I’m eating dinner with a young woman at a restaurant on the Lower East Side. As the discussion winds though typical first date topics like work, hobbies, friends, and family histories, we end up on an interesting subject – chivalry.
“When I’m on the subway,” my date says, “Do you know who I always see give up their seat for an elderly person or a woman?”
“Who?” I reply.
“I’ve noticed that they’re always the first to offer their seat to an elderly or pregnant woman.”
“Often when they need the seats themselves,” I say. “Probably because that’s how they were raised.”
“Who’s bad at giving up their seats?” I ask.
“Financial type guys in their thirties and early forties,” the young woman replies. “They’re the worst.”
“I think that age range is called the ‘asshole period,’” I say.
“Those guys are usually married, mortgaged with kids, and in full career battle mode,” I say. “They’ve got a lot on their minds. I think they’d be chivalrous if they weren’t so preoccupied.”
“That’s no excuse.”
“Self-centeredness is usually the reason people act like assholes.”
“Then again,” I say. “Not everyone is receptive to chivalry.”
“My friend Laura is one of those high powered New York types,” I say. “Wonderful person, nice – but she doesn’t like having doors opened for her.”
“I know people like that.”
“Anyway,” I say. “We were on a business trip and, after a while, I just had to tell her ‘Laura, this is how I was raised. I’m opening the door for you. Deal with it.’”
“How’d she react?”
“She let me act like myself which was very gracious.”
“But some women don’t like men holding the door open for them,” I say. “They think it smacks of sexism or elitism.”
“Well some women think that when guys open the door for us you’re just sneaking a peek at our butts.”
“True,” I say. “But when I open the door for a lady I keep my eyes straight ahead.” (Well, most of the time.)
I chuckle inwardly. I once took a tour of some antebellum mansion in the Deep South. When the tour guide lead us up the grand staircase, she told us to proceed up the stairs like society people did in 1860 – men first, ladies second. This wasn’t because men were considered superior, she explained, it was to prevent randy males from trying to look up the ladies’ hoop dresses. Maybe chivalry is a code women subconsciously made us adapt to protect them from male sexual aggressiveness. Hmmmm. There’s a topic for some researcher.
“I think chivalry was a societal code that evolved to help try and protect women.” I say. “Now that we’re in the twenty-first century and women need men’s protection less, the need for chivalry might be on the decrease.”
“Maybe,” my date says “But sometimes women don’t want to accept help from men because they think the guy’s got another agenda.”
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a woman struggle with a stroller up the stairs and refuse help from a guy.”
“I’ve seen that too.”
“That’s because the woman think the guy’s creepy for offering to help,” my date says.
“When the guy’s just trying to be nice,” I say.
“When my friend Josh sees a lady struggling with a carriage he goes up to her and says ‘Oh my wife and I have the same carriage. Aren’t they a pain?’ and then helps the lady up the stairs.”
“Let me guess,” I say. “Josh doesn’t have kids.”
“Josh’s not even married. “
“So he had to lie in order to do the right thing.”
“It put the mother at ease.”
“Even though being married with kids is not a vaccine against bad behavior.”
“No,” my date says. “But I guess some information is better than none.”
The rest of out meal goes swimmingly – expect for a truly awful dessert which we leave almost untouched. When the check’s delivered I pay. I don’t believe in going dutch on first dates. I don’t argue with the waiter about the dessert either. It’s not his fault it’s bad. When dinner ends I help my date into her coat, open the door for her, talk about getting together for another date, give her an appropriate kiss, watch her leave, hail myself a cab, and head to the Port Authority.
Once I get on my bus I settle in for the ride home. The bus is full but everyone has a seat. When the bus makes it’s first stop in Weehawken, however, several people get on and have to stand. One’s an old women. Honestly, I’m tired and I’d like to sit – but a value isn’t a value unless you suffer for it. I get up and offer my seat.
Only to have some kid dive into it.
“Excuse me,” I say, surprised. “I gave up my seat for that women over there.”
The kid looks at me, iPodded and oblivious. He must be in his “asshole” phase already. I just keep staring at him.
“What?” he says, puling on ear bud out of his head.
“That seat isn’t for you,” I say. “It’s for that old lady over there.”
“Oh! Sorry, yo.”
“Could you let her have it, please?”
“No problem,” the kids says, getting up. “Hey lady!” he says to the old woman “Take this seat.”
“Thank you, dear.” the old woman says, shuffling over. “I appreciate that. I’m going all the way to Paterson.”
The young man did the right thing – with a little prompting. Self-centeredness, or just being oblivious, is often the cause of rude behavior. Occasionally everyone needs a little push. And believe me, I’m no saint. I need a push now and then too.
As the bus shakes and rattles across the battered Jersey roads, I smile to myself. Chivalry is not dead.