Since Valentine’s Day is only a few sleeps away, it’s time for a cautionary tale.
A little while ago, I got picked up in a bar. It was a shameless act; the woman was old enough to be my granddaughter. She asked me if I was alone; I coyly said I was waiting for someone, and she sat down. Gender rituals have obviously changed in half a century. BTW, despite what anybody who knows me will tell you, my ego is not so large that I considered (even for a nanosecond) that she was interested in me. I’m fully aware that my best before date was a long time ago and about the only thing I have to offer young people these days is hackneyed advice. Which, it turns out, was exactly what she wasn’t looking for.
Her story was the usual one: girl meets boy, boy treats girl like Disney Princess, girl treats boy like he’s the Prince, neither one of them is, the unsustainable passion ebbs, everybody gets pissed off. She asked me why. I’m too old a wily coyote to jump into that creek without a paddle, so I hesitated. Then, call it ego, captive audience or one too many hefty white wines but – whatever! — she proceeded to explain it to me.
Apparently, the battle of the sexes has changed dramatically since Ricky and Lucy used to fight it out every week back in the 50s. It seems men, no longer interested in women, have quit being polite. They’re greatest failing, aside from bathroom etiquette, is an obstinate refusal to hold doors open. This archaic practice, above all others, is the major reason why older couples (she tipped her glass to me) have stayed together all these years. I have an ex-wife who could have provided stern evidence to the contrary, but since I obviously wasn’t waiting for her, I kept my mouth shut.
Yet there was more. Since doors had become a sort of feminine DIY item, men just weren’t even trying anymore. They certainly don’t dress the part – not like in the old days. Nor do they hold coats, chairs, flowers or their bodily emissions in check. I stopped her there. There are some things strangers don’t let strangers share.
She went on for another wine and a half and since I wasn’t about to have three pale ales on an empty stomach, I said I was late, excused myself, and went outside to wait.
She was right, you know. We men are not as gallant as we used to be. Chivalry is not necessarily dead, but it is in intensive care. It’s a casualty of gender equality and our increasing descent into permanent Casual Friday. It’s difficult to be on your best behaviour when you’re wearing flip flops and a sweatshirt, especially when your companion is falling out of most of her clothes. Besides, the quintessential act of opening a door for someone has become a chauvinistic minefield. Polite might not be seen as patriarchal, but it’s not always smart to take it on faith. There isn’t a guy over 16 who hasn’t been stitched up after an encounter with the feminist fascisto, who don’t always make their presence known – until it’s too late.
Of course, there is a moral to the story. I wasn’t aware of it at the time or even standing outside in the dizzily rain. For all her caustic observations, it never occurred to my new friend that I hadn’t ever invited her to sit down.
Images by Dina Goldstein