Chivalry and the single girl

This blog post from James Michael Shama, founder of the New Chivalry Movement (an endeavor I applaud whole-heartedly) has been making the rounds on my Facebook feed over the past few weeks. It’s  great to see advice from one young man to another on being a gentleman. As a woman who spent most workday evenings standing on the DC metro during my four years commuting, while plenty of young, healthy men sat and stared at their phones, I’ve certainly experience firsthand that a good discussion on chivalry is long overdue, especially for my generation.


I appreciate Mr. Shama’s work and I realize he’s speaking largely about relationships and how men ought to treat women within them. Still, as a single woman, I’d also like to remind the gentlemen of this world that chivalry is not limited to the woman you’re romantically interested in. Sure, hold the door for the girl you like and pull out your date’s chair at the table, but chivalry isn’t about scoring points with your girlfriend. It’s about honoring and respecting those more vulnerable than you, which means quite simply there’s not always something in it for you.

More than once I’ve been left in the proverbial cold while men went out of their way to impress my girlfriends with their chivalry. I’m well aware when a man is pursuing my friend, and I know just about every man in my acquaintance currently is only interested in me on the platonic level. I play the best friend role a lot, believe me, and I know how to be a third wheel.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt sometimes. As just one example among a few, several years ago a guy opened a door for my friend, then walked in after her himself and closed it on me–even though we were all walking together. I remember standing there staring at the closed door for a full minute, blinking in bewilderment. Apparently not being a romantic interest meant I wasn’t worth respecting at all. There’s not gentle way to put this: that hurt. It still hurts, in fact, even though it seems like such a small deal, and it happened so long ago.

We single women develop a thick skin to rebuffs like that. Over time we come to expect them. We twist the painful experiences into cynical jokes and snide “funny” stories so they don’t sting quite as much, but the pain of being unnoticed and unlooked-for is very real. Men, do you want to be truly chivalrous? Take the time to perform a random act of gentlemanliness for a woman you’re not romantically interested in. It shouldn’t be a romantic act (you don’t want to send the wrong signal), but just affirming her womanhood means the world — even if she’s used to being cynical and not quite sure how to take it.

AdamAndEve_Garden_Lucas_Cranach_0I often return to that scene in the Garden of Eden, when Adam awoke and saw the woman for the first time. His response was one of wonder and delight; he affirmed the woman as a woman, and that affirmation was her delight. Each of us women is that first woman, and each of us longs to be seen and affirmed, even the most cynical and thick-skinned of us. All it takes is a small act of chivalry, like holding a door or vacating a metro seat, to say, “I affirm you as a woman. Not a potential girlfriend or someone I really want to impress, but as a woman in your own right, even if I never see you again.”

In its ideal form, that’s what chivalry should be all about: affirming the value and worth of the other person, no strings attached.



When driving drives you crazy

For the first four years of my professional life in DC, I was a public transit commuter. In fact, I commuted just about every way possible that doesn’t involve driving: bus, metro, rideshare, bike, and on foot. With my new job has come a host of new things, including a new commuting style. I now join the disgruntled millions on the clogged roadways of the Beltway area on my way to and from work each day. That adds up to a lot of hours spent behind the wheel, a lot of uncomfortably close brushes with accidents, a lot of talk radio, and a lot (read: a LOT) of pent-up rage.

Granted, DC is ranked as having the nation’s 3rd-worst traffic, and there are polls out that say we have the very worst drivers, so there’s plenty to be angry about.

Still, I’m beginning to think I’m a little bit too angry. Do I have to refer through gritted teeth to every individual on the road who chooses to poke along in the left lane at an exact 7.3 miles per hour below the speed limit as a “moron”? Probably not.

Is every speed demon who whizzes by in the right lane after tailgating me in the center for at least three-quarters of a mile when I’m already going over the speed limit and there’s a left lane for speeders and there are TRAFFIC CAMERAS FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE actually a — ah– “jerk”? Probably. It’s a debatable point.

Do I have to pound my steering wheel and cry to the heavens in exasperation every time the person in front of me decides to slam on his brakes and turn left without using a signal? Perhaps there’s a more peaceful way to tackle the situation.

funny-dog-pictures-dog-has-road-rageWhat it boils down to is charity. I realized this one morning about two weeks ago when it occurred to me as I turned the last corner to my office that I hadn’t encountered a single fellow driver whom I had not called some name or other. “Bozo,” “moron,” “idiot,” and “jerk-face” are my personal favorite epithets. Drivers earn such titles for driving too fast, driving too slow, tailgating, being tailgated, leaning on the horn the moment the light turns green, sitting through a green light to text, turning left from the travel lane without using a turn signal, swerving in their travel lane, running lights, pulling illegal U-turns, stopping suddenly to parallel park and then taking inordinate amounts of time to do so, slowing down or stopping in on-ramps to highways, pretending not to see you or racing ahead to cut you off when you try to change lanes in traffic, or any other host of obnoxious things drivers do when they simply don’t give a damn about the other people on the road.

Ok, I reasoned, so other people are jerks and they can’t drive. (In fairness I have to admit: I’ll bet a lot of the time look like a total jerk who can’t drive.) Still, at the end of the day, what other people do on the road really shouldn’t be affecting my attitude the way it does. Certainly I should not be reduced to fits of pale, quaking fury every time I hit the area roadways.

What can be done about it? I’ve settled on a few life choices that will (I hope) decrease my blood pressure, save my lower gums from extinction, and help me be a kinder driver.

1) Start off trips with a traveling prayer. While I’ve always said a traveling prayer for protection when I drive, I’ve begun to tack on a plea for calmness and charity as well. It’s amazing how well that works.

2) Leave the house on time. It is not anyone else’s responsibility to drive faster because I left late. Nor is there a vast DC-area-wide conspiracy against me that’s turning all the lights red as soon as I get to them. At least I’m telling myself there’s not.

3) Focus on the positive. For instance, it’s not a whole lot of effort to give a wave of thanks when another driver yields so I can merge.

4) Be positive. It’s that popular slogan: Be the good you want to see in the world. I can yield, slow down, put away the phone, and for heaven’s sake, just calm down.

5) Recognize that there are jerks in the world, and their jerkiness is exacerbated about 8 million times when they get behind the wheel of a car. Oh well, they can continue to be jerks. As my dad always used to tell me when I got bent out of shape about the injustice of the world: You can’t let the bastards get ya down. Their unkindness does not give me license to be anything less than Christian. (In fact, if that whole “Love your enemies” extends to loving bullying drivers, I guess they really require me to be more Christian.)

No one owns the road, quite simply. I might as well drive like I’m sharing it with the people around me.



Another bus story

The bus almost blew right past me this morning. I had to wave her down, and when I got on board I bit back any cutting remarks and just said, “Thank you!” I mean, I’m willing to give any hard working person the benefit of the doubt, especially first thing in the morning. Mistakes happen. No big.

To my surprise, the driver wasn’t the slightest bit apologetic. She responded to my thanks with a look that said, “You’re the dumbest white girl I’ve seen this year.” She scolded: “You were standing away from the stop.”

Confused, I dropped my SmarTrip card into my bag and said, “Yes…that’s the stop right there.” I’d been standing about a foot away from the bus stop sign, as I do every morning. I see lots of different bus drivers, and so far they’ve all always been able to tell that I wanted to get on their buses, though the bus stop sign is planted in the grass about six inches from the roadside, and I prefer to stand 7 inches farther than that, on the sidewalk.

Her face made it clear I’d just fallen from dumbest white girl of the year to dumbest white girl…ever. She repeated, “Yes, and you were standing away from it.”

I only said, “Oh, okay,” and smiled and walked back to take a seat.

But you should know that I was stewing. I wanted to say, “Thanks for letting me know. Next time I’ll just wrap my arms around the sign and hold on tight till you get here, so there’s no confusion whatsoever.” Because I know lots of people who just hang out randomly in the middle of the sidewalk a foot or two away from bus stop signs. Just because. Move along, bus driver, I’m not looking to go anywhere, just want to stand here and think about things.

Funny the things that make us so angry. The way a little bit of pride can tinge the most mundane moments and make incidents that just don’t matter seem all-important. Who does it hurt if that bus driver thinks I’m a dumb white chick? (And honestly, how wrong is she?) On the flip side, of course, would it have hurt her at all to apologize for nearly missing me? Obviously it was her fault, and it would have been gracious of her to admit it and move on. But when all is said and done, I made it onto the bus, the transit system got paid, and I made it to work on time.

All’s well that ends well.

And now I know, hopeful bus passengers better climb up onto the bus stop sign and wave a red flag, just so there’s no possibility of doubt about where they’re trying to go.