Has #MeToo Changed Modern Dating? Half of Single Men Say Yes.

November 6, 2019

It’s been two years since the New York Times broke the story of Harvey Weinstein’s egregious sexual abuse allegations, followed by actress Alyssa Milano posting a tweet heard round the world, echoing the call for unity first launched nearly a decade earlier by civil rights activist Tarana Burke: #MeToo. The hashtag went viral across social media platforms – in the first 24 hours, more than 12 million posts were made on Facebook. There was a global reckoning. So many women – our friends, sisters, girlfriends, mothers, daughters – had experienced some form of sexual harassment or sexual assault in their lifetime. People of all genders, ages, socioeconomic groups, race and ethnicity, across all walks of life, came forward to say they too had been victims/survivors of sexual misconduct, and it was time to hold people, especially badly-behaved men, accountable.

There can be no doubt that #MeToo became a larger social movement. A recognition that more work was needed. But as a behavioral scientist who studies sexuality, gender, and intimate relationships, I wondered whether this movement could both educate and in turn, curb the destructive behavior the world was finally openly talking about. Over the last 2 years there have been plenty of pundits, on either side of the political aisle, who have extorted their views on the effects of the #MeToo movement. Some saying it was long overdue, others arguing it’s gone too far. But none have had concrete data to base their opinions on, until now.

As part of the 9th annual Singles in America study with Match, in a national sample of over 5,000 adult single Americans, we assessed attitudes toward #MeToo and whether it has changed behavior, specifically at work and in one’s dating life. Close to 40% of the U.S. adult population is single at any given time, so knowing how singles feel about #MeToo is a strong barometer of impact on social life.

In our study, half of men (51%) say the #MeToo movement has caused them to act differently overall; more specifically, nearly 40% of men reported now being more reserved towards women colleagues at work and 34% of men said they act more reserved on a date because of the movement. In terms of age effects, this was especially true among Millennial men. Whether being more cautious and reserved is enough to reduce sexual harassment experienced by others remains an open question for additional research and observation.

When asked about #MeToo and various aspects of social life, both men and women reported being more reserved when approaching someone new in public (35%), as well as when on a date (33%), and also with what they post on social media (28%). When with a new potential partner, 19% of singles think twice about the jokes they make, 15% further consider the topics they discuss, and 15% are more cautious about inviting that person to come home with them.

When it came to attitudes toward the significance of these changes, more than half (59%) of today’s singles say the #MeToo movement is important to them (46% of men; 69% of women), and almost half say it has sparked necessary discussions. The movement has certainly led to much discussion, conversation, and debate. But some also see a downside, with 14% of all singles (19% of men; 10% of women) reporting that they think the #MeToo movement has made dating more challenging.

The #MeToo movement is affecting how single people approach social interactions. That 51% of men say the #MeToo movement has changed their behavior is truly remarkable. Other common risk-reduction programs, like smoking cessation or ending alcohol abuse, are often considered successful while only achieving much smaller changes in behavior. A behavior change intervention that managed to have half of participants report a positive change would almost certainly be viewed as a major success. Now imagine that at the level of an entire population, and seeing these changes in a relatively short period of time. We would regard this as an effective intervention and celebrate its success. Modifying human behavior at the level of entire populations, especially when involving culturally entrenched norms, has proved especially difficult. #MeToo appears to have turned the dial in multiple ways.

Sexual harassment and gender inequity remain global problems, with consequences for our intimate lives. Addressing these issues at a system-level has proved difficult, but it appears that the #MeToo social media campaign and related social justice movements have started to raise awareness, increase accountability, and change human behavior. Dating and relationship norms often adjust to the social and political times, and we may very well be on the cusp of a sea change in what Americans view as acceptable and effective ways to initiate and maintain romantic and sexual relationships.

Author:Justin R. Garcia, PhD, is Acting Executive Director & Research Director of The Kinsey Institute, Ruth N. Halls Associate Professor of Gender Studies, and IU Bicentennial Professor at Indiana University. Since 2010, Garcia has served as Scientific Advisor to Match. He is co-author of Evolution and Human Sexual Behavior. His next book is titled The Intimate Animal.