Readers email us surprisingly often with questions about opening doors for women. AoM readers are interested in being gentlemen and obviously understand the basics of this traditional act of chivalry: when you get to a door before a lady, you should open it for her. But they wonder about scenarios where the set-up isn’t as cut and dry. What do you do with revolving doors? What about doors that push in instead of pull out? Do you keep holding the door for others after your date has gone through?
In today’s post, I’ll attempt to offer some guidelines to help a gentleman navigate a variety of door-opening situations.
A Word on Door-Opening and Other Acts of Old Fashioned Chivalry
Before we get to the ins and outs of door opening, let us take a moment to discuss its place in modern society, because not everyone feels its a tradition worth preserving. There are some women who are offended by it because they think it implies the inferior status of women–that women are too weak to open doors for themselves. Kate thinks that if you’re dating a woman who takes umbrage at having the door opened for her, that’s a red flag, because it signals that she does not understand that a woman can be smart and independent while still being playful about gender roles. I can’t really speak to that, so I’ll let the ladies duke it out. Then there are men who think you shouldn’t do things like open doors for women because if women want to be fully independent and equal these days, then they need to give up being treated with any special consideration. To me this is an entirely wrong-headed approach to relationships, because it’s premised on the idea that everything must be tit for tat. Yes, you open doors for a woman, but your woman probably does special things for you. If she doesn’t, then that’s the problem, not chivalry itself. It’s madness to think that equality must mean doing the exact same things for each other and constantly keeping score.
Personally, I think preserving a few small differences in the expectations of male/female behavior, simply as symbols of our differences, keeps things fun. Rules and traditions give life texture and meaning, as opposed to living life in an entirely blah postmodern wasteland. Sameness is boring. Differences create attraction.
The Ins and Outs of Opening a Door for a Woman
There are two ways to mess up etiquette. One is too ignore it altogether. The other is to over-think it and overdo it, and thus make it weird and awkward. So keep that in mind as you read these guidelines; the most important thing to remember is simply to be natural and to use common sense! It’s definitely not too complicated; these guidelines are simply designed to allow you to be smooth, instead of standing there havy-cavy, wondering what to do.
Opening doors for women requires their cooperation. If you get to the door before a woman, opening the door is simple. Just open the door and hold it for her. Things get awkward when you and your gal arrive at the door at the same time or she gets there before you. In these types of situations, opening doors becomes much like a dance. Each sex has a role they need to fill for the operation to successfully work. If your lady arrives at the door before you or at the same time as you, she should step slightly to one side so that you can open the door without knocking her on her tuckus. If she opens the door for herself, that’s not a problem. See below.
If she starts opening the door for herself, just pull it further open. If your lady arrives at the door first and starts opening it on her own, all you need to do is to help pull the door open further. Don’t brush her hand off the door knob or door handle and don’t offer any sanctimonious ”I insist” or “allow me” entreaties. Basically, don’t make a big deal about it.
With double doors, open the first, but not the second. When there is a door, and then an entryway airlock area, and then another door, open the outside door, allow the woman to step inside the airlock, and then for the second door, do as indicated above and simply help the woman open the door as she goes through. She may wait inside the airlock for you to open the second door entirely, and that is fine of course.
Don’t knock her over to get to the door first. Some men, eager to show off their gallantry, will rush to the door to ensure they arrive before a woman does. Don’t do that. It just looks desperate and can make a date feel awkward. The key to a successful door opening (and good manners in general) is to make it look effortless.
If she doesn’t want the door opened for her, respect that. Some women will tell you straight up that they don’t like doors opened for them. Fair enough. Just respect that, let her open her own doors, and don’t make a federal case of it.
Don’t expect consistency. Your gal might open several doors for herself in an evening, but then out of the blue she’ll step aside indicating that she wants you to open the door for her. So watch for that and read her body language. Again, it’s like dancing.
If the door swings in, go through the door first and hold it for her. Doors that open inwards can prove tricky for any gentleman. The best way to go about them is to go through the door before your date does in order to hold the door open for her. If she arrives at the door first and begins pushing the door open, stand on the side where the door hinges are and simply extend your arm over her head to take the door’s weight from her as she passes through.
Try to avoid the situation where you’re standing in the doorway holding the door open with your back. You don’t want your date tripping over your feet or having to squeeze herself between you and the doorframe.
Also avoid the position where you’re standing at the door sill, on the side opposite the door’s hinges, holding the door open with your hand. This will force your lady to duck under your arm as she goes through the door.
Your duty is to your woman, not the public at large. I don’t know how many times I’ve opened a door for a date and then stood there holding the door for a gaggle of complete strangers. Consequently, my date was left standing in the lobby alone, waiting for me. After your woman has walked through the door, follow her through. I understand you want to be courteous to everyone, but your priority should be your date.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should just let a door slam shut in somebody’s face. As you pass through the door, look behind you to see if anybody is following close behind and hold the door open long enough for them to take control of the door. If you see somebody several steps away from the door, there’s no need to hold it open for them.
With revolving doors, reach out and slow it down so that she can step in. This rule is especially true for older revolving doors that lack the auto-revolving feature that many modern revolving doors have.
What About Opening Car Doors?
If you’re on a date with a woman, opening car doors is a gesture that will surely get her attention. But car doors pose some special problems. Here are a few guidelines on how to open car doors for women.
Always try to open the door for a date when she enters the vehicle. If you don’t have anything obstructing you, always open the door for your date when entering the vehicle. You should have cleaned your car before the date, but if you have any crumbs or other gunk in the passenger side seat, sweep it off before she sits down.
Offer your hand as she gets in and out. The added support a hand can provide a woman in a dress and heels as she gets in and out of car will be appreciated. A helping hand is especially important if your car is a pick-up truck that’s jacked a few feet off the ground or a sports car that rides low to the ground.
Before shutting a car door, make sure all appendages, skirt bottoms, and purse straps are inside the vehicle. You don’t want to ruin your date by slamming her foot in the door or tearing a dress. Give a quick check to make sure everything is safely inside. I’ll even ask Kate, “Everything in?” before shutting the door just to make sure.
If there’s not much room between your car and the car parked next to you, let her open her own door. Don’t force the gesture if it’s just not possible to perform.
Don’t feel obligated to open the car door for her when exiting the vehicle. Most people get out of a car as soon as it parks. Successfully opening a car door for a woman so she can exit will probably require you to say, “Hey, don’t get out. I want to open the car door for you.” She’ll then have to sit there and wait as you exit the driver’s side door and circle around to the passenger’s side so you can open it. You’ll just create a spectacle and may make your date feel like she’s being chauffeured instead of courted.
Holding Doors Regardless of Gender
Holding doors open isn’t something you need to do just for women. It’s an act of common courtesy that you can show to any person whether they be man or woman. If you get to the door first before a dude, holding the door open for him is completely fine.
A gentleman should always hold the door open for someone who is more physically burdened than him. If you see an older person, a person with an obvious physical aliment, or a person holding a crap load of packages, hold the door open for them no matter if they’re a man or a woman.
And if someone opens a door for you, always smile and say, “Thank you!”
Any other tips and advice on opening doors for women? Share them with us in the comments.