A 60-year-old Russian poet recently made me weak in the knees. This is something that doesn't happen very often. What is it about older men that I find so alluring?
I met him at a poolside in the Hamptons. His surprisingly svelte body glistened in the sun as he stepped out of the pool to greet me with a twinkle in his eyes, blue caves of wisdom studying me under a bouffant of perfectly coiffed white hair. He was tall, striking, elegant. He shook my hand lightly, yet I knew he was from that era where the backs of ladies' hands were kissed and he'd rather have greeted me that way. He had an old-fashioned smoothness about him, instantly rekindling the forlorn romantic deep inside me which longed to be treated like a "lady."*
After a few pleasantries, a small group of us went to lunch and the Russian pulled my chair out for me when we arrived at our table. When I excused myself to go the salle d'eau, he did one of those half-standing motions, like in the old movies. You know, the ones with voluptuous women draped in satin and wearing scarlet lipstick. I swooned in awe -- my knees felt kind of buttery -- and I don't think it was the Sancerre. Throughout the entire meal, this man was attentive, inquisitive and a good listener -- classy in every sense. Not once did he check his smartphone or leave it buzzing on the table.
Being in the presence of a real gentleman served as a reminder that I like being in the presence of real gentlemen, and I'm sure I am not alone. We can disagree until the cows come home, but it feels plain nice when a man is chivalrous. Part of it is a cultural thing, but it's also generational; older men, in general, tend to volley on the side of gallantry. It is not because their diets are better (more fiber?) or because they're spiritually more evolved, but rather because it is what they know. It is what they were taught; the social norm for their generation. Older men don't fool around with texting or tweeting or Facebooking. Perhaps because they find all that stuff overwhelming or superfluous or even absurd. I'm certain it would never cross their minds to try to seduce a woman with a 34-character text message.
As a self-described post-feminist with a career I've worked hard for, I'm definitely not trying to bring back the 1950s, but I do feel alarmed by the fact that texting and sexting are now socially acceptable means for a man to pursue a woman. Of course, what is most important is who a man is deep down -- his values, morals and integrity -- over his preferred communication method or tool of choice. But to be honest, I sometimes feel averse to technology because -- despite its practicality -- it has stripped society of basic etiquette, especially when it comes to matters of courtship. How nice would it be if someone called you up and said hello, how are you? followed by a normal conversation, followed by an invitation to dinner (and dancing?) instead of a text message reading something along the lines of "whattcha doin 2nite wanna come over?" Yet men obviously feel they can get away with this type of behavior because we (women) are letting them. Why should they pull out all the stops when they don't need to? Who has time to invest in romancing a woman when they can just cut to the chase?
Yet if women raised their standards -- refusing to tolerate this kind of behavior -- then men would be forced to change. I do recognize that gender roles are shifting and it currently feels like a slow earthquake, but is this really the direction we want to go in? We can't get rid of cellphones, but do we want our daughters to be sexted or e-seduced? Or to one day write a letter such as this one which was recently published in the Washington Post: "DEAR MISS MANNERS: In the past year, two male friends whom I have known for many years proposed marriage to me. I turned them both down due to the fact that both asked me in a text message."
According to Hanna Rosin, author of the new book, The End of Men, we are on the verge of matriarchy. Therefore, with the growing number of breadwinning women in the world, we should feel more empowered to call the shots, defining what is acceptable and what is not.
Oh, but I forgot, we don't need men anymore.
I asked the Russian what he thought of the way men behaved with women today and he nearly recoiled in disgust. But does his generation bear some responsibility for getting younger so-called modern men back on track?
Maybe I'm just an old soul, like a fortune cookie once claimed. Or maybe I'm just nostalgic for a world I've only read about or seen in movies. I do think 60 might be a touch mature for me, and I'm far from throwing my new iPhone into the Hudson, but I'll be darned if a man ever manages to sext his way to my heart.
In fact, I'm not going to even let him try.
*Of the various definitions Merriam-Webster offers I like this one: Lady = "a woman receiving the homage or devotion of a knight or lover."