Does anyone really know what it means to be a “gentleman” anymore?
Gender roles in relationships are definitely shifting, and have been for decades now. When it comes to relationships, even the standard for how a date should unfold is shifting rapidly.
Back in the old days, a guy asked a woman on a date pretty formally, then arrived at her home (often greeted by her father) to pick her up, then escorted her to an event, meal or movie where he treated her to traditional chivalrous gestures. He was expected to open her car door, protect her “honor” should anyone be disrespectful, and of course pay the bill!
Now, women often choose to meet men out, and friendships that cross gender lines often make both men and women wonder if a date is really a date, or if it’s just a hangout. All of these changes have led to some hilarious (and not so hilarious!) confusing double standards.
Here are just a few I’ve experienced, observed, or raised an eyebrow at:
1. Men should behave like “gentlemen”.
Does anyone really know what it means to be a “gentleman” anymore?
I can tell you that the last thing I’m interested in doing is waiting in a car for someone to open a door that I’m perfectly capable of opening myself. Seriously, I do it every day in my own car. You pull on the handle and then push. It’s not hard.
But apparently there are still a few women who think this is an important sign of a guy being respectful. So what are guys supposed to do? Do you insist upon opening a woman’s door, risking being seen as a relic or domineering guy who tells women not to open their own doors? Or do you risk being seen as a brutish cretin who doesn’t care enough to even open a woman’s door when she gets out of the car? It’s a real quagmire!
Solution: Early on in the date, or even while you’re making plans, just ask her! Casually say, “So, are you into traditional chivalry stuff, like guys opening car doors for women?” or even, “What’s do you think makes a guy a gentleman?” This may even give you an idea of whether the two of you will be compatible.
Also, everyone should be thoughtful. Hold doors open for people, give them a hand if they stumble or drop something, regardless of your gender or theirs.
2. Women should be sexy, but not sexual.
This is one of those head-scratchers that goes back as long as written history. Men seem to really like sexy women – but not women who are sexual and express desire. This has presented itself in a number of different ways throughout the generations.
In my mom’s generation they always said, “He won’t want to buy the cow if you give the milk away for free!” In my generation, guys talked about which girls were “wife material” and which girls were “f**k-able”.
You’re supposed to be hot, you’re supposed to entice guys, but not supposed to actually enjoy or want sex with them. At least not casually (or maybe even until you’re married). Why isn’t the woman you want to have crazy sex with also the one you’d consider having a relationship with? What does settling down with a more “virginal” woman gain you? Why is having a supposedly pure wife a sign of a successful man?
This BS is a remnant of patriarchy, and buying into it supports the oppression of women. After all, don’t guys want a “pure” wife because they think she’s more likely to be faithful and more subservient?
Solution: Drop the shame. That’s what this is about. We think sex is dirty and gross, but we still want and crave it. We need to reframe desiring sex as a beautiful and healthy thing – not just for guys but for women, too. And we need to remember that women who want sex aren’t insatiable beasts (any more than you are!) and can be great partners for the long-term.
3. Guys should always pay on dates.
Come on now, give me one good reason why men should always pay for dates. This is outdated crap from a time when young women didn’t have reliable forms of income and young men did, and also set the stage for the man-as-breadwinner and woman-as-homemaker model that now feels downright silly.
And it’s not just old fashioned ladies who buy into this. It’s most modern women and lots of good guys! Ladies, what are we doing to ourselves here? This is crap, and we know it. We earn our own money, we can pay for dates too.
Solution: Whoever does the asking does the paying. If you ask someone out for steak and lobster, I hope you also have the funds to sign that bill. If that’s not in your budget, plan a picnic or head to a cafe.
Also, the non-paying party should always offer to cover half. At least while you’re first getting to know one another. After a while you can have a conversation about what works best for you, as a couple.
4. Men must defend their female partner’s ‘honor’ and safety.
This comes up in my own marriage with relative frequency because I’m the type of woman who isn’t afraid to tell someone off. Even a man.
Recently, a guy said something obnoxious to my son and me, as he walked away from us. Without thinking, I said, “You want to say that to my face?”
When he turned around and came at me, I realized that may have not been the safest choice. When my husband met up with my son and me outside the store he was aghast. He said, “You’re going to end up getting ME into fights with this stuff, too, you know.”
He explained to me the pressure upon a man, particularly a husband and father, to step in and defend us.
He asked, “What would happen if I just walked away while this guy yelled at you? Or if I’d kept quiet? You may not have minded, but I would feel like a failure, and most of the people watching would’ve seen me as an asshole, a wimp, or a bad husband and dad.”
It is a really tough situation, as women are generally smaller and less able to protect ourselves, and we often do not possess the social capital to advocate for ourselves to men the way other men can due to the remnants of patriarchy. That’s why we often call on men to stand up to other men when it comes to problems like street harassment and rape.
Men DO need to stand up to other men when they see abuse, sexism, or harassment in action. We’ve seen time and again that until the group in power (in this case, men) advocates for the oppressed group, nothing changes. But in some ways, this also feels like it undermines my right to stand up to men myself without putting my husband at risk.
Solution: First and foremost, we need systemic fixes to these huge problems. Nobody should feel empowered to harass or harm anybody else. This requires multi-faceted solutions in every arena from education to legislation to criminal justice.
In our daily lives, we should all stand up for one another, but try to resist the urge to increase conflict or find solutions rooted in violence. Self-defense is about protecting yourself without escalating conflict.
5. People don’t want to have an open marriage, but they still cheat like crazy.
By now you’ve probably heard of ethical polyamory in some form or another, often called an open marriage. That is, you and your partner set up your own boundaries for commitment, and they don’t require monogamy, but they do require honesty and communication. People in the US still find this very odd, for some reason.
The judgement of non-monogamous people in the United States is extra ridiculous, seeing as data supports the fact that up to 40% of marriages involve cheating by one or both partners. (Some stats even say that as many as half of men in marriages have been with other partners during their marriages).
It’s odd that we look down on marriages where partners are honest with one another about their sexual desires and activities with other people, but consider dishonesty and keeping secrets about our sexual behavior somewhat normal, and even dare call them “monogamous”.
Wouldn’t it be better if we went into commitment more honestly?
Solution: Stop judging people. Reframe in your mind what “normal” is and be honest with yourself and your partner about your ability to be monogamous. There’s nothing wrong with monogamy (or polyamory), as long as you’re honest with your partner.
6. “I’m not against gay people, but don’t you dare mistake me for being gay!”
These days, most young people in the USA say they’ve got nothing against people being gay, and every year more and more states are making same-sex marriage legal. But the most offensive thing you can do to some people is think they’re gay (or a lesbian, or whatever).
What kind of hypocritical crap is that?!
If you really accept LGBT folks, then you need to stop seeing their identity or orientation as an insult.
Solution: If you’re a guy and a guy asks you out or hits on you, just politely decline. Say, “No thanks,” or “Hey, I’m flattered but I’m actually straight.” Same goes for you, ladies. If you don’t think being a lesbian is a bad thing, who cares if someone thinks you are?
What dating and relationship double standards drive you crazy? Can you think of any good solutions for the ones above?
This article was originally published at The Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission from the author.