating in the modern world.
Only one subject let me use his real name. James Mustapic is a 22-year-old stand-up comedian who popped up in my Twitter feed when he wrote this: “When ur flirting with a boy on Snapchat and realise their bitmoji looks the exact same as u . . .”
And there they were. Two clean-cut, white boys who could have been twins if they weren’t
cartoon avatars (or “bitmojis”) who might, or might not, have real-life sex some time.
“I don’t think I’m that good at flirting in real life,” confesses Mustapic.
“Maybe because I’ve never really had to that much. I try my best, but I don’t have as many set methods, whereas I guess when I’m online sometimes I have a few more.”
The internet was conceived in the early 1980s. By 1990, the World Wide Web had become a thing. Mustapic, born six years later, has never lived in a time when humans weren’t online. Once upon a time, humans wore their Saturday best and signed each other’s dance cards in country halls. Today they just need a smartphone.
The Oxford Dictionary has described emoji — the small digital icons you stick on a text message for emotive emphasis — as a “nuanced form of expression” that transcends language barriers.
You’ve probably signed a text with a heart or a smiley face. But if you’re new to digital flirting, beware — an aubergine does not mean moussaka for dinner and not everyone who sends spurting teardrops is sad.
“I read this thing that said people who use emojis have more sex,” says Mustapic. And? “I think there’s something in it. I like ones that aren’t too overt. The kissy face, and the kind of cheeky ones. I’ve had someone use the dragon to represent their penis.” That seems . . . confident? “It’s one step further than the eggplant!” Mustapic says he’s had some creepy experiences (“they’re usually older men”) but, he says, nothing like he has seen reported in the heterosexual world.
“I don’t want to be like ‘oh, a gay man has the same struggle as a woman’. Women often have a lot less power than men . . . I guess in the gay world, it is a wee bit different because with two guys, or two women — that sort of stuff still happens everywhere, but I think it is maybe a wee bit less.”
And, says the man whose Auckland Comedy Festival show will be called Mildly Wild, “I haven’t noticed a decrease in flirting!”
WHAT, EXACTLY, is flirting? And why do we do it? Psychologists draw comparisons with the animal world, where behavioural displays are used to attract potential mates. But what do you do when you don’t have a peacock’s plumage?
I ask Rupert for his best lines, and he just laughs.
“You just start a conversation. But you start conversations as though they’ve been going for ages. It’s called the use of threads. You create a thread and then you start conversing on that thread and when you meet in person, you can immediately pick up on those threads and build comfort.”
That shift to online flirting, he says, is partly about safety — you can assess, before you meet, whether an attraction is mutual.
“The days of going out and hoping for the best are long gone. There is more of a risk. I’ve never wanted to get anywhere close to that line. I’m not in those situations where people are drunk, for example, because I stay away from Ponsonby Rd on a Saturday at 2am. I would be very, very cautious of that. But I’ve been in
If you’re new to digital flirting, beware — an aubergine does not mean moussaka for dinner and not everyone who sends spurting teardrops is sad.