Friday, April 30, 2010

Lesson From My Nephew - Manners Count!

Recently, I was visiting my family out on Long Island and at the end of the day it was announced that Aunt Marni had to catch her train back to Manhattan. Before I could even try to open the front door for myself, my six-year-old nephew raced over and opened it for me. I was impressed. Then, as we walked to the car, his little legs walked slightly faster so he could get ahead and open the car door for me. I was even more impressed. As my nephew and I sat in the rear of the mini-van, my sister passed back a bag of deliciously tart sour patch kids to my nephew. Before even dipping his tiny fingers in the bag, he turned to me, held the bag out and asked if I would like any. Ok, now I was really impressed. Good job, Laura!

Some of the grown men I know do not have nearly as good manners.

Hearing the outcome of countless dates, I can tell you, Guys, that you can win or lose MAJOR points by your display of good manners (which is often simply showing consideration and concern for your date) or your lack thereof.

When I was discussing this topic with male friends at my most recent Sunday at Noon event at an art gallery, one of the guys seemed a little dubious: “I don’t want to be the nice guy who turns into just a friend. What about the woman's need for the thrill of the chase?” Guys, I am not talking here about tripping all over yourself and doting excessively on a woman. I am addressing the expression of basic gentility. Trust me when I say good manners are a big turn on.

So, with that clarified, perhaps you’re thinking your parents didn’t prepare you as well as my sister has trained my nephew. Or perhaps you’re not sure what constitutes good manners anymore (yes, times are a changin’).
[1] Well there’s hope - you can always consult the updated Emily Post Book of Etiquette (17th Edition)[2]. I actually bought it myself – it’s quite large and covers everything from the impropriety of chewing gum with your mouth open – something which many men and women do and which is my personal pet peeve to on line dating tips (“Be honest when you write your profile, and post an up–to-date photo. Proofread your profile carefully.”).

Now, when I caution you, Guys, to try to display the best manners possible on a date or potentially risk falling into the “nice enough guy, but I don’t think I want to go out with him again” category I’m not talking about women getting their feathers ruffled over your using your salad fork for your entree. Instead, I am talking about, among other things:

  • Walking ahead of the girl on the sidewalk (women HATE this and could very easily decide not to go on a second date based on this conduct alone. It shows a real lack of concern about the well-being of your date);
  • Not seeing your date to the subway, into a cab, etc. (shows a complete indifference to whether she gets home ok);
  • Licking your fingers instead of using a napkin, licking your knife, using your fingers to push your food onto your fork, etc. (you don’t think this happens on dates with people you know, but I assure you, it does);
  • Texting on your blackberry during the date (of course, this goes for both sexes).

And one of the BIGGEST complaints I hear from women is men who talk about themselves virtually the entire time and never ask questions (and typically the men are doing this even though they like these girls and want to go out again!). Ok, sometimes these guys ask one or two questions (to their date’s 20 questions). And for every story she has about skydiving, wine tasting, etc. these braggadocios counter with five stories of their own (as Emily Post’s Book of Etiquette reminds, good conversation should be like a tennis volley). Essentially, with these guys it’s all about them. And it’s funny, because despite the stereotype about women being the chattier of the sexes, I NEVER hear this complaint from the guys. Message to the Men: Women find this conduct self-centered, off-putting, and, frankly, just boring.

So if you’re on a date and trying to make a good impression, here are a few tips that, when followed, can go a long way:

  • Walk alongside the women you are out with. Also try to be conscious of the grates on the NYC sidewalks. Don’t be oblivious and force her to walk right onto one and damage her new and beautiful Jimmy Choos!
  • If it’s been raining/snowing, help her to cross the corners which we all know in Manhattan can be a huge mess after a snowstorm!
  • Compliment her on some aspect of her appearance. This shows appreciation for the effort she put in to look nice for your date (but avoid something sexual: a compliment such as “I like your earrings” or even “you look great” is appropriate and thoughtful).
  • Be a gentleman and help her take her coat off (and also help her with putting it back on when the time comes).
  • Ask her if she would like anything else after finishing brunch/dinner - don’t just immediately ask for the check.
  • AND MOST IMPORTANTLY: Show interest in the other person, i.e. ask questions and be a good listener.

Of course, I could go on and on with suggestions, but you get the point … show some chivalry. Women love it (in fact, everyone appreciates good manners), it tends to indicate good upbringing and it makes women feel appreciated. Finding the right person in this giant city is challenging enough, don’t let bad manners be the reason you’re not meeting and (keeping) Mrs. Right!

[1] Some men have reported to me that they have been chastised for holding the door open for women and now are reluctant to do so. My advice, ignore those women and keep opening the doors – most women (at least the ones you want to date) do appreciate it. However, some etiquette books advise that in this day and age men might want to first ask women “May I open the door for you?” That works too.
[2] Emily Post’s famous book of etiquette has been skillfully updated by her great-grand-daughter-in-law, Peggy Post who is also recognized as the leading authority on etiquette and a prolific author in her own right.


  1. So true Marni, and in restaurants I could add a list a mile long of things people do that simply amaze me. Manners aren't hard, you just have to pay attention.

  2. As "sexist" as this may sound, I believe that chivalry, as exemplified in some of the tips you offered, Marni, show that a woman needs to feel both safe with and protected by her man.

    One thing I've found myself doing is to become extra vigilant when crossing busy Manhattan intersections - not only because of unpredictable cabbies, bicyclists, etc, but because if the woman momentarily loses her attention (perhaps while looking at my handsome face while we talk... j/k), I need to keep my eyes open for her sake as well. Another is to reflexively guard her body, using my arm to put her behind me, if there's some kind of altercation at a bar or on the sidewalk and we can't walk around it.

    Your nephew impresses me as well, Marni!

    - Ex-Syosset Brave

  3. I'm curious: when there are (debatably, perhaps) numerous men out there with the requisite skills, why spend time educating the ones that lack them? Is this symptomatic of the "fix-it" syndrome? (apropros your current post about finding the "perfect" mate)

  4. Manners count - agreed!

    On the flip side - have you ever dated someone who was SO attentive, they were overbearing? Holding a door open or offering your arm when crossing the street is a lovely thing to do. On the other hand, pulling someone out of the line of oncoming pedestrian traffic or ushering them across the street with a push on the back is not necessary. It's great to show a woman your concern (it's noticeable and appreciated), but keep in mind that she somehow managed to survive before your date.

  5. Dear Ex-Syosset Brave, I do not think your comment sounds sexist at all - most women want to feel safe and protected when they are with their men. But you know, men also want to feel safe and protected with the women they care about - just in different ways (a blog on this to come).

    As Leslie comments, there may be a point where the protectiveness is too much for certain women - it's important to gauge the response (or even ask) if you think you might be "overdoing it" with someone.

    However, the basic point remains the same - you can never go wrong with basic good manners!

  6. Dear Anonymous,

    I hate to say it, but unfortunately there are not numerous men out there with the requisite skills. Far too often I hear feedback about men who you would think would have no issues with manners, having issues with manners! So, these overall good guys do need education on these things as it is in their best interest to be aware of what constitutes good manners and it would make their dating/relationship lifes much more rewarding. (I am here to help if I can!) In this instance, I would not put this in the "fix-it" syndrome category - it is really just about creating an awareness. But if the guy is told and still doesn't care to make an effort - it is definitely time to move on.

    Thanks for your comment!