Writing romance in the #MeToo era

This is not a political article.

I stumbled upon a Twitter feed yesterday that made me think… Are books, TV and movies giving men the wrong ideas about how to approach women? How does it usually go? The hero meets cute girl at the grocery store/park/gallery/whatever, is immediately attracted and pursues with great (creepy) enthusiasm. He is relentless and she finally acquiesces to his charm. Sigh… True love!

Here’s what happened to the young woman on Twitter. She’s walking her dog in the park. Dog stops to sniff near a bench where Man is sitting. He makes friendly gestures, offers dog one of the pretzels he’s eating, smiles at Girl.

“Beautiful dog.” Man

“Thanks!” Girl

“Haven’t seen you around here before. You live nearby?” Man

“Um, yeah. Not too far.” Girl

“Nice, me too.” Man

Blah, blah, conversation about the weather….

“Are you single?” Man

At this point girl is getting nervous. He has left the bench and stands nearby. He’s waaay too familiar. Touches her arm. Moving closer, invading her space.

Still she tells the truth. “Yes, I’m single.”

“We should get together sometime…” Man

“Ummm” Girl. “I have to go.”

Girl leaves, walks along park pathway, stops to answer a text from a friend. Finds Man behind her. Now she’s scared.

“Hey, I thought you had to go.” Man says with a grin.

“Just answering a text.” Girl

Anyway, she got away safe. Was a little freaked out and plans on taking the dog on another route for their daily walk. My point is, isn’t this a typical scenario for a romantic comedy and/or romantic novel? The woman is reluctant, the man is relentless and in the end they fall madly in love. What we, as writers/film makers, are reinforcing is this idea that creepy behavior wins the girl! Now believe me, I love the idea of instant attraction and that intial spark of chemistry that transmutes into life-long love. But… How do we write that without sending the wrong message?

Isn’t this the exact same formula that romance writers and film makers repeatedly use? It never occurred to me that it was a ‘thing’ until I read the experience of this young woman. Even though I’ve never used a scenario like this in any of my stories, I still feel like I need to reevaluate the way I approach romance in my writing. As a woman and an author I feel like I have a responsibility to write creatively but with conscience. If we women write this kind of story, aren’t we telling men that this is what we want? What say you, fellow writers? This is important stuff….

67 thoughts on “Writing romance in the #MeToo era

  1. You’re making an excellent point. Only the misguided man or woman does not recognize boundaries and I don’t think they learn from Romantic novels. If a woman or man is not wary of the overly enthusiastic behavior they may be placing themselves in danger. Thanks for bringing this up for discussion Meg; Food for thought.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks Holly, and I also think times have changed and the world in general has become more dangerous. The chance encounter with the handsome man or the pretty woman leading to the happy ending versus the risk of putting oneself in harm’s way. It will effect the way I write budding relationships from now on.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly. The innocence is lost. Now you go on a first date only after searching the prospective person online, and maybe even running a background check! 😲

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I read this on twitter a couple of days ago. I remember the story vividly. I think I agree that modern romantic stories (comedies in particular) like to portray the guy getting the girl because of persistence (even in the face of her wishes).

    I have to admit I have thought about it a lot since I read it. And I’ve come to the sad conclusion that a few rotten apples doesn’t spoil the whole bunch….is unfortunately a farce and doesn’t ring true for those in the position of concern.

    Men must behave, and I mean all of us, in a manner that respects personal space, body language and concern for the other person’s anxiety level.

    Honestly I feel the days of walking up to someone on the street and initiating conversation with the goal of romantic involvement is over. It just can’t continue.

    And I keep trying to figure out how my own scenario would have gone if 18 years ago I would not have walked into the Hallmark Store where my wife worked and tried to be charming and asked for her number…. I don’t know. I honestly don’t know how we could have met otherwise. And I have all the beautiful years she and I have spent together and my two wonderful children as a result of my boldness.

    I think the answer lies somewhere in the simple thought…that if she had protested my interest in her. I would have immediately apologized for my behavior, asked for her pardon and immediately vacated her presence never to bother her again.

    I think that’s where the problem comes in. Men have lost (or don’t care to have) the ability to read signals and understand that if someone says no (even if it is no, thank you) it means no. Pursuing someone against their wishes is not the behavior of a gentleman and no matter how many times hollywood tells us different, we must honor their wishes.

    Sorry for the wall of text. Like I said I have been thinking about this a lot.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I have too, Eric! The comment thread was enlightening as well. Especially from the men who realized they had acted this way (not to that extent) in talking to a woman they had just met. Times have changed. And you are right about boundaries: recognizing when it’s not ok to pursue the issue. As a writer, I don’t want to contribute to the problem! PS – I am so glad you got her number! 💜

      Liked by 1 person

    2. You hit the nail on the head with this: “I think the answer lies somewhere in the simple thought…that if she had protested my interest in her. I would have immediately apologized for my behavior, asked for her pardon and immediately vacated her presence never to bother her again.”
      I’ve heard men recently lamenting “can’t we ever speak to someone we’re attracted to anymore?” My answer is “of course you can!” and something similar to your paragraph. Knowing when they’ve crossed a line and stopping is the key to it all.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. Eric, You put it right in there; respect for the feelings of the other person. As writers, we can handle this issue by showing that if the woman says no, then the man goes on. We should help women by showing that not all men are so respectful, and how they can learn to beware. It’s as great plot line for the bad guy so the good guy comes in to save the day. I know, it is the white knight plot line, but you were the white knight to your wife back in the day and that is the type of romance I believe in.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. You make good points here. I’m not a romance reader or writer, myself, but in film and elsewhere–yes, that’s the standard scenario and it’s one many women would find creepy in real life. I typically think of the romance novel as a woman’s guilty (or not guilty) pleasure. But there must be men who read them; certainly there are men who are invited to read them and watch romantic plots in TV and movies by their girlfriends/wives. Are we inviting the men to act like that by sending the message that this is what romantic pursuit looks like? I think any responsible writer has to take a closer look at the message being sent–especially in this age of #metoo.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Rebecca. That is exactly it! Hopefully creativity will generate alternate ways for our fictional characters to find each other and fall in love without reinforcing that unhealthy/aggressive approach! I want to write in good conscience.


  4. I think you’re onto something here, in a sense. I agree with Holly, that only someone with questionable motives or intelligence is unable to read cues about boundaries, or ignores them. But yes, story lines are very repetitive in tv, film, and even books. I’m not a writer, but as a reader, I’d prefer to see a story with more substance and growth between the characters, not some cliche and/or borderline creepy concocted nonsense. Pursuing someone is one thing, with dignity and class and respect towards the pursuee. Brow beating and nearly stalking is a whole other thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And in giving it some thought, I realized (at least in the past, even the recent past) women writers of romance novels are the ones coming up with many of these scenarios. I have always read Nora Roberts, for example. She doesn’t write this way so much now, but in her books from the 1990’s, the female lead always started out hating the guy who was attracted to her. But ‘chemistry’ happened and they ended up falling madly in love. Often after the male lead grabbed her and kissed her against her will. That does not fly in this day and age!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can’t believe it has taken this long for women to get fed up with this shit. And it’s almost ironic that Hollywood was the final straw. And maybe that’s one good thing to come out of having a mysoginistic dipshit in the White House. Numb nuts epitomizes all that is privileged and entitled.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yep. Crazy. I think it’s long overdue. The 60’s were a season of change. But the 80’s seemed to make everyone forget the progress, it seems. Can’t believe the shit we still have to protest and detest. 😕

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I think that we’re living in the era of compromised communications skills, brought on by the era of the smart phone. Part of the reason for the lack of correct interpretation of positive interaction between two people is due to the lack of interpersonal skills – again, the smart phone era and social media. People today don’t call, they text. They post. Facial mannerisms, vocal inflections, nuances of the human eye – are lost. I disagree with Eric on the point of approaching someone to try to meet them is over. I’ve approached – and have been approached on many occasions. This is not an act of aggression, nor is it inappropriate. If rejected, I would simply thank her for her time and leave. The issue is the person who will not stop trying to initiate, and that’s the problem. What of asking a person to dance at a night club? While I think that there are monsters out there – Weinstein et al, there are people trying to find that true love without the assistance of yet another smartphone app to help them. Sorry for pontificating, but in closing I’ll attach a link of what Catherine Deneuve had to say about it:


    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks, Rob! You’re not pontificating! I read that article regarding Catherine and the other French women. I think they make some good points in the respect that clumsy flirting should not be put in the same category as sexual assault and that accusations should not be equated with guilt. And you are right about the way we communicate in the modern age. You however, know when to back off and I believe some men don’t get that message. Especially when it is a man in a position of power: your boss, your editor, etc. when refusing advances might have consequences. In your example of asking someone to dance at a nightclub, if they say no, you as a responsible man, thank her and walk away. The nightclub scenario goes sour if man asks woman to dance, she says no and he follows her around all night buying her drinks. Anyway, I’m talking about how we as writers have to think deeply about how we portray healthy romance within our work. I neither want to contribute to or gloss over the problem!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sorry for hijacking, Meg. I do understand that there are predators and they must be called out. I would simply deplore the day that most men are painted with the same brush. I would say that you should write from your personal perspective, and that would be the most honest and appealing way to reach your readers.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. No apology necessary! I don’t want to see all men portrayed the same way either. And the sticky issue is how to get past those uncomfortable initial forays into a relationship? The time when a woman might be wary and a man needs to understand when to move ahead and how fast to go. Everyone will proceed at their own pace.


  6. Am I glad I’m at this end of life rather than starting out!!!! I just don’t know how I would feel as a young man, trying to meet girls, being so unsure of myself, not knowing the boundaries.

    But, hang on a minute, I did know the boundaries as a young man. I was taught to respect girls, and older people, I didn’t pursue girls who had rebuffed me. Sure, I was far more innocent than youngsters are now, and porn was a few black and white pictures of naked ladies with blanked out pubic areas.

    By all means be mindful of the situation that has always been there Meg, but do not overcompensate. Having spoken to many young, and not so young, ladies over the years, I have found many who have enjoyed the chase, have enjoyed being pursued, and, indeed have encouraged it. That will always be the case. There will always be those, of both sexes, who stretch the boundaries, and, sadly, those who do not recognise them.

    I am thankful that Catherine Deneuve wrote what she did, and not at all surprised that it was immediately shouted down by many. That seems to be the case nowadays, it is almost a heinous crime to have a personal opinion, and people demand that others apologise for having that opinion.

    As a certain molester, who should have been jailed, would say “SAD!”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not surprised she got blasted for her comments either. I think if everyone took a minute to think and not just react they would see that she does indeed make a good point. But that isn’t how things go these days. The absurd seems to rule. I read the other day that the Prince kissing Sleeping Beauty was in fact, sexual misconduct because she wasn’t awake to give consent. Sigh…

      I guess what I’m going to do is try to portray romance without the ‘don’t take no for an answer’ approach. Which isn’t the same thing as the chase. I think a man should be able to tell the difference between genuine disinterest and just holding back. AND a woman should be clear about not giving the wrong signals. Nevertheless, I don’t want to see romance reduced to a formal agreement with two parties stating their positions before commencing the relationship! Where’s the fun in that?

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Interesting!
    I think writers would want to write about things that are real and authentic. But looking at your scenario, I think there might be a couple of caveats and before I mention them, let me preface it with the idea that I believe EVERYONE is different and sees things differently.

    The first caveat is this: The woman in your scenario feels the guy is “creepy”, that is her clue that this should not go anywhere. Now, that doesn’t mean the guy sees it that way, but I do believe that guys MUST respect the wishes that are said to them and anything less than an affirmation is a “no”.

    So, the next caveat is that I know there are women (I have family members and friends that are women that have mentioned this) that enjoy the chase of a guy and have said they enjoy giving a little interest to maintain his interest, but coyly keep things at a distance. In this scenario is the guy “creepy”, if the woman feels he is not? I would suppose not.

    But wouldn’t the romantic notion in the things that are written would include guys that understand the pursuit is okay, if she has not indicated it should stop? I think in the scenario you proposed, she indicated she is not interested – even if he caught her in the lie. Is it his responsibility to back off? Absolutely! But if a salesman keeps knocking on your door, sadly and unfortunately, a distinct and assertive “no” is warranted.

    I know it’s a sensitive subject, and I certainly hope I’ve approached it in that way…

    On a side note, I’ve never had a guy pursue me and have often wondered what it would be like….hmmm… maybe my own blog post is warranted on the subject?


    1. You hit the nail on the head. A lot of what goes wrong is perception. Man thinks he’s being assertive, let’s say. But woman thinks he’s being ‘creepy’ – it doesn’t mean he IS a creep, but that is her perception. Nevertheless, what the woman feels should not be invalidated because he didn’t mean it that way. Who knows what she may have experienced in the past to make her feel that way? The guy does not get to decide what is an acceptable approach to romancing her. AND I would add that the same would be true if the woman was the one doing the pursuing. Men’s feelings should equally be respected. Excellent comment, my friend!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow, this is really creepy. I think that man has absolutely no understanding of personal space. I doubt he learnt that from a movie.
    I totally agree that movies are making relationships seems all too shallow these days. They’re becoming more unrealistic by the day. Thanks for bringing it up. I’ve actually never thought of this

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Alicia! No I’m sure his behavior wasn’t learned by watching film or by reading. It just struck me how that scenario seems to be a standard format for fictional romance. I think writers might want to take it into consideration! Thank you for commenting!


  9. Lots of interesting discussions here. I also wonder if these fictional scenarios may sometimes contribute to women not speaking up.
    Seeing in print and in movies the female being swept off her feet, finally “seeing the light” and falling madly in love my distort her view of how she should act. She may think she is the only “victim” and instead of a predator, he is just a really persistent suitor.
    I want to make it clear, I am only talking about unwelcome attention. Assault and abuse are a whole different ballgame. A crime should never be mistaken for simple clueless behavior.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Right! I used the Nora Roberts example in another comment. This scenario of the woman despising the male pursuer until finally there’s some epiphany – as in, he forces a steamy kiss on her – is a romance standard! Have we let ourselves be subtly influenced by that storyline? Does anyone remember General Hospital in the 1980’s? 😱 Luke rapes Laura and she falls in love with him! That is just horrifying when I look back on it, but at the time it was the hottest romance on TV!

      Liked by 2 people

  10. The most interesting thing I’ve read on a topic similar to this is the attraction. If the woman in this scenario was equally attracted to the man, it would have been a romantic gesture. Because she was not, it was creepy. I think this falls in line with everyone else’s comments, but believe this is the line that romantic movies/books/stories fall into. The woman IS attracted to the persistent man (although maybe annoyed by him, etc) which is why it’s ok for him to pursue. How the other party is to read No meaning No or No meaning Pursue is something I’m glad I no longer have to figure out at this point in my life. Great topic!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point! In books and films, we the reader/viewer know the woman actually finds the male pursuer attractive because we are privy to her thoughts. Therefore his relentless pursuit doesn’t seem ‘off’ but in the real world, his behavior wouldn’t be acceptable if she was telling him no! Thanks so much for your thoughts, Michelle!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I do not think that the twitter feed you describe is the formula… the standard scenario… for books/tv/movies. I think if there’s a formula, it stops at “Blah, blah, conversation about the weather…” The rest of the story after that… I don’t think that’s part of what we see or read on screen or in books. At least not what I see or read. Unless it’s a story about a creepy guy, etc. But not if it’s going to turn out that the guy in question becomes “the” guy.

    I support those who have had bad things happen and I applaud them for speaking up.

    That being said, I know I’d still want a guy to approach me if he wanted to. Not to stalk me or harass me, obviously… but if he wants to meet me, say hi, make small talk, tell me how beautiful I am (LOL)… well, I’m all for that. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the guy in this situation. I think… and someone will probably attack me for this (and if so, I will not engage)… but I think in some cases, things have been taken too far. I heard a female celebrity talking about how sometimes fans crowd them to take pictures and has anyone ever touched her ass? Yes. Was it harrassment? No. It was an accident due to circumstances.

    I think if all of this results in men being afraid to approach women in any way, that’s a horrible tragedy. Men need to respect a woman’s “no”… but if she doesn’t say no, maybe she’s interested… until she’s not. So yes, she needs to be respected. But I don’t like the idea that men can’t approach women anymore. And as far as writing goes… if I wrote a guy who was a little too persistent and disrespectful to the point of becoming creepy, that’s what his character would be… a creep. That guy wouldn’t be my “leading man.”

    Maybe it’s because I write romantic cliche crap, but I don’t think any of this whole topic will impact my writing at all. It’s fiction after all.

    And for the record, I do not think the unhealthy/aggressive approach is the standard in romance novels or romantic movies at all. Not even a little bit. And if the man in my life modeled his behavior after the ‘hero’ in a romance novel/film, I’d be THRILLED. I freaking wish!!

    (Sorry for rambling on…)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No apology necessary. I would not want a man to be ‘afraid’ to approach me either (if I were available) but I do think that boundaries need to be in place. It’s the idea of a man feeling he is entitled to persist when he’s been told to back off. As if it’s his right to ignore a woman’s wishes. And there is a huge difference between flirting and exerting pressure on someone to submit to their wishes. As in I am your boss and if you expect to get ahead in this company….

      As for romance novels/romantic comedies I do think there —let’s say used to be— a formula for the man to chase the reluctant female. She’s not interested at first but he doesn’t give up. In the real world, a line needs to be drawn or else that does end up being harassment. In film we have a clue that the female lead actually does find the guy attractive so it doesn’t seem so bad. But in today’s scary world, we have to exercise caution.

      So maybe I’m dating myself with the romance novels but this scenario was ubiquitous in Nora Roberts’ novels up till recently.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I understand what you’re saying. Certainly no man should feel it’s okay to persist once he’s been told no. I think, though, there’s a difference between a woman saying “no way in hell” and a woman who’s exasperated in a you-know-she’s-going-to-end-up-with-him kind of way.

        In my vast reading library (hahaha), I can’t think of any examples where the guy took it too far and still ended up with the girl… If a guy takes it to a creepy place, it’s because he’s a creep and doesn’t turn out to be the hero. But yes… if Mr. Creepy turned out to be the hero, that’s not good. But I read cheesy love stories. 🙂

        And I don’t want a man to be afraid to approach me either. Availability notwithstanding. 😀 LOL I know… bad.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Right! So that’s where I was really going with this: that I would be mindful of the way I portray the way a man might pursue a woman. I actually did the creepy stalker story in my second novel. Pro football player who thinks every woman should fall at his feet gets obsessed with my female lead and he does all the wrong things to try and romance her. Instead he ends up stalking her and things get bad. I just never want to be ambiguous about the good and bad ways to go about winning the girl! 😜

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Yes, I do think this is something that needs to be addressed. I used that romance arc in one of my books but have been doing my best to stay away from it every since. It’s not realistic when you think about it. It takes time, chance encounters, deeper conversation, several dates, and similar life experiences for people fall in love. It’s not always an immediate attraction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, exactly! I’m going to be very aware of it going forward. A romance can develop in interesting ways without being love at first sight. This will force us to be creative! Thanks for your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. There’s so much wrong with the way romance is written. It’s a fantasy that noone can truly find.
    You’ve raised an excellent point here but it goes beyond this creepy resilient man chasing what he wants.

    Romance today isn’t written creative. Maybe it never was. It gives women high expectations, men wrong expectations and does nothing bit paint a poor picture of reality.

    I love the conversation starter in this. Sadly as an old heterosexual white man I can really get involved but I love what you’ve written

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is spot on. Every year I around Valentine’s Day I repost an article I wrote called Romance Reality Check. The fantasy Hallmark and Hollywood sell us is a recipe for failure. True love, real romance is tenderness and talking, giving of oneself not elaborate gifts… poetry not pearls! Anyway, my intention is to write realism into my romances and highlight simplicity with staying power.

      You’re not old! In your 30’s by the look of your avatar photo! 🧐


      1. I think there’s still a place for fantasy romance but it needs a grounding in realism.
        I don’t know if I’ve read your reality check… I look forward to it if not.

        I’m old enough that im in the demographic that’s to blame for most problems in the world.
        Still young enough to have fun but I know opinion doesn’t apply on many topics now

        Liked by 1 person

  14. What fascinating conversations, Meg. It sounds like everyone agrees that the original scenario is creepy and not at all romantic. It seems like common sense to me about boundaries, but I’m sure there are lots of people out there who don’t pick up on the nuances. And maybe women who send mixed messages. And of course someone in a position of authority, be it a man or woman, needs to be very careful in the workplace. I’m old enough to have started working when offices had that good old boy network and women were often treated inappropriately. I’m happy to see things changing and hope I brought my boys up to be respectful men.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Dee. Yes, I’m happy things are changing too. And maybe the men who haven’t picked up those nuances and the women who send mixed signals will be aware of their behavior. It’s educational for all of us!

      Liked by 1 person

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