Writer’s note: I’ve added completely random and fake names into this column for reading clarity!

Hi Yana,

I ran into Sam who is a friend of mine that I have been distancing myself from because I think they’re mean and selfish. Sam invited me out and I said “Oh, I have a date with Chris” and Sam said “I feel like I should tell you not to.” I had to leave to go back to work and told them to text me more about this.

Sam’s roommate texted me later that evening around 11 p.m. to tell me Sam was “too tired” to text me but that Chris had really “fucked over” Sam and “Oh, also they had assaulted a minor, FYI.”

So, I reached out to Sam for clarification and they got really defensive, could not give me any details about the assault and was generally acting very flippant about the whole thing. They didn’t know when it happened, how people found out, nor could they offer anyone else for me to talk to [about these incidents].

Is it wrong for me to ask questions? Should I really be so trusting of Sam if I think they are pushing some weird cancel culture agenda?


Curious About Cancellation

Dear Curious,

“Cancel culture” has become such a beast in our social landscape that I struggle to even want to write this column at all, to be honest. In a quick Google, the Macmillan Dictionary describes the noun: “The practice of no longer supporting people, especially celebrities, or products that are regarded as unacceptable or problematic.” And then, their chosen example sentence: “The danger of cancel culture is that there’s an arrogance attached to it.”

Cancel culture is often credited to online communities of women of color who started utilizing “canceling” hashtags on Twitter with the intention and successful impact of keeping peers in the loop about — and therefore safe from — predatory individuals. Since then, cancel culture has morphed into some sort of unrecognizable social justice weapon which, at times, can be used to publicly shame people on the internet, sometimes seemingly for any and all social digressions. This often results in the “canceled” person radically reducing their social media use, involvement in their communities, and, therefore, also, dodging or being unwilling to participate in any accountability action or reparative justice efforts for whatever behavior they were “canceled” for in the first place.

At times, “call outs” and “canceling” can be wielded in an overly socially performative way to indicate the superiority of the person initiating the “call out” over the person being “canceled.” This, unfortunately, has watered down its original intended use and left many, like yourself, unsure of how to proceed when the notice of someone being “canceled” gets posted on your proverbial dating door.

Finding out that your would-be-date has been “canceled” by a person you’re not even sure you like or trust (Sam) can be confusing, hard to trace, and often places people in a position of feeling social pressure to conform to the “cancel” rather than make their own informed choices about how they’d like to interact with said canceled individual.

Is cancel culture social justice? Is it mob mentality? Is it useful? More harmful than good? It’s hard to say in the words we have left here and I myself feel personally conflicted about it so, back to you.

I don’t think it’s wrong for you to ask questions and in fact, before cancel culture was even a culture, the process of sussing out whether or not you feel trusting of a new date is up to you. I don’t think it’s out of line to ask follow-up questions of someone who offered you information that may impact your personal dating safety. I don’t think it’s out of line to ask Chris directly about this information — most especially about an alleged assault against a minor. You also have the option of postponing your date to have more thinking time.

Cancel culture or not, it’s important that everyone still feels like they have the agency to make their own choices in their romantic and sexual interactions that are based on their own safety, values, ethics, and assessments of the situation. After all, cancel culture is at least partly designed to allow people to make informed decisions. So, you should do whatever makes you feel able to make one about this situation for yourself.

Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.