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M is for Manners

M is for Manners

 “Manners makyth man” – I’m sure you’ve all heard this maxim attributed to William of Wykeham, a fourteenth-century bishop of Winchester. Today this expression broadly means that your mannerisms and characteristics make you who you are; that is to say we are judged by our manners and conduct. 

For a moment think of your own pet hates as far as manners are concerned: do you get really frustrated by that woman who coughs all over you without putting her hand over her mouth, or the man who speaks with his mouth full, spluttering everywhere … or your nephew who never thanks you for your very thoughtful presents? There are many things we don’t like or have had drummed into – or out of – ourselves when children by careful parents.

But in its earliest use, as manners makyth man, it most likely had a broader and deeper meaning – that manners make us human – that politeness and etiquette are what prevent us from falling into savagery. If you’ve ever read a Victorian novel, people often exclaimed “what a brute of a man”, that is someone whose unrefined and thoughtless actions made him seem like a wild beast.

Of course, I’m talking in this series about dating.  About meeting and getting on with people, and maybe that special person with who we hope to spend the rest of our lives.

Today, it’s principally this aspect of manners, rather than simply etiquette, that I’d like to concentrate on.

I’ve coined a little memory-aid or mnemonic to illustrate four important areas for you to remember.  The word is CERG, and the letters stand for Communication, Effort, Research and Generosity. I think these will be very helpful to you when you embark on the dating process – especially if you’re a bit out of practice or rusty!

Communication

This is so important and must come first.

So, let’s think – to start with – how do you meet someone?  It could be a chance encounter, an introduction by a friend, or sitting beside someone in a café, a church or just on the bus.  Someone you want to keep contact with. And, in my business, it might be a message from a member who, like you, is looking for that special someone.

I remember that time when we used to exchange telephone numbers.  My father-in-law proudly had framed and displayed the little bit of card (from a cigarette packet, for those were the days) he’d written the telephone number on when he very first met his wife at a party. Nowadays, we have a choice of phone, e-mail, a social media contact/notification and yet still – a letter.

As this is about manners, we need to think about making and responding to communication. Please don’t be afraid to make the first contact, for it’s very flattering to receive a message. And my very firm advice to you is – always to respond to any approach you receive.  Think how much courage it took for the person to get round to picking up the phone or putting pen to paper – surely, he or she deserves the courtesy of an acknowledgement at the very least.

Respond quickly and clearly to any invitation to meet.  If you feel you don’t want to pursue this approach, say so politely and kindly, thanking them for the nice thought.

If you are going to ‘give it a go’, then accept eagerly and in a friendly manner.

My parents thought it was essential to thank those who gave me presents for my birthday or at Christmas. In fact, my husband used to be sent to his room a day or two after Christmas to write all his thank-you letters!

In the same way, you can show a really big heart if you sit straight down after a ‘date’ and write to say thank you. Mention any little kindness shown to you, make a point of saying how much you liked the place that was chosen, and – if appropriate – propose a follow-up meeting. 

A little courtesy requires minimal effort of your behalf, but just think (from your own experience) how much it’s appreciated!

Let’s move on to our second letter of CERG, ‘E’ for Effort.

Effort

The theme of courtesy runs through this little piece rather like letters through a stick of rock. I Googled synonyms for courtesy and got, among many others: politeness, good manners, respect, gallantry, graciousness, kindness, consideration and thoughtfulness.

All of these do, to acquire authenticity, require practice to make perfect. Young men used to be taught to stand up when their elders came into the room, to hold open doors and not to take the largest slice of cake.  None of these is ‘natural’.  On the contrary, they really do go against nature – none of the wild beasts do them, I think.

So, if you’re a woman, you’ll want to make an effort to dress appropriately for the occasion, making yourself look nice for the person you’ll meet – as a courtesy to him. Women are good at this, and it comes easily to most. If you think you aren’t best at this, or are out of practice, take some time to practice. Maybe recruit a girlfriend to advise you and help spruce up your ‘going out’ kit!

As a man, you should always aim to be a ‘gentleman’.  Forget those glossy magazines that tell you this is old-fashioned or demeans women.  I do think they are wrong – every woman wants to be treated kindly and in a chivalrous manner. We’re not talking about patronising them here. Make sure you, too, dress cleanly and smartly (it doesn’t have to be expensive to wear clean clothes and look smart). Always bring a ‘little something’ to give as a present – a box of chocolates, a book you’ve especially enjoyed.  Flowers would be perfect, but they’re a little difficult to carry around for an afternoon!

All of this is still just as relevant if you are meeting remotely – like over zoom for example.

Effort leads us nicely to letter three of CERG – R for Research

Research

It is quite usual – especially for those engaging in dating after the first flush of youth – to take a wee time in the planning. The initiator – that’s the person doing the asking out – should choose carefully a place where both of you will feel safe, comfortable and amused – AND let you talk to each other.  Before you meet you might have read a profile prepared by your companion – this would set out a bit about their interests and hobbies. You might not think that someone whose interests are gardening, and country walking will necessarily enjoy going to the cinema to see your favourite science fiction film.

So, give some thought to where you might go.  Pay attention to the interests of the person you are meeting.  A trip to an arboretum in spring or autumn might be much more suitable – beautiful gentle walking, lots to look at and a nice café to warm yourselves in and talk afterwards. Gentle, thoughtful and enjoyable. Even memorable.  You could read up about the special things to look for before you get there.

If it’s your turn to repay the compliment and arrange the next trip out, show you’ve listened to the conversation you’ve had the first time. Try and find a good match, again reflecting the interests, likes AND dislikes of your partner – be a good host.

My hobby is riding horses, and I’m pretty full-on when it comes to them!  My husband, certainly not a natural horseman, has – within limits, of course – tried to share this interest.  He learnt to ride, supports me in my hobby, and helps with horse management like mucking out from time to time.  He doesn’t share my hobby entirely, but he respects it and supports me.

In the same way, you too can research the interests of your date and show a little knowledge and interest.  Just think how pleased he or she will feel once they realise the research you’ve done!

Finally, I’d like to turn to G, the last letter of CERG.  This is for generosity.

Generosity

I think this is a tricky one. There is a great deal of differing opinions on this – for example, who should pay?!  It sounds odd that, in a day when women and men are supposed to be on an equal footing, we should need to mull this one over.

In the ‘olden days of yore’ the man would pay for everything as the woman wasn’t expected to have any money. She, in turn, might make him a little present, a handkerchief with his initials embroidered or something like a lacy bookmark.

There is also – and I think this is important to consider – an unspoken contract of exchange of gifts.  If you were invited to a friend’s house for a meal, you’d probably think of taking something’ almost as a reflex action. This could be something you’d made yourself – jam, marmalade or perhaps a pudding. Or something you’d bought, such as a bunch of flowers or a bottle you know will be appreciated.

In the same way, neither of you going out should EXPECT to be treated, unless this was made quite clear beforehand.  The first time you meet, the man might buy a ticket for you both, but the woman might buy the coffee and cake. This shows respect for each other. It shows strength and self-respect. Sharing is a good thing – after all it’s what happens when people get married!

Avoid being a ‘freeloader’, but also be prepared to accept the other’s generosity.  There are many people who would like to spoil you a bit – to show their gratitude, and it makes them happy. 

I mentioned above the idea of bringing a little present (and I mean little – little in cost and size) as a thoughtful act.  This really can set off your outing with a spring in both your steps.

You might have read The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley, not now widely read, but nevertheless a classic.  One of Tom the chimney sweeps guides is Mrs Do-As-You-Would-Be-Done-By, an echo of what we often call the Golden Rule. You could do far worse than think of that as your maxim when meeting someone for a mutual date or taking someone out.  Think beforehand about what would make the other person happy, what would make her feel special, and how to make him feel you’ve made an effort.

So, to re-cap our C-E-R-G for manners: good communication, make an effort, research and plan to make a good day out, and be generous!