We can blame the Victorian’s for their influence on social etiquette. There are two reasons we created “etiquette”, or rules to follow in social situations. For one, etiquette translates to status, and status translates to power. The more rules I know, the more refined I am, the more money my parents had to send me to refinement school. But also, etiquette allows us to standardized potentially chaotic social situations. For example, dinner etiquette says we pass the bowl to the right (even if the person is sitting right next to us). Whether the rule is to pass the bowl to the right or to the left is irrelevant, but the important thing is, by standardizing which way we pass the bowl, we are making sure everyone is agreeing which direction to send things, and that eliminates us potentially smashing our bowls into each other (and ruining dinner). The same thing is true with dating: we create social contracts between men and women to avoid potentially chaotic situations (like, us both entering the door together and him causing me to bump into the frame and acquire a large welt on my forehead that he won’t be able to stop staring at for the remainder of the date).
Now, I should also preface this post by saying that some people don’t care about social conventions. In today’s modern world, where women have fought to become equals, some women will tell you they do not like chivalry, because it takes away their agency and suppresses their power; by you pulling out my chair, you are suggesting that I am weak, feeble, and unable to do it by myself, and to some modern women, that’s offensive. I personally read these gestures as a sign of thoughtfulness and selflessness; you pulling out my chair for me is recognizing that you can put my needs before your own, and that will be very important in future scenarios (like if we are on a boat that crashes into a hidden iceberg–I want to be the one floating on the piece of wood). But, that is just fine because it actually eliminates some people from the dating pool; people who don’t care about social conventions should be with other people who don’t care about social conventions, and people who do care about social conventions should be with people who do care.
I recently read this post from a guy who was on a search for his future wife. He began by making a very detailed list of all the characteristics his perfect wife would have: her life philosophies, what kind of family she came from, her career path, what texture her hair would be. And upon writing this list, he realized that, if this is the kind of wife he wanted, he also must become the kind of man who would attract that kind of wife. I believe these “rules” are a social contract. A contract means you get something out of it, and I get something out of it, and collectively, we both benefit. Like, you buy me a drink, but in return, I engage you in conversation. As the female, I play certain roles, and as the male, you play certain roles. I can’t just run around, snapping my fingers, playing the Ugly Step Sister, treating you like crap, expecting you to worship the ground I walk on without me doing something for you in return. You treat me like a princess, I treat you like a prince. Actions do speak louder than words, and language has limitations, so by playing into these social conventions, we are creating a contract, allowing our date to run more smoothly, and also providing ourselves with the opportunity to pick up on qualities of their character. In a world where the average marrying age is OLD, I don’t really have time to fail a bunch of relationships, so paying attention to these social contracts allows me to quickly assess whether his life philosophies match with mine, and ultimately his potential for husband material. Interestingly, upon my research, there are many rules for the gentleman to follow, but very few rules for the lady to adhere to.
What he does: Comes to the door to pick me up
Why he does it: Traditionally, I’m probably still living with my parents, so allowing him to come to the door to pick me up allows him the opportunity to meet my parents (or in my case, my room mates) and to ensure to them I will be in good hands. It allows them the opportunity to talk about what we will be doing, where we will be going, and when we can expect to be home. A good first impression is important, especially if he sees himself sticking around for a while, and allows him to rest easy that no one will be waiting with a shotgun.
How I respond: I wait inside (or somewhere away from the front door) for him to pick me up
Why I respond that way: If he is the kind of guy who believes in chivalry, by me running out to his car, I’m trumping on the way he ticks, and suppressing his own value system. Likely what happens when we are speeding away is he is worried about gaining that rude reputation. So, I just wait (impatiently) for him to come to my door.
What he does: Offers me warmer clothing
Why he does it: By offering me warmer clothing, he is non-verbally signalling to me that he has the ability to think outside of himself–that others needs are more immediate and important than his own. If I’m looking at marrying this man someday, that is a incredibly important trait, especially if we were to have children–because when a child is involved, ALL of our needs go away. He wants to prove to me he has that capacity.
How I respond: Accept the warmer clothing
Why I respond that way: By accepting the warmer clothing, I am affirming that I notice his selfless gesture. If I were to reject the clothing, likely what happens is he feels bad, because his moral code and upbringing says I should not suffer, and no one ends up wearing the warmer clothing because he morally cannot and I am socially refusing. Plus, if I end up “taking the warmer clothing home with me”, it (a) leaves me with a physical reminder of him, and (b) gives me an excuse to see him again.
What he does: Calls me
Why he does it: By being the call-ee, he is eliminating the chaos of “missing each other’s phone calls” and all the emotional turmoil that comes out of thinking they are rejecting you. Its the same argument with which way to pass the food at the dinner table; the rule itself is irrelevant, but the fact that there IS a rule eliminates chaos, misunderstanding, and hurt feelings.
How I respond: I answer
Why I respond that way: Its likely that he has waited all day to call me (just like I’ve waited all day to answer the phone). He’s probably coming with a list of topics to discuss, things to ask me, and he’s carved out time in his schedule to devote to me. So, I need to be respectful of his gestures, and answer my phone. Oh, and if he’s calling me frequently, it means he sees something in me, so I make sure I look really nice when we meet his friends.
What he does: Plans the date
Why he does it: We have all been in those situations where we get in the car, don’t have a plan, we ask everyone where they want to eat, and their response is, “I dunno”, and then people start getting irritated and start arguing with each other. As humans, we don’t respond well to ambiguity, so by him planning the date, its preventing us from arguing with each other, and increases the chance of the date going well and his search for a wife to come to a close.
How I respond: Am accepting of whatever he plans
Why I respond that way: Likely, he has spent days, weeks agonizing over the best place to take me. He’s probably stalked my Facebook to look for my interests, asked my friends about my preferences, dropped hints to me (and because I’m so ignorant, I bypass all of these and am so surprised when he picks my favorite restaurant). I need to make sure I validate and appreciate all the time he spent thinking about me (even if I am tired of sushi).
What he does: Allows me to order first
Why he does it: By allowing me to order first, he is ensuring that he will order something that matches whatever I’m getting. Like, if he gets something that must be eaten with red wine, and I get something that must be eaten with white wine, then we are in a pickle as to who is driving us home…
How I respond: Avoid ordering the most expensive thing on the menu
Why I respond that way: Ordering the most expensive thing on the menu is taking advantage of his kind gestures, and I need to signal that I am also kind, compassionate, and caring. One of the reasons I hate dating is because people see it as “just a free meal”, but its really not a free meal, and its wrong to use people for their material items. He’s probably worked really hard for that money. Plus, if this thing is going anywhere, we could be sharing bank accounts, so that could be my money someday I’m spending…
What he does: Walks behind me
Why he does it: He wants to make sure that I am safe and protected. If we are in a crowded area, he wants to make sure I’m not getting roofied or pick-pocketed. He wants to be able to give “the eye” to any guy who is giving me elevator eyes. He wants to make sure we arrive to our destination safely and securely.
How I respond: Walk in front of him
Why I respond that way: These qualities are engrained in the man I hope to marry someday, so by not walking in front of him, I’m also squashing on his foundation as a person. Ok, so being a teacher, I’m always picking up after my students, and I carry that tendency into my personal life; its really painful for me to leave a place where there is trash to pick up. Usually what happens is, I spot the trash, am advised/rushed out so I don’t pick it up, and I spend the rest of the time feeling guilty about not throwing away the trash, and that limits my experience of the situation. If I don’t allow him to follow through on these behaviors, then I’m also inhibiting his experience, and suppressing his own natural inclinations (and let’s face it, going on a date with Britany Ederveen is perhaps the most enthralling experience you’ll ever have, so you will want to be present and soak up every moment).
…chivalry is not dead, it’s just hibernating, and I need to make sure I do my part to awake it…