Social Graces 101: Manners and Social Graces in Courtship and Romance

Social Graces 101: Manners and Social graces in courtship and romance

“If a gentleman approaches you with words of flattery, and profuse attentions, especially after a short acquaintance, extend no encouraging smile or word; for a flatterer can never be otherwise than an unprofitable companion. It is better by dignified composure, to appear not to notice, than, with smiles and blushes, to disclaim flattery; since these are considered as encouragements for further effusions of these “painted words”

— The Ladies’ Guide to Perfect Gentility, 1856


“Never trifle with the affections of a man who loves you; nor admit of marked attentions from one whose affections you cannot return. Some young ladies pride themselves upon the conquests which they make….let this be far from you. If you see clearly that you have become the object of especial regard to a gentleman, and do not wish to encourage his addresses, treat him honorably and humanely, as you hope to be used with generosity by the person who may engage your heart.”

— Martine’s Hand-Book of Etiquette and Guide to True Politeness, 1866

The more I research antique books on manners and social graces, the more I find the value in certain codes of behavior, especially when it comes to dating and courtship. If correctly applied, the rules were set up to protect both men and women from the poor intentions of each other and serve as an inspiration for them to look for suitable marriage partners. Though people married for different reasons, I am positive love was still somewhere in the equation for many.

You have to love the sense of irony in regards to human nature. As King Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun” and if such measures had to be taken then to ensure each side was kept honest, how much more is this needed today? One only needs to look around.

The translation of the first quote could not be any more clear, if a man you barely know “comes on strong”, he is up to no good. Don’t encourage it and ignore him–he is trying to get under your petticoat. This tidbit of information demonstrates that very little has changed in over 150 years in the relationships between men and women. Men in the 21st century are still trying to flatter women into compromising situations and sadly the “game” seems to have not lost it’s power. One hundred and fifty years later, do we women still not get it? Sadly no and Kleenex and Häagen-Dazscontinues to make millions at our expense.

The second quote holds women accountable for not leading a man on who has made known his intentions for marriage if she is not interested. She is not to play games with the heart of a man who is interested in her. She is to treat him with respect and be forthright with him, considering how she would want to be treated by the man who captures her heart. We may argue that this information is antiquated and old fashioned, but one thing that cannot be disputed, people getting used and their hearts broken was as devastating in 1812 as it is in 2012.

For those who still feel such an approach to dealing with men and women romantically is outdated, to them I suggest watching “Kate and Leopold”.

It is the story of a Duke from 1876 who follows Kate’s ex-fiancée’ through a portal in time to the 20th century. He meets Kate and becomes smitten with her. Kate’s cynical attitude due to her heart being broken by her ex makes her think that his chivalry, sensitivity to her needs and efforts to protect her make him “weird”. The fact he was from another time did not impair his ability to treat women well, in fact, it served him well to say the least. In a night club with Kate’s brother Charlie he helped Charlie win the affections of a girl he was smitten with, enabled Leopold to challenge Kate’s boss’ intentions in seeking to sexually compromise their working relationship and enabled him to write a love letter of apology to Kate when his anger got the best of him.

Regardless of time, social standing, race, etc. I believe that most people do not want to be taken advantage of romantically by those of the opposite sex, they want the essence of those old fashioned values to be applicable today. I wonder what the world would be like if men and women treated each other well in romantic situations, is it possible there would be fewer broken hearts in the world?

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