Chivalry and the Shifting Goal Posts

I’ve never purported to fully understand people, but an encounter this morning on the bus makes me wonder whether I actually know anything at all about chivalry in this modern day and age.

After jumping aboard the relatively packed 475 for my journey into the city this morning, I was quietly chuffed to see that one of the “priority seating” seats was vacant, so I claimed it as my own and plonked my ass down. When you are 6'5", utilising vacant priority seating isn’t about flippantly waving a raised finger at invisible authority, it’s all about practicality; having no seat in front of you means that you don’t need to contort your body into all manner of unnatural poses in order to accommodate your knees. Think of it as public transport nirvana. (Author’s note: please disregard the obvious oxymoron.)

Five or six minutes into the commute of the unrestricted knee, a woman got on and looked expectantly for somewhere to sit. I have no idea how old she was–remember: it’s rude to ask or guess a woman’s age–but I’d say more than 50, but less than 60. Hell, the way she was dressed, she could have been Corporate Barbie’s mother. Given that peak hour travelling is never very user-friendly, pickings were slim. I was getting off at the next stop, so, with my parent’s words of wisdom about a gentleman offering his seat reverberating around inside my skull, I stood up and gestured towards the now vacant–and pre-warmed–seat. I was expecting her to smile, thank me and perhaps offer praise about what a wonderful human being I was; I wasn’t expecting her to look at me with anger-filled eyes and menace, “I don’t want your seat! Do you think I’m old?”

Once I had wiped the “WTF?” look off my face, I assessed the situation. She was clearly not going to sit down, and I was already standing and holding fast on principle. While I was contemplating explaining to her that I was not under the impression that she was pregnant, disabled, enfeebled or “old”, a 20-something guy who had shuffled in behind her, blissfully unaware of the O.K. Corral-esque standoff taking place in front of him, decided that his name was flashing in neon lights on the still vacant seat, and dived at it like a goalie in a Stanley Cup match. As the bus moved away from the stop, I watched her grasping for something to hold onto with her right hand, as she juggled her fake Louis Vuittion handbag and briefcase in the other. At her feet was some form of tote bag, which I would normally assume contained gym gear, but after our encounter, I found myself hypothesising that it may actually hold the severed heads of the last people to apparently insinuate that she was old. After exiting the bus and checking that she wasn’t following me with a letter opener, I was left to ponder one question: When did the goal posts of chivalry move? When is it now acceptable to offer someone your seat, and when should you just sit there with your pie hole shut?

While I’m still drowning in confusion, let’s examine two more seemingly chivalrous acts that guys should perform, in an attempt to make sense of it all. I’ve got nothing better to do: My pizza hasn’t arrived yet, and you people are already here.

Throwing your jacket over a puddle of mud so your date’s shoes stay clean

While this act of nobility may initially score you bonus points as your date walks along, peering down at her mud-free stilettos, you will eventually come unstuck later in the evening when things get chilly, and you attempt to offer her a jacket that is dirty, wet and looks like it has been used as a makeshift nappy for an infant with explosive diarrhoea. You can’t win: your date either has to choose wet shoes and a warm, clean jacket, or pristine Jimmy Choos and a Poo-go Boss jacket. Either way, it’s going to be your fault.

Making sure your date gets home safely

This one not only makes sense, it’s also polite and not impractical to administer. It doesn’t matter whether you walk them home, drive them home or throw their drunken ass into a cab, the point is that they get home safely, and you sleep easier.

No one wants to watch the early morning news story about an overnight murder and have to ask themselves, “Was that dismembered corpse floating in the river my date?” Gentlemen, nothing makes a more negative impression on your potential bed mate than her getting mugged while walking home alone, purely because you were too lazy to accompany her for the 600m journey back to her apartment. The only thing that will make this worse is if you refused to do so because the pub was still serving $5 pints, or because you wanted to see what happened in extra time. Should you do so, the only time you will ever see her again is if you catch her slashing your tyres or setting fire to your mailbox.

My pizza is finally here, and I’m still confused as to why Corporate Barbie’s mum didn’t want that seat. Perhaps in 2013 society will formalise the rules of chivalry so that the goal posts remain fixed throughout the duration.

When Lyndon Keane isn’t blogging at The Dissemination of Thought, you will find him at either a cafe, casino or bar. Or a magical place that has blackjack, vodka and triple-shot lattes under the one roof: his Utopia. He is currently completing an undergraduate degree in journalism, and believes that pancakes make study easier.


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