March 27, 2012
When I got out of the truck last night, headed for a movie, I walked to the front bumper and waited for my girlfriend to catch up. I allowed her to pass, then took her right hand in my left before turning right down the sidewalk. As we returned to our parking spot after the movie, sides were switched–her left hand now in my right.
Later that evening, as we ate ice cream out of the carton, we remembered our first date a couple of months ago. After a burger and a beer that December night, we walked down Market Street and across the river. “Do you remember which side of me you were on as we walked across the bridge?” I asked her. “Of course. You were on my left, as any gentleman would have been.” I smiled. Never had we discussed how we would arrange ourselves on a given sidewalk, but every time, instinctively, that is the way we do it. What I didn’t realize until this conversation, however, was that she was always making room for me in expectation of my positioning myself between traffic and her. And she had no way of knowing that I would have felt terribly amiss had I not taken that place.
She also had no way of knowing that on Sunday mornings when I was a young boy my father would always walk with me, a little faster than my mom, my sisters, and any other ladies heading from their cars to the church door, so that we could, together, open and hold it for them. We would continue holding that door for men, women, boys, and girls until either there was a long break in traffic, or another gentleman insisted on taking over duties for us.
When thanked for our behavior, we would respond with “You’re welcome ma’am or Sir,” though no thanks were ever expected. That is simply the way we did things.
Since moving back to the South nearly six years ago, I have been surprised and more than a little troubled to find that the attitudes I experienced in the upper Midwest regarding manners have crept into our southern society. Even here in the South, I am chastised for “Ma’aming” someone, told that “I’m not that old!” or educated that “I can get the door myself,” by women unaccepting of polite, respectful behavior. Ironically, I’ve never had a man complain about holding his door, or calling him “Sir”, and when I unlocked and opened the car door for a good friend (a heterosexual man of 37, by the way) before walking around to my own door, I received a simple “Thanks, Man” in return.
Then, today, while having my truck worked on at a local dealership, I was offered a loaner car for the day. Before signing the rental agreement, I was encouraged to walk out and inspect the car inside and out. Beginning on the driver side, I inspected the paint all the way around until I came to the front passenger door, at which time I reached in my pocket for the key to have a peep inside. But when I looked down at the door handle, I found no keyhole. I held the key close to the door, thinking it must be some kind of new smart lock. Nothing happened. I looked at the key for a remote entry button. None.
Walking back around the car, I found the only keyhole on the vehicle in the driver’s door. This was, of course, fine for my purposes. I unlocked the door and sat down to have a look for dirt, grime, tears, or other offenses. But what if I had been walking hand-in-hand with my girlfriend and approached her door first, or dashing to the car during a driving rain after lunch with my buddy? I would be completely unable to open the door without walking around the car, unlocking it, and walking back, by which time she would have opened the door herself and let herself in, or he would have been soaking wet.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not into Chivalry. I don’t think that able-bodied women (or men) need my help or are any less capable than I am of protecting themselves from oncoming traffic, heavy doors, or confusing, newfangled car door latches, but I do know that doing the little things for each other, putting others’ safety first, being polite, or showing a little respect makes me feel good. And being shown the same courtesies from others has a similar effect on me.
Maybe that rental Sentra comes with a remote opener that I was not afforded for our few hours together, but even if so, eventually batteries die and electronics wear out, so why not a little backup, just in case? Would it be that big a deal to put a little keyhole in the door like we have done for decades? And maybe the guy behind you at the store hasn’t earned having a door held for him, or perhaps you just had a fight with your girlfriend and think she deserves standing in the rain while you walk around the car… Fine, don’t do it for them. But try, just once, doing it for yourself and see how it makes you feel. You might be pleasantly surprised, and so might they.