The complete guide to gentleman hunting
By Meg McEwen, NeW intern
Occasionally, it’s easy to spot a gentleman. Some gentlemen live so counterculturally that they emit nearly visible waves of chivalry; their actions practically shout, “I’m a nice guy!” They can be counted on in a pinch, and they frequently become the topic of conversation when your grandmother corners you at family gatherings to discuss “your future.”
Even though you can always count on the flashy gentlemen to win your grandma’s favor, these men are not the only brand of gentlemen. Other gentlemen lurk on the edge of social gatherings, wallflowers who live with integrity and orchestrate good in the background. They are hard to spot but rewarding to meet. Such gentlemen deserve recognition in NeW’s Gentlemen Showcase.
Modern connotations of “gentleman” carry a lot of baggage. People “gentlemen-stamp” men in their minds when they hold doors, carry grocery bags to the kitchen, and complete other tasks that require a bit of bulk and an attentive spirit. Today’s quintessential gentleman is the opposite of an uncultured caveman: he knows which fork is for his salad and which is for his sirloin, and he never treats his mom with anything but the utmost respect. However, the word “gentleman” has been around a lot longer than plastic Kroger baggies and cotillion, and its past may help us identify, befriend, and nominate this elusive wallflower gent.
If you’ve been keeping up with your favorite BBC show, you’ll know that the term “gentleman” originally referred to men of nobility, when blood dictated rank. In the 12th century AD, the term was translated into English from the Old French word gentilz hom or “high-born, worthy, noble, of good family; courageous, valiant; fine, good, fair.” Virtuous living was inextricably wedded to the title of gentleman throughout the middle ages. It transcended social etiquette to describe a chivalrous private lifestyle. Chaucer writes in The Wife of Bath’s Tale, “Loke who that is most vertuous alway / Prive and apert, and most entendeth ay / To do the gentil dedes that he can / And take him for the gretest gentilman.” During the breakdown of the social stratosphere afforded by the Industrial Revolution, the term puttered out into nothing more than designation of a polite gesture, a “ladies and gentleman” reference dropped at dinner theaters and circuses.
In some ways, the modern gentleman is a doppelganger of the traditional. The two time periods share similar public expectations but different requirements in private. For example, people today expect a man to at least pretend to get along with his mother-in-law when interacting with her, but assume that the same man has earned the right to snicker and complain about her behind closed doors. As the role of private virtue quietly exits stage right, society no longer expects a man to act with the same integrity and honor in his private life as he does in his public dealings. After all, we wouldn’t want to intrude into someone’s personal business, would we? This idea of a gentleman favors flashy, extroverted men. Wallflower gentleman do not typically draw attention to themselves, and as such are often overlooked or disregarded.
That being said, here are three (definitely fool-proof) steps to gentleman hunting for NeW’s Gentlemen Showcase award:
1. Trash the title.
You will be a much more effective gentleman hunter if you intentionally look beyond qualities that turn heads – appearances, suaveness, connections, or egocentric action. Take the time to talk to men in your circles who you initially labeled in your mind as “shy” or “stand-offish.” Social awkwardness is not a contagious disease – we have all felt a little awkward at one time or another. Think about the last time you entered a room full of unfamiliar faces, feeling unarmed without your usual posse of girlfriends. Suddenly, alarmingly self-aware, you stutter over your words and try to make fast friends with the punch server. Like I said, we have all been there.
2. Be Snoopy.
Remember, it’s not a crime to ask questions. Find out about what drives your potential gentleman nominee. Does he secretly volunteer at a local shelter on the weekends or participate in 5K races to benefit cancer patients? Ask him about his personal views on important ethical issues. As you befriend a potential gentleman nominee, watch out for warning signs. Does he respect the authority in his life? Do his actions line up with his words? We didn’t promise that getting to know these gentlemen would be a cakewalk. But if you really want to find the diamonds in the rough, you will have to fight through lots of social noise – and ask questions.
3. Ask yourself, “What is a gentleman?”
We all share common ground in our respective definitions of a gentleman. The role itself demands a degree of virtue, honor, and discipline. Even so, you will likely prioritize certain gentlemanly qualities over others. For example, you may not care about his disheveled beard and wrinkled button-down, but his commitment to social justice is a must. Alternatively, you could prioritize orderly living because you believe that it reflects an ordered soul. Write down a few qualities you think make a gentleman before you start your hunt.
Disclaimer: This complete guide to gentleman hunting was written for the express purpose of nominating gentlemen for NeW’s Gentlemen Showcase. NeW is not responsible for any couples or marriages that result from this guide.