Would it surprise you to know that I am a sucker for reality dating shows? I’m not ardent: I tend to google results after about 3 episodes and go back to watching true crime — but I’ll give most dating shows a glance at least once. So when this Spring’s utter rating failure (it’s not a good thing when your executive producer takes up with one of the contestants mid-show) promised to feature “DATING COACHES” I could not look away.
At one point, the only male coach on the show gave this bit of advice: “When a man offers you his jacket and you refuse it, you’re depriving him a chance to feel like a man. YOU think you’re being nice not making him suffer being cold. HE doesn’t see it that way.”
Wait. What? Really?
I promptly paused the show and went and asked IZ. “Is this true? Do guys really think that?”
IZ smiled, “Yeah, kinda. I don’t know if all men think like that, but it’s true for me: I do want to go out of my way for you. And doing those kinds of things makes me feel more like a man. It’s not because you CAN’T do those things for yourself, I just feel good about myself when I do them for you.”
How did I miss this memo?
In all my years of insisting on getting my own door and refusing jackets — or any of those little acts of chivalry — I’ve missed the point. Those acts were just as much about him as they were about me. And that doesn’t make him sexist or lacking in empathy — it made him human. A man in love. A man in love with me. Walter. Tango. Foxtrot. I am an idiot.
In my own defense, dating IZ as a teenager didn’t make matters easy. He opened doors for EVERYONE. And there were times when I honestly thought he would mow me over to get to the door before me. I don’t recall ever seeing my father open a door for my mother, so I didn’t have a frame of reference. And the look that would come over IZ as he would eye down the doorway– it was clear he was on a mission and getting in his way was not a good idea.
That irked me. At 19 I was determined to shake off the sexist “women are lesser” film I had clinging to my skin. As much as he was determined on being a “gentleman” I was hell-bent to not need him to be. This was war. And, because he knows when to let things go, he finally relented. “Fine, get your own door” when I explained yet again that I was WOMAN, I can DO. THIS. MYSELF.
The years would progress and my reasoning (about the doors anyway) became more about practicality. It seemed ridiculous for one of us to get drenched holding a car door. “That’s fine, I’ll meet you inside.”
And then I read this beautiful piece of writing by James Stafford. It’s a love letter really, entitled “You Know You Could Have Been A Candle” — written to the woman he loves. You can read it over on The Good Men Project. And you should, read it. It’s stunning. A small paragraph has stuck with me this week. He writes:
I love that you let me adore you. I shouldn’t complain, but it’s hard sometimes to be a man. I’m not your boss, your competition, or your coworker. I’m not The Man trying to keep you down or put you in your place. I just want to open the door for you because it’s polite. I want to pick up the check, open the jars, hold your hand. There’s no gender politics at work. That you realize that says everything about your character.
It’s taken me 20+ years to realize his impulse to adore me has as much to do with how he was raised as the fact that he does, indeed, adore me. 20 + years for me to let him be the man he truly is: willing to set aside his own argument for the sake of mine. Even though, in this particular case, my argument was misguided. It’s taken 20+ years to realize that it has nothing to do with making me “less”. If anything, I am more for having been loved by a good man. The why of that love, well, that’s beyond my comprehension.
But it is not beyond my amazement. The very memory of his 16 year old self, running to get my door leaves me breathless. I wish I had had the character then to appreciate the gesture at the time. The grace to have said , “Thank you” in the moment. Somehow, I stumbled into loving a good man while reaching for my own door — who, for reasons only he can explain, loves me enough to let me be wrong.
The photo strip was taken on IZ’s 21st birthday–which was 22 years ago this week.