Thursday, March 22, 2012

How To Be A Gentleman

I always find it a difficult balance to be a woman in today’s world. The Womens Movement made it so that women, previously resigned to a life of domestic duty, are now able to enter the work force and hold their own, not being assistants to men, but as formidable forces in the boardroom. We are no longer expected to sit passively while ideas are being discussed, nor is it our duty to get married and have children. We are allowed the choice to do what we want.

I am appreciative to live in a time where to be independent and strong is considered an attribute rather than an aberration. I don’t know how content I would be in a life where I felt compelled to be demure and subordinate to societal norms.

That being said, there is a different kind of pressure that I, and perhaps other women, feel. For us to “have it all” we need to have a career but also manage a family. We need to display that we don’t need a man to support us, and we often go to great lengths to prove that, this includes shunning the idea of gentlemen.

Being a gentleman is often disregarded because women “are equal now” and men either feel it unnecessary, view it as simply a tool of seduction, or worry that a strong woman will be offended by gestures. Or it has taken on a different approach than its true meaning. Being a gentleman is not about money, in fact I strongly believe that it is ridiculous when women expect for a man to pay for everything. For the most part, we’re all in the same boat, earning a living and we should be in a position to afford thing for ourselves. (Not that I don’t enjoy being wined and dined, I mean, who doesn’t?) but being a gentleman is more about attitude, and how to treat those around them correctly. Most women I know like to feel cared for and protected, and at the other side of things, most men I know enjoy being nurtured.

A gentleman is a gentle-man, and is above all, kind. Kindness underpins so many qualities; respect, compassion, attention, thoughtfulness, consideration. I have known several guys who have 'prided' themselves on being a 'nice guy' but a lack of kindness - for themselves, fundamentally - has meant any nice-ness has been inauthentic; their bitterness and negativity seeps through and colors whatever, whoever, they touch. (Not just that… but there is a fundamental difference between nice and kind. Kindness is inherent, whereas being nice is more out of propriety)

So what is a gentleman? A true gentleman gives of himself without any strings, without any expectation of return. He's comfortable to be with as he's comfortable with himself, and has no need to prove himself to others. I would also say that he respects himself, and so errs on the side of strong, contemplated, moral values which also respect others by personifying the following traits:

Chivalry: It’s not dead, and those who say it is are wrong. Yes, I am perfectly capable of opening my own door, pulling out my own chair, or carrying my own bags, just like I can walk out of an elevator after you…however, it’s these little gestures, these signs of respect, that go a long way. My friend Matt (who is definitely a gentleman) reminded me that the dictionary definition of gentleman is: “A well-mannered and considerate man with high standards of proper behavior” which is not exclusive to the lady in their life but rather extends to everyone around them. Things like, giving up a seat in a bus/train for the elderly, a pregnant woman, or a mother balancing a stroller and a young child, or helping the person around you on an airplane stow their baggage (without being asked) these are all marks of a gentleman.

Courting: In a culture where most people meet out at bars, and go home in an alcohol infused haze, there is something magical about going on a real date. I have spoken in the past about how I find the concept of dating contrived and makes me feel anxious but it’s the kind of anxiety that is fueled by anticipation and excitement. It’s a way of saying, “Hey, I am interested in you and want to get to know you better.” As forward thinking as women are, I don’t know a single one who doesn’t enjoy being asked out on a date. I tend to air on the side of, “I do what I want and make my own future”… but not when it comes to courting, in that respect, I am old fashioned. I want someone to pursue ME, I think it’s more fun that way. (In university, I dated a guy who was a master at this, from the day we met he began courting me; taking me on dates, doing considerate things like bringing me my favorite chocolate cake, making me a cd of songs he thought I’d like, writing me notes and leaving them in my bag, walking me to class etc) It’s no secret that men like the chase and women adore feeling wanted. It’s easy to rely on running into someone at your local watering hole, but a gentleman aspires to make the woman feel desired, and courting is a good way to go about that. And men? If you’re going to properly ask someone out, don’t text them, pick up the phone and call them. It doesn’t matter if it’s going to the opera or grabbing street food, the process takes about a minute. If you’re a situation when you ask them out in person, call for the follow up. (In fact, a lot of my friends, all strong independent and successful women, will not go on a first date with a man unless he calls them to ask them out.) Women want to feel considered, not like an afterthought. Oh yeah, and picking her up/dropping her home are nice touches.

Communication: We all communicate in different ways, but it goes without saying that if you’re attracted to/like someone, this should be brought to light. I am not saying one needs to send an endless slew of messages, but as I stated above, we women like to know that you’re thinking about us. If you go on a date with someone and you want to see them again, tell them. Don’t play the stupid “wait for three days” game that is archaic and counterproductive. Unless of course, you are the kind of man who wants someone who likes to play games, which honestly, isn’t a good precedent to set in a relationship. When women play games they’re all about manipulation, power, and drama, and from what I can deduce, most men aren’t into that. It makes for an unhealthy and pointless relationship. I’ve heard men state that “looking too keen makes women less interested” but I disagree, if a woman is intrigued by a man, she generally likes to hear from him. There is, of course, a degree of displaying attention: sending flowers every day or showing up at her house with a guitar to serenade her under her window, will probably scare her, despite her previous notions. Just a simple, “I had a great time, when can I see you again?” should suffice, along with periodic check ins as mundane as, “How was your day?” (Don’t come up with weird excuses to get in contact, be straightforward without being overwhelming)

Compliments: On the tail of communication, if you think she looks beautiful, tell her. If you notice something is different (like hair style/cut) mention it. If we’re into you or out with you, chances are, we’re trying to impress you, so recognition of our efforts will make us happy. Physical attributes aside, we want to know why you like us, and hopefully there’s more to it than how great we look in a skirt. Why did you ask her out? Tell her. (Not necessarily in the form of “I asked you out because X”) If she does something cool or surprising, let her know. There is no need to gush or go overboard as this looks fake and weird. Keep it genuine.

Consideration: This goes hand in hand with chivalry actually. It’s about taking into account the people around you, and making them feel at ease, and happy. If, at a social event, there is someone standing alone or seems out of the loop, a gentleman will approach that person and draw them in so that they feel engaged and comfortable. On a intense level, a gentleman will take into consideration things such a Valentine’s or Women’s Day and take heed to make the women in his life (coworkers, girl friends) feel special. My old housemate bought a bouquet of roses last Valentine’s Day, and gave one rose to each woman in his office (This was my idea, I told him he’d reap the benefits for the rest of the year, which he did), my friend Matt did the same thing for the women he works with on Women’s day (except he was acting on his own accord, which makes him even more wonderful) Just taking time out of their lives to make someone elses better.

Patience: We live in a world of instant gratification, and patience is a virtue that has been shoved aside by its evil cousin, consumption. Be patient with each other: we all have issues that we’re working on, see past those and the good that’s underneath. When it comes to taking things to a physical level, a gentleman doesn’t rush or pressure or guilt trip. He takes his time so that the woman knows it means something. Women are so used to having to fight off advances that to NOT have to is refreshing and piques our curiosity even more. I’ve dated guys who waited WEEKS to kiss me and I can safely say that the anticipation drove me crazy and made me want them all the more. That being said, that was extreme, ridiculous and unnecessary… kiss her (but don’t attack her.)

Propriety: This is the information age and we all over share way more than we should. I am no exception to this rule but a true gentleman will never use his dalliances as conversation fodder. You don’t have to deny anything but rather, not divulge too many details. You may be pressed by those around you to expand on more intimate details but a gentleman will graciously rebuff these and maintain the integrity the private events concerning him and his love interest (including personal conversations) as he wouldn’t want her to be in position where she felt uncomfortable or embarrassed.

Perception: I was once involved with the most beautiful man I’ve ever laid eyes on (who, in fact, embodies everything on this list and is the inspiration behind this post) and, without fail, whenever we were out together, he’d be swarmed. He, however, never let his attention wane from me. I’m not suggesting that when we were out that we were joined at the hip. If in a group, we’d circulate and socialize but he never once let me (or anyone else) believe that he wasn’t there with me. We weren’t the type to hold hands or make-out at a bar, but it was shown in other ways. While always charming and gracious, he didn’t flirt with anyone else, he’d frequently come up to make sure if I was ok, ask if I needed anything. If he came with me, he left with me. A gentleman knows how to balance: to remain endearing to those around him while never letting his date for evening second guess where his affections lie.

Some of you have sent me notes regarding how high I set the bar, stating the my standards are nearly impossible. Maybe they are, but I am not saying we have to encompass all of these, and I am very adamant that what I write is just as much a guideline for myself as it is for others. What I do know is, that I try on a daily basis, to live so I can be happy and proud of the way in which I conduct myself. Knowing that, despite any blunders, my intentions come from a genuine and good I don’t believe is a unrealistic standard to hold other people to. Kindness is key.

The line I often throw out to my male friends regarding how they treat women they are with is, “Treat her how you’d want someone to treat your sister.” If you don’t have a sister, use your imagination, cousin, niece, best friend. This can and should also apply to how women treat men. If you follow this motto, I think it’s almost impossible to fail.

*Thanks to all the gentleman in my life (especially AJ, AK, BL, CG, JB, MC, NM, TFC, VN) who made writing this post so effortless. All I had to do was think about times I was out with you and draw from that.

*Also Anya, again, my pearl of wisdom and insight, you’re the loveliest

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