Let's Start Calling Out Bad Dates

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It took me a while to process the #MeToo movement. When the Weinstein case surfaced I was disgusted, but I wasn’t surprised to hear that powerful men in Hollywood take advantage of young actresses. What strikes me the most is the support network that helped Harvey Weinstein hide his dirty secrets and lure women into the trap. The idea that some women were complicit and went to work day after day knowing what was happening to other women turns my stomach.

When the #MeToo movement became stronger and I realized that cases of sexual assault were more common than what I thought, I felt overwhelmed. The crazy thing is that I almost felt guilty because I didn’t experience episodes that were similar to what I was reading. Is sexual assault so common that I am supposed to feel blessed because it never happened to me? It’s so sad to think that sexual misconduct is the norm and feeling safe is the exception.

Then my mind went back to my younger self and to the first relationship I had. I was 16 years old and he was 30. It was a consensual relationship, but I was still a minor. The guy used to come to the same cafe where I went with my girlfriends and sat down with us to chat. Now that I am writing this, it already feels weird that a 30 years old guy would sit at the table with a couple of teenagers. Anyway, he was always kind and kept the distance—I was the one who got close to him and asked him to go out. It was a consensual relationship, but am I not supposed to blame him for saying yes to an infatuated 16 years old? After we got together, our relationship became sour because he was a jealous manipulator who was messing with my head. His apartment faces the house of my parents in Milan and it’s hard to avoid him. When I go back to Italy to visit my parents and I see him, I changed direction and look on the ground—it’s not a happy memory. He tried to wave a couple of times from far away and he can clearly see that I don’t want to have anything to do with him. I can’t believe that he doesn’t understand that he represents a painful memory for me.

What happened to me cannot be compared to many of the stories I read, but it should be part of the conversation because it’s too easy to say that women have the power to say no and leave—we are human and sometimes we get caught in the moment hoping that things will get better. I have been on terrible dates where the guy had “octopus’ hands” and I stayed. We all look for love and attention, and sometimes we take what we get.

In light of the recent story of the woman who accused Aziz Ansari of sexual misconduct, I have mixed feelings. It seems to me just a bad date, and that’s the point. Women are so used to sexual misconduct that they ended up calling it a bad date. Isn’t this crazy? Can we all stop for a second and consider the absurdity of living in a society that normalizes sexual misconduct? If he placed his hand in your underwear right after the first kiss, it’s ok because he is a man?!

Being raped by a stranger in the middle of the night is not the same as sexual misconduct, but the point is that the #MeToo movement signals that it’s time to change the conversation around men’s behavior—what is acceptable and what is not. A “bad date,” where a guy pushes a bit too hard is not acceptable and and it can not be normalized. Let’s start calling out “bad dates” and maybe with time we can change the culture.

 

LifeChiara Townleywisdom, women