A Guide To Being A Southern Gentleman

Just on the off chance you haven’t already been linked and re-linked ad nauseam, it’s worth noting that this month’s edition of The Atlantic contains a particularly insightful article by Kate Bolick on the extent to which the modern woman’s professional advancement has shifted certain realities of the dating world. The piece spawned plenty of responses – my favorite being an equally insightful piece from fellow Thought Catalog contributor Karyn Spencer – and in the discussions that followed men, in general, have taken a beating.

The article’s premise is that with relatively fewer men pushing into the upper echelons of academic and professional advancement, those women with fulfilling careers – and, ultimately, lives – are confronted with a “shrinking pool of like-minded marriage prospects.” In her response, Karyn explains the guy they’re all looking for, as well as the problem:

a rare “real man”: a mature, financially secure, professionally successful, well-rounded dude who comes with a variety of interests, a great group of friends, and clean underwear, is surrounded by hordes of available women to choose from, and therefore is in no rush to choose just one.

And so they don’t. Successful men recognize their scarcity and exploit it, playing the field with the sort of joie de vivre you might expect from a UNC fraternity brother, leaving their female counterparts in the unenviable position of having to tolerate their behavior or else significantly lower their expectations.

To be sure, there’s never been a better time to be a deadbeat dude. They are finding it easier than ever to date upward, to latch onto lonely sugarmamas, to fall into a relationship despite themselves. The recent recession has done a great job of disguising the deadbeats — making them at first glance indistinguishable from the ambitious, driven young men merely fighting off the symptoms of economic collapse – and so the women who haven’t given up altogether often won’t know what kind of guy they’ve got until they’ve wrinkled their ‘first date dress’ and wasted a night.

So it’s not surprising to find opportunists like the one in Karyn’s story who, after inviting her to dinner, “took [her] card, put it in the check folder, and handed it to the waitress” without a second thought. It is, however, worrying, and for men, as well. Look, I’m not the most affluent guy in the world or anything, but he invited her. When you say you’re going to take a girl out you take her out. It’s an integrity thing, and integrity is exactly the sort of thing us guys used to pride ourselves on.

That’s the problem with all this: deadbeat guys are preying on the fact that quality women aren’t actually spoiled for choice, and their gains are coming at the expense of the reputation of men in general – every free dinner they score further reinforces the idea that all that’s left in this wasteland of sexual imbalance are playboys and deadbeats. It turns women jaded and suspicious and makes it more difficult than ever for those mythical “real men” and “good guys” to break through when every action or inaction is seen through a lens of “well which sort of asshole is this guy?”

We cannot wait this out. The playboys will keep playing and the losers will always be losers, but the reputation of men – of those millions of decent men situated somewhere between the two extremes – needs to be defended. There needs to be a signifier: something which immediately distinguishes a man in the eyes of the women he dates as being above the losers but intolerant of the douchebags. We need to take back our reputations. I’m writing this because I believe I have the answer, and it comes from the greatest source of wisdom in our whole wide world: the Deep South.

See, there’s a proverb that says it don’t cost a nickel to be polite, and I figure it rings truer now than ever. Given how few people seem to be investing in human decency these days, the returns on it have been great. It’s easy as hell to get into, too. And (here’s the kicker) it’s historically attractive as practiced by the classic Southern Gentleman archetype; I mean, how else to explain the continued existence of Team Bill when it’s clear how much better Eric Northman is for Sookie, how the entire time Eric’s been consistent and genuine (not to mention a total babe) and never lied to Sookie about who he is – something Bill could never say, given his interest in Sookie was purely professional at first, and had he not all but forced her to consume his blood she may not have ever developed those feelings in the first place, feelings that, I’ll remind you, he manipulated at every opportunity while forwarding every aspect of their personal lives to the Queen, his double life stymied only by – big surprise, right? – Eric who was consistently willing to put his life on the line for Sookie and never gave up on her and

Hold up, what was I saying?

Oh, yeah: bring back the Southern Gentleman. He is free from the obnoxious faults women are all but forcing themselves to tolerate, leading his life instead by the sort of hypermasculine code which appeals to the part of every man that wishes he were just a little bit more like Ernest Hemingway. No longer linked to the egregious abuse of human rights, the post-Preston Brooks Southern Gentleman should be welcomed by every man, woman, and child in America. These folks are compassionate and kind, honest and engaging, entertaining, hardworking and possessing of an integrity given value by the quality of life they unapologetically pursue. And how do I know this?

First of all, I am Southern through and through. The first time I ever went west of the Mississippi was three months ago, and until last month had never bothered to venture into the godless lands above the Mason-Dixon. I am Sarasota to Savannah; Chattanooga to Charleston; blackjack in Biloxi and barbecue in Birmingham; when cut I bleed sweet tea and sausage grease, which makes me as authentic as I am unhealthy. Secondly, in my life I’ve had the opportunity to become acquainted with a number of modern day Southern Gentlemen – some living the life merely by heritage and habit, others doing so quite purposefully – and it’s interesting to note that the common denominator among them is that they are almost unanimously married. And seemingly happy. They handled the proposal, of course, but it seems like the women in their lives made sure to lock it down real quick.

So when I say we could all benefit from the resurgence of the Southern Gentleman, I do so having already observed its success in the field. Like Jane Goodall, I’ve spent years living alongside these noble creatures, and only now—compelled by these dire circumstances—am I prepared to present to you, the Thought Catalog reader, my findings, with the hope that men might defend their reputation and, God willing, continue the deception that women have any real need for us whatsoever, anymore. So, without further adieu:

The 2011 Guide to the Southern Gentleman

1. Have a Job – Right away, I’m dispelling the notion that this is all just one big personal ad for how great Jack Cazir is. I am horribly unemployed, yet it is absolutely essential that the Southern Gentleman have a job, or else be financially independent. It’s a matter of autonomy and consistency. The Southern Gentleman seeks total responsibility for his actions, and being broke would severely limit his choices so that he would often be forced to represent himself in a way that does not accurately represent his ideals. It also prevents him from keeping to the other tenets of the Southern Gentleman. He doesn’t have to be rich – far from it – but he should have enough to feed and clothe himself, to maintain and occasionally support his friends and family.

2. Have Manners – Southern Hospitality is not just for the South. It’s treating your guests like they own the place. It’s offering to bring food or drinks or plastic cups. It’s knowing which utensil to use, so that whoever has cooked for you does not feel as though they’ve wasted their time. It’s standing when propriety warrants and it’s pushing in chairs. It’s insisting to help with the dishes. It’s knowing when and how to write thank-you cards. It’s all those little things and minor inconveniences that show you care about the people you are with. It’s proficiency. It’s not embarrassing yourself.

You should be saying please and thank you, yes ma’am and no sir to everyone, always, enough that it loses the rust that is so painfully audible whenever someone thinks they can just whip the terms out for a holiday. I, like many in the South, call everyone sir and ma’am regardless of familiarity, occupation, or age. I call kids sir and ma’am and it brightens their day. It brightens everyone’s day. It shows respect in this wonderfully egalitarian way that reinforces the idea that nobody is innately better or worse than anyone else, and serves as a constant reminder to act as such.

3. Be the Escort – No, not that kind of escort. When that obnoxiously wasted acquaintance at the party starts to head for the door, it’s not enough to sit back and laugh with everyone else, letting whatever happens happen. Yes, this is inconvenient – what’s convenient is being an asshole. That’s not you. You are delivering Gatorade and chicken soup to someone who’s sick because they’re sick and that’s all the motive you need. You’re telling someone they have food on their face. You’re walking people home. Picking up the things they’ve dropped. You’re letting the blind guy grab your wrist (not the other way around) as you cross the street. You’re holding grocery bags. You’re lending reasonable amounts of money you never intend to get back, that you will initially and possibly finally refuse to take back. If the situation requires it, you will take a beating for your friends. Which reminds me…

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