Why Men Still Need to Open That Car Door

In order not to drive myself demented with my own company all day long, I’ve decided to go down the road to Café Neo once or twice a week. At any given time of day, it’s full of folk with their laptops, probably also saving themselves from the insanity that comes with too much solitude. And it’s cosy and quiet and a good spot for getting things done. It’s also the regular hangout of a girlfriend of mine who works from home, and on Wednesday I agreed to met her there so she could tell me the sad story of her Saturday night.

Now, my friend (I’ll call her Emma) has a smoking hot career and earns a bundle of money. She doesn’t need any man to pay her bills, rescue her or look after her in any way. But, she’d like to share her life with somebody, so she dates fairly often and is on the lookout for a life partner. This particular Saturday she invited a guy a friend had set her up with along to a ball and, as one does when it’s a ball, went to a lot of trouble getting ready. She had on a beautiful dress, her hair looked gorgeous and she was wearing sexy heels. But, when she opened the door, he didn’t say a word. Not a ‘wow, you look pretty,’ or even an ‘I like your dress’ – nothing.

And it’s not like he’s obliged to or that she’s desperate for affirmation, but when it’s obvious that a woman who’s usually quite no-nonsense and in boardroom attire goes to a lot of effort to look good, isn’t it just manners or something to tell her she looks nice? Then, on the way to the car, she had to negotiate some steep steps wearing these high heels. When he didn’t notice and offer her his arm, she asked if he wouldn’t mind giving her a hand. And instead of realizing he was amiss, jumping to her side and doing the gentlemanly thing, he pointed out that her heels weren’t that high and that surely she could manage by herself.

And this pretty much carried on the entire evening – he’d pour himself a glass of wine and forget to fill hers; his attention would wander while she was talking, and when his phone rang he took the call even though they were half-way through dinner. Wrong, wrong, wrong. While one would assume he just wasn’t that into her, he actually was, but by the time the end of the evening came and he wanted to know when he could see her again and leaned in for a kiss, she was so over him that it was all beyond redemption. ‘He’s not a bad guy,’ she assured me. ‘He’s actually really nice and smart, he just didn’t get the memo.’

He just didn’t get the memo. And that memo is a big deal. It’s not about men being dominant and women submissive, and neither does it undermine feminism or contradict the truism that women and men are equal in all the ways that count. But, when a man and woman (and a man and a man or a woman and a woman) are together in a certain context there is a particular exchange of energy that happens; a sort of dance of the yin and the yang. And when men do stuff like not fill our wine glass or hold the door so we can walk through first or they walk ten steps ahead of us, that beautiful push-and-pull gets broken, somehow. There’s a type of old world graciousness, if you will, which simply ceases to be.

Of course we women are perfectly capable of pouring our own wine and opening our own doors, and we don’t need or want men to do these things for us always; just sometimes. Because what this really amounts to is a sort of ‘seeing,’ isn’t it? A recognition of our otherness; and a metaphorical kind of hat-tipping to our femininity. While all week long Emma is the boss and makes the decisions and wears the tailored pants, now and again she feels like relinquishing that role and relaxing into a different sort of space where she’s allowed to just be a girl being taken out by a boy. And that’s completely okay. So, men, next time you’re taking somebody somewhere nice and she’s put on a dress and perfume and is looking every part of beautiful, please don’t hold back from telling her. It doesn’t matter if she’s the CEO of the world – tonight she is on a date and in her heart she’s Cinderella. It’s just your job to be the prince.


9 thoughts on “Why Men Still Need to Open That Car Door

  1. Susan, this is absolutely perfectly written . . . in fact, I am going to share this with BOTH my daughters (13-next-week and 9) because although I may stress the importance of a woman’s pride and all that we as moms of girls have to install in our young ladies, I could never have said it as perfectly as you have written this blog today. Your words will tell my girls that it is good – important – to be strong women, to not have to depend on others, but that the boys and men (or girls and women . . . who knows????) who want to steal a little bit of their attention and their hearts, must recognize the Cinderella in each of them and let them feel like a princess when the time is right. Thank you – a gem in my inbox this morning. Hope your spirits have lifted as the week has progressed!

  2. Good manners is a lost artform, and it’s certainly in need of a comeback. I think one key aspect is simply that when some people do something then others do it too, but these days the norms presented in television shows seem to be where most of us take our cues.

    At my office it’s routine for men to open doors for people (note that’s gender neutral) because of the actions of two men. But herein lies a problem: I don’t see where women’s manners are any better than men’s. As often as I’ve opened doors for women at the office, when I’m carrying something large these same women will just let the door slam behind them instead of returning the respect I’ve shown them.

    I think this highlights an issue for many men: reciprocity is important to us. As the saying goes, chivalry followed wherever ladylike went. Still, someone must make the first move, so why not the man? But while it’s acceptable for a woman to insist that a man pay for dinner, it’s sexist for him to insist she make him a sandwich. Yet, these are two sides of the same coin, which is why feminists refer to chivalry as benevolent sexism – and they’re right.

    I don’t advocate telling women to make sandwiches, but neither do I advocate chivalry. Good manners is a separate issue. Your friend’s date should have filled her wine glass when he filled his. But at the same time, if she decided she’s ready for more wine she could take the bottle and then fill his glass when she’s done.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful words, Siegfried. I agree – it’s a complicated domain, and not the kind of viewpoint I would normally take. But as I get older I start to perceive certain nuances which the kind of feminism I was taught at university oversimplifies. There is something kind of nice about making a sandwich for someone you love when that someone is quite capable of making their own and would never expect it. I think that’s the point I was trying to make.

  3. Hey I open the door to my vehicle every time my girlfriend gets in and we walk hand in hand and i look out for her etc….it makes me feel good for others to see i care about her …….but i did have good training, the one before her was a really bossy pants and kicked my ass

  4. I grew up in a generation where we made the sandwiches and he opened the car door. I rather like that to this day, even if I had now become a lazy cook, with the empty nest, as I am alone.
    But poor manners have caught on faster than the speed of light and its hard to watch tv these days with its perpetual promotion of bad manners. Good manners are not a fashion fad, it is timeless.
    It says something about your breeding, regardless of where you are from.
    It is indeed sad to see it fading away in society.

  5. I just spent most of my workday taking small little breaks to read another-and-another-and-another one of your fantastic blog entries. I love it!! I love your style!! I completely agree with your friend and how perfectly you explained the situation. As a corporate lady myself … all I want some nights and over weekends is to go home, let go of a bit of control and let someone take some decisions for me for a change even though I might protest at first.

    I used to be very set on doing everything myself and not needing the help of any man. I preferred opening my own car door, pouring my own drink and refusing that any man pays for me and trying to do almost anything that a man can do…because I can. It has taken me a long time to realize that I have been craving the above niceties (bar the guys paying for me) and that the said small gestures shows respect, good manners and pure good old chivalry and that it does not undermine my idea of being a strong and independent women.

    … now… to find the old world chivalrous guy who can handle a strong hard headed personality of a lady that loves to be treated like a girl more than once in a while….

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