Open the door for her, carry heavy stuff, offer her your seat, pay the bill, pick her up and make sure she comes back home safe.
As a Latino, cisgender, heterosexual, privileged man, raised in a Catholic culture, women are subjects of devotion and objects of desire. They are considered sacred as Mother Mary and at the same time, they have a role to play satisfying men’s desires and needs. Sex and love are two different things, so cheating is okay as long as you don’t get caught. And if you do. Deny it. That was the message I got from my grandpa to my best friend. That is what men do.
Be a gentleman
Show her you are strong, be romantic but not corny. Be jealous, women like and expect that. Make sure that others see that she is not alone. If someone tries to hit on her, stand your ground. Pull the chair when she seats, lend her your jacket. Don’t let her pay the bill, she must know from the start that you will take care of her, whatever that means.
Colombia in the 90’s was a culture where violence was normal and normalized, and women were perceived as trophies to be conquered. It was less about the relationship with a woman and more about displaying one’s abilities to succeed. When I was 15, my first girlfriend was kind and funny but what mattered to me was the status she gave me. I gained value and respect from other men. When she broke up with me, I was downgraded from the alpha pedestal. This is part of the endless cycle of using women to reflect men’s worth. From heaven to hell in the ranks of being a man.
Be a gentleman
Show to her and her family that you are worth it. Have a good job. Know how to dance. Drink but don’t get drunk. Learn how to hold your alcohol, people won’t trust you if you don’t drink. Let her dance with others but ask before you dance with other women. Keep in good shape, she might not like you if you get fat. If you are sad or depress, put it all together, wrap it on a box and place it in the back of your mind. Men are in control and if you lose it, people will remember. You learn quickly how fragile being a man can be.
In college, I had to chose my game. With no money, you have to play your cards well. Be funny, be smart, make her laugh. Open up to her but don’t be vulnerable. Women want to feel safe, and crying or being emotional will not get you anywhere. When I was 23, my girlfriend and I were robbed. I was very scared but I did not say a word. She looked at me and said “I am glad you are not a coward who gets scared”. I was happy patriarchy has taught me well to hide my emotions, even the most primary of them: fear. Thirteen years later, as I play that moment in my head, I feel the heavyweight of shame as I denied my own humanity.
As a young men, my romantic relationships did not last much. The reason: I wanted to have a genuine connection with a woman but I refused to be truly vulnerable. I learned that vulnerability was for women. I was not interested on it. Well, I was but I did not know about it. Well, I knew but I did not want to take responsibility. Responsibility meant doing something about my feelings and I was raised to conquer, success and be a gentleman, not to feel.
Be a gentleman
What does this even mean? Who decides what a gentleman is? Why do I keep trying to follow rules that I do not agree with? Should I ask to split the check? Do I want to be a gentleman? Should I feel insulted when someone calls me this way?
Being a gentleman is a dangerous trait. It is an instrument of patriarchy. It is used to mask sexist practices and give the appearance of chivalry and equality. It is in the same category of “boys will be boys” and “man up”. It sets the bar for men too low and thanks to that, when I and other men do our fair share of the work, we get praised and elevated as divine creatures.
Be a gentle man
Now at 36, I know that being nice to others is not about courtship but kindness or simply human decency. I know that jealousy is harmful and dangerous. I know that being vulnerable is sexy when is honest and fear is just an emotion and not a reflection of my value as a person. I feel better when I cry, I say I love you to my male loved ones and talk to my grandma about gender. I also know that I was raised in a culture where I was taught to be machista, sexist. I try every day to find and fix the traces of patriarchy in me. Sometimes, I succeed. Sometimes, I fail miserably.
As I raised a child, I try to be an equal partner and equal parent and carry the emotional labor that comes with this. Some days are better than others and I hope other men know that the only place where they are truly needed when a child is born is at home. And the only requirements are to be all in for the ride: mind, body and heart.
I wish I knew these things 20 years ago. I would have been more confident, less arrogant, more open to love and live life fully. It would have made me a better friend, a loving boyfriend and a stronger person. I wish I knew it so It would not have taken me so long to build my own imperfect, beautiful, version of being a gentle man.