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Gentleman Speak: A Gentleman in Progress


Art Credit: Andrea Rose

After posting Jedediah Bila’s reminiscence of an early dating disaster, Verily asked readers on  Twitter a simple and delightfully loaded, question: Are most men "completely out of touch with how to treat a lady?"

As a man, I can tell you that the short answer to that question is, yes. But that’s not the half of it. It’s not that men have forgotten how to treat a lady. It may be that men never knew. At least not intuitively.

A gentlemen is, first of all, a cultural achievement. No boy is born opening doors or laying his jacket across puddles for his sisters and girlfriends. A boy doesn’t naturally keep his word or forbear a slight when an excuse or a score settled is within easy reach. All those things we might call virtues, and good manners must be learned. But to be learned they must be taught, and that requires first of all that they are esteemed. So you’ll immediately see our predicament: Mr. Darcy is not born, ladies, he is made.

Distinguishing between true and false manliness, the American author James Freeman Clarke wrote over a century ago:

“Manliness means perfect manhood, as womanliness implies perfect womanhood. Manliness is the character of man as he ought to be as he was meant to be. It expresses the qualities which go to make a perfect man--truth, courage, conscience, freedom, energy, self-possession, self-control. But it does not exclude gentleness, tenderness, compassion, modesty. A man is not less manly, but more so, because he is gentle. In fact, our word ‘gentlemen’ shows that a typical man must also be a gentle man.”

To say that men today lack exemplars of this kind of manliness would be true, but again, that’s only half the story. Nearly everywhere you look, whether on television or in what passes for men’s magazines, it sure looks like we esteem the exact opposite of Clarke’s true manliness. We’ve got the suave and damnable Don Draper on the one side, and New Girl’s lovable slacker, Nick Miller, on the other.

So what’s a girl to do?

First of all, please don’t lower the bar. We men often tailor our behavior to women’s expectations, so don’t be afraid to communicate your expectations, and don’t hesitate to walk away when necessary. The best way to ensure you’re treated with respect is to start a healthy dose of self-respect. Any man worth your time will rise to the occasion.

Secondly, when you see a man playing the part, let him know you appreciate it. A simple “thank you,” kind words delivered in a note, or surprising him with World Series tickets would all go a long way. (OK any baseball tickets will do, I’m just saying, Guys have dreams too.)

Lastly, and I know this may read as unsympathetic to those surrounded by Drapers and looking for a Darcy, but don’t despair. There are few forces on earth so transformative in a man as the heart of a woman.

(Photo by Andrea Rose)