#MeToo Changed Dating

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Dating In the headlines and hashtags of the #MeToo movement movement, a picture emerged of all men as inveterate abusers. But for those of us who never forgot how to behave, the line between flirtation and harassment is still clear as day

Courting was simple. Two pairs of eyes met across a darkened club – or a brightly lit open-plan office – body language would be read, the laws of attraction assessed, opening gambits exchanged and the great game would begin. But now the clubs are dying, the dance floors are emptying and a clumsy come-on in the office – which might have once been casually rebuffed, with no hard feelings on either side – could now result in accusations of sexual harassment and the end of your glorious career. It feels like no new day dawns without some big shot being exposed as a sexual bully. The alleged crimes cover a very large waterfront, from the worst kind of sexual assault to ham-fisted passes to crass text messages. But in the post-Weinstein world, men are asking, are we still allowed to chat someone up?

It is suggested that we are now in the middle of a sexual counter-revolution, a rolling back of the sexual liberation of the past 50 years. The theory runs that the recent series of sex scandals has created a climate of neopuritanism where any expression of sexual interest is horribly suspect. But – this just in – the outing of sexual predators does not mean the death of sex.

Yes, there is a reassessment of the way men treat women, especially in the working world, and it is long overdue. But the moral imperative remains: woman needs man and man must have his mate. The human race is not going to die out because a bunch of big swinging dicks have behaved like pigs. Yes, there’s a rethinking of sexual etiquette, but you’re still allowed to get off with someone you fancy. What has changed is the way you court them.

My friend found his girlfriend on a http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/article/best-dating-apps-ukdating app. And I do not mean that he discovered his true love while trawling Tinder, Guardian Soulmates or eHarmony, swiping right for the curve of a face, the gleam of a smile and the light in the eye that caught his fancy. No, no, no. I mean my friend found his girlfriend’s profile on a dating app. Which is not quite on a par with coming home and finding your partner in bed with the milkman, but is perhaps the modern equivalent in the ever-changing world of courting.

Who would have guessed that dating agencies would lose their naff factor? The first marriage agency was run by clergymen and introduced in England and Wales in the late 18th century. But for the first time in three centuries, matchmakers are no longer the refuge of total losers. Indeed, the latest development in dating apps are the exclusive, first-class services for lonely CEOs, love-starved models and celebrities who have no one to cuddle on Saturday night – the likes of Tinder Select, Raya, The League and Mensa Match.

But the notion that you are going to meet a supermodel on a dating app who dreams of settling down is possibly over-optimistic. You are doing well if you meet someone who vaguely resembles their profile picture. Prince Harry did not meet Meghan Markle online – they were introduced by a mutual friend, which is about as old school as courting ever gets. Harry and Markle, all set for the wedding of 2018, are living proof that there is nothing wrong with old-fashioned courtship. Great romance will never be born on a dating app or from 280 characters or fewer.Me too

But courting is seductively easy online. The Instagram crush, the Twitter tease, the tongue-lolling follow on Facebook. Melanie Sykes met her last husband on Twitter. Melanie Sykes. Online courting creates a restless heart – the illusion that “the one” is just a swipe away. But the smiling faces you size up feel exactly the same way. There are so many fish in the digital sea and all of them are slippery. Fifteen minutes on a dating app can make any man feel like Hugh Hefner in the Playboy Mansion at the start of a weekend – spoilt for sexual choice. It’s a good feeling. But technology provides as many ways to lose love as it does to find it.

In the brave new world of courting there are men and women who maintain two smartphones – one for the real world and one for extracurricular activities, for courting that bit on the side. And relationships collapse every day because someone reads a text, an email, a direct message or a WhatsApp missive that was never meant for their eyes. When it comes to infidelity, no smartphone is ever quite smart enough. So many courtships collapse and relationships flounder on the great flapping cakehole of the flirty text, the steamy email, the WhatsApp sweet nothing that was meant to be for someone else’s eyes only. But when courting, in the open or on the quiet, never write anything on a hand-held device that you would not want the world to see tattooed on your butt.

Even more dangerous than smartphones, which seem designed to whisper words of love, are pills that promote blood flow to your throbbing manhood. When courting, handle with extreme care performance-enhancing drugs like Viagra and Cialis. At the start of Judd Apatow’s This Is 40, a man and woman are having hot sex in the shower until the man blurts, “I’m so glad I took that Viagra!”

The woman predictably objects – she wants the man to desire her and not be fuelled by “chemsex”. But the man is bewildered. “This is me,” he insists. “But turbocharged.” And here is the great problem with chemsex. Yes, there are pills that will make you much harder for much longer and this is true if you are 40, 20 or 60. If you are reentering the courting whirl after a period of absence, it is tempting to reach for them. You will be, as the man says, turbocharged. But when you have courted with chemsex it is hard to go back. When she has courted Superman, will she want Clark Kent? And will you want to play the role of bespectacled mortal?

The reason chemsex is popular among very young men is that they believe their sexual performance should resemble that of a porn star. Pornography changed courting. One click and your fantasy is fulfilled, on-tap 24/7. Many marriage counsellors assert that porn now ends more relationships than infidelity. And porn can kill any courtship. If you use porn as a mild stimulant – half a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, a splash of moonlight – then you will have the best of it. If you treat porn like your favourite mistress – the kind of mistress that gives you the sex of your life – then it will destroy any courtship and any chance of human happiness.

When toiling in the foothills of courtship, you must accept that you will strike out more than you ever succeed. But when you are rejected, when the woman is not interested, then read the signs early and react accordingly. Every sex scandal you can think of happened because the sexual aggressor blithely ignored the signals that were being sent. When David Bowie was once rebuffed by a fellow rock star’s wife at the peak of his skinny-assed promiscuity, he said, “You can’t blame a bloke for trying.”

This always struck me as the most geezerish, blokeish, un-Bowie-like sentence imaginable. But exactly the right thing to say under the circumstances. You know when a woman does not want you to touch her. Always, there must be consent and there has to be parity of status and she has to fancy you. It should have always been like that – and it wasn’t. But the age of CEOs asking the new intern to play “hunt the stapler” are gone and good riddance to them.

It is no longer acceptable for men of power to use their position to further sexual opportunities. You are still allowed to chat someone up. What matters more than ever is your ability to read the message you receive – something every sexual thug seems incapable of doing. When a woman is not interested, a man should be a gentleman, smile graciously and go away. If you are 17 or 70, the fundamental rules of courting have never changed. Masturbating into a potted plant was never an acceptable way for a man to win the heart of a woman.

What has irrevocably changed about courting since the purging of the pervs is that sexual interest is interpreted as sexual harassment if your status is out of whack. The new golden rule of courting is never ever come on to someone you have power over. Someone younger, more junior, less connected. The expression of sexual interest that is indistinguishable from crass bullying is what undid Weinstein – and deservedly so. You are allowed to get off with your equals. It is wrong to leer, drool or lust over someone who is not your equal, but then it always was wrong and men did it anyway. But one man’s banter has always been some woman’s harassment.

Columnist Jane Moore recalls a large-breasted colleague entering an editorial conference at the Sun to be greeted by the quip, “Anybody order a bouncy castle?” To which the large-breasted journo (the late Sue Carroll) replied, “I’d better not sit near you then – a small prick would be lethal.” So no harm done. But Sue was a grown-up, sassy, confident woman. You should not make jokes about breasts resembling bouncy castles to a woman who is not capable of answering you back and humiliating you. Sexual bullying disguised as harmless fun is off the menu now. And this is a good thing. This is simply introducing good manners into sexual etiquette. But some see this change as the decline of civilisation. There is a form of feminism that is about “torturing men”, wrote Douglas Murray in the Spectator. He wondered “whether any sex be allowed in the end”.

My guess is yes.

The outing of a bunch of sexual bullies is not the end of sex. One middle-aged Times columnist fretted that he would no longer be allowed to smile at a pretty girl or put kisses on an email to a female colleague. But why would any man want to put kisses on an email to a female colleague? You do that to your mum, not a work colleaguewho happens to be a woman.

The old laws of attraction still apply. They always will. That is why dating sites shove their most beautiful members to the front of the queue. We are not in the middle of a profound shift in our attitude towards sex so much as a change in our attitude to courting. My guess is that this is the start of a golden age of courtship. Finding love has always been the easy part. Staying together is the hard bit. And with all the temptations of modern courtship – the online cruising, chemsex and text sex – it will get harder still.

But there are a million women who could love you. The problem is time. You will not live long enough to love – truly love, know and cherish – more than four or five of them, absolute max. You should court them well and cherish every moment of consensual joy.

The changes in the way we treat women will mean men are less likely to bully, exploit and harass those who have absolutely zero interest in them. Relationships between men and women will be kinder, fairer and healthier. The idea that this spells the end to sex is bonkers. Like the old song says, the world will always welcome lovers.

GQ Story by Tony Parsons