About Last Night : How do you approach women these days? 14-10-18

November 14, 2018

Q: Last weekend I was in a crowded cafe when I spotted a woman I know standing at the counter with her back to me, waiting to pay. I placed my hand on her shoulder, and greeted her, but I was taken aback when she responded coldly, and asked me not to touch her without asking permission first. How the hell do you approach women these days?

A: Gender relationships are a minefield at the moment, and you need to tread carefully. You probably felt stung, and defensive in reaction to her response, but getting cross only exacerbates the situation.

Recently, my partner spotted a mate in the supermarket, and wolf-whistled him for a joke. A woman nearby swung around, and he fell over himself, apologising and explaining. She laughed, and said she was disappointed it was not aimed at her, but she could have gone ballistic. No matter how confused you feel, try to stay calm, do not sulk, or take it personally.

The reality is that many women have experienced sexual harassment, and unwanted approaches from men. The #metoo movement has brought the issue to the fore, and people are sensitive. Put yourself in her shoes. You meant to be friendly, but your unexpected touch might have startled her. An assertive woman is not being aggressive.

What is called for, in these uncertain times, is to practise studied courtesy. Even if it seems stilted, and overly formal, it is the safest way to demonstrate your respect. Courtesy originated in mediaeval Europe, and was a system of etiquette and good manners designed to ensure civilised conduct in a royal court. What was new was the way it ensured the respectful treatment of noble women. This was not an early form of feminism. High-born women were the property of men, so the man’s honour was maintained by not preying on their women.

Never assume that your approaches are welcome, even if you want to offer a compliment. By asking, “May I give you a compliment?” you give her the opportunity to accept, or to tell you that she would prefer to be left alone. You cannot know if she is preoccupied, feeling frazzled, unwell, or is in the mood for a bit of peace and quiet.

If she is receptive, think about how you frame that compliment. Saying that she has beautiful eyes could imply that you have the right to decide if she is attractive or not. It is better to say that you love her eyes, or shoes, or whatever, thereby acknowledging that your opinion is subjective. Also, remember that a woman’s friendly, trusting response to your approach does not mean that she wants you to make any other advances.

Imagine a garden you pass everyday in which there is a superb rose bush. Nobody objects to you looking at it, and enjoying the sight as you pass. If a warm breeze wafts its scent your way, enjoy that as well. However, you are unlikely to believe that it is appropriate to unlatch the gate, and walk across the lawn for a closer look, or to pick some of the blooms. Your appreciation of the plant’s beauty does not give you the right to approach it without permission.

This is not just a gender issue. There are a number of situations where we all need to question our entitlement. Do not assume that it is OK to feel a woman’s baby bump, or talk to her child. Ask before you pat someone’s dog, or take a close look at his or her car. Think twice before teasing someone about going bald, or having a beer belly. Never assume your personal observations are acceptable, even if you think that you are “only joking”.

Society used to be hidebound with stultifying formality that made genuine connections difficult. Maybe we have moved too far towards informality, and unconsidered intimacy. Take a step back, and ask permission to engage with others, and, if you are rebuffed, apologise, thank them for their honesty, and move on. You are unlikely to encounter a negative response if you have been courteous and respectful.

Email: abtlastnight@gmail.com

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