Tolan is an Emmy Award-winning television screenwriter, director, producer and member of The Harold Ramis Film School advisory board.
Improv is a lot like life: it’s dominated by men (Editor’s Note: See debate on that issue here, here and finally here) who love to pretend. As a man and an improviser, I can attest that my imagination is not only a tool in scenes, but also in real life. For example, if I’m ever interacting with someone who intimidates me, I pretend they’re a different person entirely.
Enter women. I don’t get ‘em! One minute they’re cold, the next minute they’re still cold… I don’t think I’m alone when I say I just don’t know how to treat a Modern Woman. And the frustrating part is, I was raised a Southern Gentleman (Southern Connecticut, to be exact). I was schooled in the art of lady-charming! But as Dr. Pepper TEN reaffirmed, chivalry is dead.
So if you’re like me— perplexed by modern women, yet still striving to remain a consummate (modern) gentleman— do what I do: Pretend! Here are a few examples to get you going…
Holding the Door Open
We’ve all been there: You’re walking into a local establishment— could be retail, could be recreational— and a woman is walking behind you. What do you do?! Well, I’ll tell you what I do:
Pretend they’re a thick, tattooed biker!
Then hold the door open, look “him” square in the eyes, and say, “After you.”
If they walk through the doorway: Follow behind at reasonable distance. You won’t have the urge to be creepy and stare at the butt before you, because that would be super inappropriate! Not to mention, they could probably beat the piss out of you.
If they insist upon having you go first and/or holding the door open for you: It might seem a bit “odd” at first, but realize someone else besides you had manners instilled in them from a young age. To demand they go before you undermines those manners, good parenting, and is ultimately just rude. So just smile and walk through the door.
Offering Your Seat on the Train/Bus
If you find a woman standing near you while you enjoy a good sit, the gentlemen inside of you will feel inclined to offer her your seat. Before you act on that impulse, try imagining her as…
An old man decked out in military garb!
You’re patriotism and your agism will kick in, and you’ll still be incline to offer your seat. Then look them square in the eyes and ask, “Excuse me, would you like to sit?”
If they say yes: Get up and give them your seat. You’ll feel good about yourself… but you won’t feel inclined to ask for their number. For all you know, the dude never served in the military and is just some old crazy wearing a uniform.
If they say no: Respect their decision. Don’t demean them and insist they take your seat; that implies they’re too weak to stand. Know that just because they didn’t take your seat doesn’t mean it wasn’t nice of you for offering.
Buying a Drink
So you’re at a bar. It’s stuffy and hot and miserable. But in the corner, there’s a woman who catches your eye. The thought pops into your mind to buy her a beverage. Before you go ahead and charge that well-drink to your Discover card, do what I do:
Picture her as a swarthy sea-captain!
Then politely get their attention, look them square in the eyes, and ask: “Can I buy you a drink?”
If they say yes: Fantastic! You’re one step closer at making a new friend. Let them tell you what they want instead of buying the most lavish drink you can afford. If they’re well-traveled, like most sailors are, they’ve probably come across treasure here and there, so your $1,000-spending-limit probably won’t impress them.
If they say no: Don’t push it! For all you know, this sea-captain is harboring a destructive drinking problem. Or maybe they’re about to set sail and need to be sober. Or maybe they just don’t drink! Remember if you buy into the trope that all sailors are drunks, you undermine their freedom to make choices.
Dealing with your Image
This one’s tricky, but hear me out. As REO Speedwagon put so elegantly in their song “Roll With the Changes,” us gentlemen have to “roll with the changes.”
For some reason, being gentleman-ly has gained an exploitative connotation. There’s a prevailing thought that suggests the way we treat women is merely a means to an end. Whether or not that’s a fair generalization, there’s no denying gentlemen are taught to treat women differently.
And while this special treatment may have stemmed from an earnest admiration and respect towards women, to differentiate how we behave towards a group based on their gender reinforces a binary that is plagued with inequality.
So instead of being a “gentleman,” just pretend…
You’re a polite person! Someone who embraces the common in common courtesy. As a result, the way you treat others won’t be dependent on gender, appearance, or sexuality. And it’s a lot easier than constantly imagining women disguised in masculine costumes.
Make no mistake, there’s nothing wrong with pretending you’re a knight in shining armor. Just stop pretending you need a damsel in distress to be one.