It is 1963 and you are 10 years old. One night, your family decides to go out to dinner. When you arrive at the restaurant, your father opens the car door for your mother. At the entrance, he opens that door too, then politely ushers her inside. In the foyer, he helps her remove her coat. When you arrive at your table, your mother stands by her chair and your father pulls it out for her. As her buttocks descend towards the seat, he pushes it forward with impeccable timing. When the waitress comes over, your father orders the food.
By 1963 standards, your father was a perfect gentleman.
This is how you were taught to treat women and this is how you treated your high school sweetheart when you were 16, although there was always the risk that the chair-pulling exercise could have tragic results if your timing was a little off.
Then things changed.
Now it is 1971 and you are a college freshman. Books have been written about a new concept called "women's lib," but you have not read them. You have always respected the rights of women, but you are clueless about the new etiquette.
You ask a girl out and take her to a pizza joint. When you rush to open the car door for her, she is already in the process of opening it herself, thus accidentally slamming you in the knees; when you hurry to open the restaurant door, she tells you she is more than capable of opening a door by herself; when you try to help her remove her coat, she thinks you are assaulting her from behind and defensively elbows you in the stomach; when you try to pull out her chair, she gives you a look that says, "Are you kidding me?" Things go downhill from there; you do not get a second date. She thinks you are weird. Your ego is bruised, as are your kneecaps.
Flash forward. Now you are 60 and recently divorced. You start dating again but you have no idea what is expected of you in the etiquette department. Your ex-wife had demanded very little of you.
Having come of age in the 1960s, you may have decided that the gentlemanly arts as practiced by your father are obsolete and that it is sufficient simply to come across as a kind, considerate, caring fellow. But your date will not know that right away. Your mastery of the gentlemanly arts might play a significant role in making a good first impression.
The women you date will probably be about your age, which means they have experienced the same changes in etiquette. But nowadays, many women prefer the old style and find it charming and perhaps mandatory to have car doors opened for them by older men like you; others would rather do things for themselves. What to do?
The best advice is to play it by ear. If she remains in the car for more than five seconds after you have parked, this can mean one of two things -- either she has somehow become glued to the car seat or she expects you to open the door for her; if she glowers when you attempt to open the front door, let her do it for herself or suffer a collision as the door hits you in the face as you both struggle to open it; helping her remove her coat will always be an area of confusion and you do not want her elbow and your solar plexus to meet; if you try to pull her chair out for her, chances are she and everybody else in the place will think you're an idiot because nobody does that anymore except maybe at nursing homes in Britain. Should you order for her? Who the hell knows?
All women expect you to act like a gentleman but the definition of that word has become decidedly cloudy in today's complicated world. Times change. Two-hundred years ago, men covered puddles with their bodies so their dates would not get their feet wet.
Chivalry however, is not entirely dead. You are free to slay any dragons that may lurk in the restaurant parking lot should they breathe fire at your date (unless she has a black belt in tae kwon do, in which case you will feel profoundly humiliated).
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