NEW YORK (Reuters) – The #MeToo movement is putting a chill on romance this Valentine’s Day, and a deep freeze on what for years has been a route to marriage: the office love affair, according to relationship experts.
The number of Americans admitting to being in an office romance has fallen, and some feminist activists call that change as well as zero tolerance for unacceptable behavior in the workplace long overdue. The movement is sparking the kind of direct communication essential for love, they say.
“#MeToo will make relationships between men and women more romantic,” said women’s rights activist Jaclyn Friedman.
“If we all become more thoughtful about the care with which we treat our partners, it can only help build trust and intimacy,” said Friedman, a writer whose books include “Yes Means Yes!”
The #MeToo movement has exposed men accused of sexual assault and harassment in fields including entertainment, politics and business. Dozens of prominent men have quit or been fired from high-profile posts, and police have opened investigations into some accusations of sex assault.
The movement is changing dating dynamics in important ways, said Liz Wolfe, managing editor of Young Voices, which distributes opinion pieces written by people younger than 30.
“One good aspect of the #MeToo movement might be an increased emphasis on communication when it comes to sex and romance,” Wolfe said.
#MeToo has dampened one traditional route to dating: Office romances. The percentage of U.S. workers saying they were in one fell to a 10-year-low of 36 percent, according to a Nov. 28-Dec. 20 online Harris Poll of 809 private sector employees sponsored by recruitment site CareerBuilder.
That was down from 41 percent a year earlier, a statistically significant drop in a poll with a 3.45 percent margin of error.
“The #MeToo movement is splashing cold water on whatever embers of romance are struggling to survive between men and women,” said Dr. Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist and author of “Bad Boys: Why We Love Them.”
Co-workers who start dating stand a good chance of staying together: 31 percent of office romantic relationships lead to marriage, the survey showed.
Given the allegations of sexual assault by prominent men, workers would be wise to proceed slowly on workplace flirtations and ensure that their approaches are open and consented to, said Carrie Lukas, author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism.”
“Safe romantic gestures – candy, cards, compliments and flowers – might be construed as aggressive and harassment,” said Lukas.
Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Susan Thomas