the old man with watery blue eyes in the Tipperary pub looked at me curiously. "You wouldn't be a feminist, would you now?"
I said, "Only strictly speaking."
"Good," he grunted. "Lovely girl. I was afraid you might be one of those I hear about. Just the other day, me friend Joe holds the door open for a young lass and her swain. She walks through, and then she turns to him and says 'You're a sexist pig.' 'Twas shocking, it was."
It was shocking so shocking, in fact, that I didn't believe it. It sounded like an urban myth, like those stories about Pop Rocks perforating stomachs, car headlights signaling gang violence and Jamie Lee Curtis being a certified hermaphrodite.
But almost as hard to believe as the Irish lass' Andrea Dworkin imitation was the act that supposedly inspired it. Who the hell holds doors open for women anymore? Could it be that Ireland was still so quaint they held on to this charming little act of gender deference? Hell, I'm moving. Count me in to that vast pool of immigrants flooding onto the Dun Laoghaire shores.
Lately, I've been feeling like something has gone terribly wrong in the dating etiquette department. Somehow, when American mothers and fathers instruct their sons in how to treat women fairly, decently and equitably, plain old politeness is getting tossed out with the bathwater.
"I went on a great date the other night," Harriet told me. "He picked me up at my door. He held the door open for me. He walked me home. Oh, he was an OK guy, but I'll definitely go out with him again. The experience was so ... unique."
Ah yes, the hoary old chestnut of feminism. I'd be the first to insist that doors should be held open for all and sundry. I'd even go so far as to say that after an evening out, friends should see their pal safely to the door, whether male, female or Jamie Lee Curtis. But where is it written that equality knocks out chivalry, in some weird ethical paper-scissors-rock game?
The other night, I struggled out of my date's car with two heavy Christmas shopping bags. "Clod" (not his real name) watched me lug them into the restaurant. Once seated, Clod ordered himself a glass of wine. The waiter then asked me if I'd like anything. When the bill came, we looked it over, decided how much each of us owed and put down the correct amount. Clod later dropped me off on the corner of my street, asked if we could get together next week and sped off into the night.
Uh, OK. On paper, Clod didn't do anything wrong. He was soft-spoken, well-intentioned, treated me with utter equality and left me feeling completely unimpressed.
We girls have made a big stink out of being treated well, and rightly so, but somewhere along the line the message got garbled. "When I was in my 20s, it was okay to be the Good Old Guy when I was on a date," I said to my friend Matt, "but now, I'm really tired of it." Matt looked at me incredulously a feminist saying she wanted to be treated like a girl? In Matt's mind, "old world chivalry" was synonomous with "demeaning." The recipients of said chivalry might get insulted; they might get mad. That was the message he'd gotten, growing up in in Berkeley in the '60s and '70s.
Well, news flash. Being treated equally doesn't mean being treated like a soccer buddy. If you boys really, really want to impress a woman, try this novel approach. If you ask her out for a drink, offer to pick her up. Insist on paying for the check, no matter how vociferously she protests. (If she's asked you out, let her pay if she wants. Make sure you pay the next time. Cheapness is not sexy.) Hold the door open for her. The more gallant among you will help her on with her coat. And always, always make sure she's safely home.
An extreme example of this is my friend Kaitlin's description of being the sole woman in a crowded elevator in Argentina. She's crammed way in the back, and no one's so much as glanced her way, but BING, when the elevator arrives at her floor, the men part like the Red Sea. Nobody moves until she's sailed out the doors and is on her way.
Of course such behavior is silly; of course it's a time waster. So are table manners. But in this day and age of voice mail, automated tellers, irate drivers and Internet flamers, what an oasis.