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In #MeToo World, Dating A Whole New Game For Many Mainers

By Ray Routhier Portland Press Herald, Maine

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The #Metoo era has become, for some, a tense dating environment.

Portland Press Herald, Maine

Lauren Kennedy has come to view dating as something of a burden -- something she's not sure is worth the bother right now.

The University of Southern Maine senior is disturbed by some of the dialogue on social media about the #MeToo movement, where critics personally attack women who have gone public with accusations of assault or harassment.

"The reason I haven't been dating lately is because of all of this," said Kennedy, 24, of Portland, pointing to a lack of respect for women, fostered by public figures, including the president, who have been accused of harassment.

"At the same time, it's liberating," she said. "I realize I don't need to date to be happy."

Chris Allen AGE: 46 HOME: Portland OCCUPATION: Graphic artist "It's helped me so much to understand what women go through."

That's one way to deal with the tense dating environment that's resulted from an impassioned public discussion about sexual misconduct, harassment and what is or isn't appropriate behavior.

The highly charged climate has been fueled by the Hollywood sex scandals of last fall, the #MeToo movement and the polarizing presidency of Donald Trump, as well as online dating sites and apps that can embolden crude or belligerent behavior.

In the relatively small dating pool that is Maine, some singles have reacted by dating less or worrying more about whom they'll meet and what they should or shouldn't say.

Some women say the current climate has prompted them to stand up to unwanted advances and be more selective when choosing dates. Some men feel unfairly persecuted by the current movement, while others say they are glad to get an understanding of the humiliations so many women have gone through.

"It has changed the dates I go on because we talk about it every time. I've heard some horror stories from women about some of their dates," said Chris Allen, 46, of Portland. "It's helped me so much to understand what women go through."

FROM HOLLYWOOD TO THE WHOLE COUNTRY While "Me Too" was first used as a way for women to promote awareness of sexual assaults or harassment nearly a decade ago, it became a widespread term last October, after a series of shocking accusations against powerful entertainment figures, including movie producer Harvey Weinstein, comedian Louis C.K. and actor Kevin Spacey.

Weinstein was accused of sexual misconduct by more than 80 women, including actresses he held power over, while C.K. was accused by five women of exposing himself or masturbating in front of them or over the phone. Many other allegations against powerful men were made public around the same time, ranging from verbal harassment to rape.

Soon after Weinstein was publicly accused, actress Alyssa Milano promoted #MeToo on social media, asking women to share their stories of harassment or assault on Twitter; more than 1.2 million tweets featuring the hashtag followed.

The movement spread around the country and prompted very public discussions on what is or isn't appropriate behavior at work, in public, on dates and in budding romantic relationships. The issue has garnered much coverage in the media, including an ongoing New York Times online series called "The MeToo Moment."

In Portland, the well-known co-founder of a business accelerator, Jess Knox of Venture Hall, admitted in January he behaved inappropriately toward two female associates and resigned. In February, AFL-CIO lobbyist Sarah Bigney testified in Augusta, before a committee considering a stronger sexual harassment training program for legislators, about the harassment she experienced while working in the State House, including groping by a lawmaker.

Lauren Kennedy AGE: 24 HOME: Portland OCCUPATION: Senior at the University of Southern Maine "The reason I haven't been dating lately is because of all of this."

The #MeToo movement has been criticized by some as using a witch-hunt mentality to create distrust toward all men.

Robert Kamilewicz, a 36-year-old firefighter from South Portland, said he's definitely felt that distrust on dates in recent months.

He says that he's just "being a nice guy" when he pays for a date's dinner, but increasingly he feels that women are suspicious about his intentions.

"I just had a woman tell me, 'I really like you, and you're super nice, but I always feel like I owe you sex,' " said Kamilewicz, who has been divorced about 10 years and was in a long-term relationship for more than three years afterward. "I guess we are being put in our place after years of repressing women. But I want to be viewed on my own merits, on what I do and how I treat people."

In the past few months, he finds he's dating less and less, maybe going out once every couple of months, rather than once a week, like he was a year ago.

DATING APPS ADDING TO THE PROBLEM Kamilewicz is trying to maintain his sobriety, so going to bars to meet people is not a good option. Like so many singles today, he uses dating apps and online dating sites to meet potential romantic partners. They're quick and easy, and allow people to browse pictures and basic facts about dozens of nearby singles without leaving their couch. But the convenience of being able to start a conversation just by swiping your screen can also lend itself to crude or forward behavior.

"The anonymity on dating apps allows people to push and test somebody, by saying something offensive, and I don't think that's changed" since the #MeToo movement began, said Karen Goodwin, 47, of Saco. "Sometimes they seem to be having a normal back-and-forth with you, and then they want your number, and then you get texts asking for pictures."

A little more than a decade ago, dating apps were basically nonexistent. But by 2015, about 15 percent of American adults had used a dating app or online dating site, according to a Pew Research Center survey of 2,000 adults.

The survey found that, between 2013 and 2015, the use of dating apps and sites by those 18 to 24 had tripled, while the use among those 55 to 64 had doubled. There are dozens of apps and sites to choose from, ranging from the well-known site to newer but increasingly popular apps like Bumble, Tinder and OK Cupid.

Karen Goodwin AGE: 47 HOME: Saco "The anonymity on dating apps allows people to push and test somebody, by saying something offensive, and I don't think that's changed."

Goodwin, who has never been married, said she started using more than a dozen years ago to expand the pool of people she might meet. Even before #MeToo, Goodwin said she was starting to develop a "high filter and low tolerance" for men being crude or offensive on dating sites and apps. So she dates less and has met only two men from dating sites in the last year or so.

She's tried meet-up groups for singles, who get together for social activity, but has found that attendance and interest usually wane after the first meeting or two. She also joined a Facebook group for singles 18 and over, but was "disgusted" by some of what she saw.

"Girls were posting pictures of themselves with cleavage. ... This whole thing with selfies online has really changed ideas of self-respect," said Goodwin. "Things like that give men the chance to be obnoxious."

Allen, who works in graphic arts in Portland, has been divorced for three years, after eight years of marriage and 17 years with the same partner. So, it took him awhile to learn how to date again, how to meet people online, and how to be comfortable talking to people.

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