Being a Gentleman

What does it mean to be a gentleman? This is a good question to ask yourself whether you are prepping for your first ever date or reading this in a cubicle somewhere.

Back in the day, it meant a man of noble birth — someone who owned land and had a title. Later, it came to mean a man from a good or wealthy family, if not necessarily someone from the nobility. Lately, it’s come to mean someone with good manners.

But I believe good human beings are made, not born. And I also believe being a true gentleman goes way behind the surface level things we tend to associate with the phrase now. Let’s dig in a little, shall we?

handsome gentleman on a business call

A Gentleman Respects Boundaries

You’ve probably heard your parents tell you to “be a gentleman” a lot as you were growing up, usually in reference to how you treated women. Chances are they meant holding the door open at restaurants, opening the car door for your date, and the like. These are all fine things (assuming your date wants you to behave this way), but being a gentleman goes so much deeper.

If you want to really be a gentleman, try this: respect the boundaries of women. You can apply this concept across the whole range of your life. Are things getting hot and heavy? Make sure everyone is okay with it — and any kind of coercion (physical, mental, or emotional) is absolutely, 100% wrong. It’s possible you might have some guy friends telling you that women need (or like) to be pushed or convinced a little in these matters. Do not listen to these so-called friends. That kind of mentality leads directly to sexual assault.

Respecting boundaries also extends to how you interact with women you aren’t actively in a relationship with. Here are a few things that are always worth repeating: don’t whistle, gawk, sneer, leer, poke, pinch, touch, comment upon, or otherwise invade the physical or emotional space of the women in your acquaintance. And don’t, repeat, don’t send unsolicited lewd pictures. Hot tip: nobody, repeat, nobody wants that.

A Gentleman Only Gives Attention When It Is Desired

There’s an insidious belief instilled deeply into our culture that if you ask a woman on a date, and she refuses, that you should keep asking in increasingly dramatic or escalating ways until she finally says yes. This behavior — which is deeply disturbing to most women, especially in the workplace — seems to have been romanticized for dramatic purposes at some point in our past and has appeared in books, movies, and tv shows regularly ever since.

Please don’t do this. That kind of persistence isn’t romantic. It’s creepy. And a gentleman isn’t creepy.

handsome gentleman holding flowers and wine

A Gentleman Speaks Up

Do you know when it’s hard to be a gentleman? When no one around you is one.

Oh well. Be a gentleman, anyway.

This situation comes up a lot when it’s just a bunch of guys hanging around. Men tend to say things in the single-gender company that they would never dream of saying to a woman’s face. Here’s a good life tip: if there’s something you can’t say around one group of people, it’s probably something you shouldn’t say at all.

You might find yourself remaining silent while the dudes around you make disrespectful comments about a woman or women in general (or any other group, really). It’s easy to think that as long as you aren’t participating in such talk, that you aren’t condoning it. But silence is complacency. Speak out against this kind of behavior, and know that you are improving the lives of your fellow human beings by doing so. Any friends you lose as a result weren’t worth having in any case.

A Gentleman Doesn’t Believe He is Owed

One disturbing trend of the last few years is the so-called Nice Guy Effect. The Nice Guy Effect is when a man lives according to all of the above but then believes his adherence to that behavior entitles him to the affection or sexual attention of the women he interacts with. When that attention is not given, he either begins behaving terribly towards the woman in question (thus proving that his initial behavior was a sham) or whines to his friends about how badly women treat nice guys.

This belief and attendant behavior utterly misses the point. You are treating women decently — being a gentleman —because they are human beings just like you and deserve to be treated as such. Decency is not transactional. Nobody owes you anything — particularly not sexually — for rising to basic levels of human behavior we expect people to grasp in childhood.

handsome gentelmen shaking hands

A Gentleman Leads by Example

Embracing this way of living — and talking about it — is meaningless if you aren’t living it out. You can start being a gentleman today — right now. Not because you want to get something out of it and not because anyone expects you to — but because it’s the right thing to do.