— Tucker Mitchell

A male friend reports a curious incident from the dating front. Hoping to impress a first-time companion at a nice restaurant, he grasped the back of her chair when they arrived their table and pulled it a few inches backwards. The woman looked at him, looked at the chair and table, then looked back at him, a quizzical expression on her face. An awkward moment followed. Finally, my friend said, “Would you care to sit down?”

After another decidedly suspicious glance, the woman took her seat and my friend helped scoot her chair up to the table.

The dinner progressed. They got to know each other a bit and developed a comfortable enough relationship to where my friend felt okay bringing the “chair thing” up for discussion Did he do something wrong?

No, explained the woman, but she had been burned on the chair thing in the past — a younger brother enjoyed pulling chairs out from under his sisters when they were growing up — and besides that my friend had caught her by surprise. It had been a long time, she said, “since a man actually did something like that (the seating assist)” for her.

The woman in this story is not alone in her confusion. You’re more likely to see a solar eclipse these days than a public display of good old-fashioned manners. (Editor’s note: the next solar eclipse is set for Jan. 15th).

Some might say that’s a good thing (the lack of manners, not the eclipse). Manners were, by and large, born in the days of royalty and many were meant to assure that the high and mighty weren’t offended by the low and humble. The French word etiquette means, basically, “ticket” or the price of admission, suggesting that a knowledge of etiquette (and a willingness to submit to often-bizarre requirements) was necessary to enter the court or society. Some feminists will also argue that some “manners” are demeaning to women, and intentionally so. Ever had an “independent woman” give you the look when you opened the door for her? Yeah, me, too. And, it’s also clear that some manners originated as a way to help us avoid being frank and honest where that might cause an unwanted injury, or as we in say these parts, make a scene. Consider the fabled Southern expression, “why bless her/his/your little heart;” which is, as any well-heeled, Deep South hostess knows, the perfect rejoinder for any social or conversational faux pas. It sounds like, well, like a blessing. Rest assured that it is not. For example:

Guest: “Who’s that in the portrait over the mantle? He’s one ugly SOB.”

Hostest: “Why bless your little heart. That SOB is my dear, departed daddy.”

So there’s a dark side to manners.

But there’s a bright side, too; especially when it comes to relationships between men and women.

I am thinking here not so much of the act itself as of the contemplation of same. While manners were created from a variety of motives, most originated as a symbolic gesture of respect or affection. Most women don’t need help opening doors or sitting in chairs. But when a man opens a door for his wife, helps her put on a coat or get comfortable in her seat, he shows that he cares for her. He’s attending to her needs and putting her (literally in many of these acts) first. Yes, these actions can be performed mindlessly out of habit. But the fact that they are performed so seldom today (based on my highly unscientific observations) suggests such thoughts are coursing across male neurons far less often than they should. To open a door for your wife requires a little planning. To open a car door for her in the age of long-range automated clickers, is tantamount to a public display of affection. You know, like holding hands or something. Yuk!

Pondering the effects of an inverse action may help prove the point. On a recent trip, I was staying at a hotel along with a busload of senior tourists. They descended on the breakfast bar in the lobby each morning like Biblical locusts (albeit locusts with a bus to catch), devouring packaged muffins and tiny boxes of cereal by the boatload before embarking on a day of sightseeing. I arrived after most had left one morning and noticed couple seated a few tables away when I sat down. He was engrossed in his newspaper, she was concentrating on her food. Abruptly, the man put down his paper and growled, “let’s go!” He was up and away from the table and almost out the door before the woman (I’m assuming it was wife) could slurp up another Frosted Flake. She gathered her things and followed as quickly as possible, but he boarded the bus long before she arrived at its door.
Did he treat he like that all the time? Don’t know. Could they have had a fight the night before? Maybe, doesn’t matter. His actions gave the impression — to both a nosy stranger and his wife, I suspect — of anything but care or respect. They were a couple but there was no sign of love.

One of the 12 steps to becoming a Man in Balance, as postulated by MIB founder Jerry Hancock, calls for men to offer the model of an exemplary father for their children – especially their sons. That’s good advice. Surely a big part of that modeling is showing your kids (and anyone else who might see you in a hotel lobby) that you love your wife.

That means all kinds of things, of course. But a good place to start is keeping that idea in front of you all the time, and a good way to do that is by minding your manners.

Pulling a chair out for her (and not from under her!) at a restaurant is no big deal. But remembering why you’d want to certainly is.