Emily Meg Weinstein | Longreads | April 2018 | 15 minutes (3,682 words)
There’s a thing that happens on blind internet dates. I’ve never liked it. In this brave new #MeToo world, where first we have said that we will not be raped, then we have said that we will not be beaten, and finally we have added that we only want to have sex that is “much wanted and excellent,” when we want to, with the people we desire, I feel that I can finally say — and do — something about it.
It’s the thing where men I’ve never met before, and am encountering for the first time on a blind internet date, ignore my outstretched hand, and tell me, “I’m a hugger,” before touching my body without my consent, invitation, or desire.
Single and desiring sex — desiring men, intimacy, friendship, conversation, connection, adventure, motherhood, family, and life partnership, too — I use the internet to seek these things, as I have used it to seek and find used cars, my current living situation, advice, information, and a variety of inanimate objects to purchase.
At best I am likely to be disappointed — by the strangeness of the stranger, the dullness of his personality, the rudeness of his remarks, the smallness of his mind. Or I might be beleaguered by his suggestion that since I am a writer, I help him with his writing; or that since I am a tutor, I help him with his résumé; or that since I am climber, I help him learn to climb; or that since I am a woman, I help him with his problems; or, just as often, by his suggestion that we retire to his home, after a single beer or coffee and less than an hour of conversation, to engage in a specific sexual practice or kink in which I have expressed no prior interest. Most often, and most of all, I am likely to be disappointed by my own lack of desire to know this man, or be known by him, either in conversation, or any other, more intimate way.
At worst, I have discovered, I am likely to be groped, and to face the reality that when women make dates we open ourselves up to a range of experiences, ranging from disappointment to dehumanization to violence.
A not insignificant percentage of my internet dates have touched me in intimate ways without my invitation or consent. Several men have placed their hands on my knee or inner thigh within the first half-hour of meeting me, while we sat sipping our first and only drink. They have grabbed or stroked or held my hand without my consent; they have squeezed my waist or shoulder when I have neither touched nor leaned toward them. These touches were not invited by anything other than my presence and proximity.
Until October 2017, I thought being touched in these ways was somehow either their right or my mistake. I met these men for drinks, mostly after 9 p.m. (I work, tutoring, most weeknights until 8.) I put my picture on a dating app. I wore purple mascara.
Even close male friends I considered woke feminists suggested that agreeing to an internet date carried with it some kind of “implied consent,” though to what, specifically, they couldn’t name.
I never thought my presence, proximity, picture, and purple mascara constituted a tacit invitation for these strangers to touch my knee or inner thigh, hand or arm, waist or shoulder. But even as I grew weary of being touched in these ways, I stopped allowing myself to believe it was wrong, or even preventable. I began to accept that it must be what I signed up for by agreeing to meet a stranger for an alcoholic beverage in a public place after dark. I began to dread these meetings.
Now, I only meet strangers in the afternoon, for coffee, so we can have more clarity and more daylight. I still wear the purple mascara.
But there is something else that happens, even in the afternoon, even just with coffee — even before the beverages are ordered, before we are sitting on the benches, chairs, or stools: I go to meet a man, a stranger, in the afternoon, for coffee. I find him at the appointed hour and location. I say hello. I say his name, question mark. I smile with curiosity, warmth, and somehow, still, a faint, feathery hope. I put my hand out, for a handshake.
But most men, when they see my outstretched hand, jovially announce, “I’m a hugger!” Then they reach out to touch my body, and pull it to theirs.