September 25, 2007
Don’t be the work-flirt
Debrett’s guide to men’s manners advises that your relationship with other women is vital to the one you have with your girlfriend
E. Jane Dickson
The evolved male will refer to his female colleagues as “women”, not “ladies” and never “girls”. In an office where there are more men than women, you should go out of your way to promote an inclusive atmosphere; the important discussion of Chelsea v Arsenal/ Porsche v Ferrari/suspenders v hold-ups is better saved for the pub.
In all but the most strait-laced environments, a little light flirting among equals will not go amiss, but care must be taken that special attentions to junior colleagues are not seen as an abuse of your position. You may think it the most natural thing to boost a young coworker with a fatherly pat or encouraging squeeze; she may see it differently and your partner, should she hear of it, is likely to have her own strong views on the matter.
Similarly, the “office wife” syndrome needs to be carefully managed. It is not uncommon to build a particularly close and confidential relationship with a female colleague, but the boundaries of this supportive friendship must be clearly delineated. Your girlfriend will not appreciate it if your evenings alone together are consistently interrupted by long, intense phone calls with another woman, however impeccably professional the context.
YOUR (FEMALE) BOSS
Manners towards a female boss are important as this is a relationship that quickly exposes male insecurities and chauvinism. Your partner may not have the opportunity to observe you in the workplace, but the way you talk about your boss is revealing about your attitudes to women and their place in society. It is imperative, for the good of your career and your relationship, that you show precisely the degree of respect and professionalism towards a female superior as you would to a male.
Ascribing questionable executive decisions to the effects of PMT/sexual frustration/the menopause won’t secure your advancement in either boardroom or bedroom.
Successful women are frighteningly alert to any hint of chippiness from male juniors. In fact, the only thing worse than a chippy junior is a junior who thinks he can condescend to, or seduce, his boss. Even flirting with a superior is out of the question (unless you actively wish to be branded “office totty”). Some modification may be necessary (or at least prudent), during office hours, to your customary gallantry. On occasions where you meet your boss in a purely social context, feel free to be your usual chivalrous self; the alteration in your manner will serve only to point out your careful observation of office protocol and can do you no harm at all. No one ever said chivalry was for the benefit of just one sex.
Your sister is your earliest source of insight into the feminine psyche. She is also the one who knows where the bodies are buried. As such, she requires careful handling. When your girlfriend is introduced to your sister, it is important that neither should feel that too much is riding on the meeting. Your sister needs to know that she is not being displaced as a comrade in arms. Your girlfriend should never be made to feel that your sister has any “right of veto” on your relationship.
Falling immediately into the rut of childhood jokes and excessive “do you remembers?” is inconsiderate. Your partner may learn to love your family routines but cannot be expected, straight off the bat, to appreciate the hilarity of the time Aunt Mary got stuck on the ski-lift. Conversely, your sister may feel obscurely cross at being “excluded” from your new life as part of a couple (“well, you never used to like sushi!”). It is your job, at such times, to lead the conversation back to neutral ground.
Don’t be hurt if the two of them don’t love each other on sight. They may never be best friends and it is pointless to force an affinity where none exists. If they go toe-to-toe, then chivalry demands that you defend your partner’s corner. If the situation is intractable, you may be better off seeing your sister alone until the bad feeling blows over.
In the happy event that your sibling and your sweetheart get on like a house on fire, allow them space to cement the friendship. Accept that it’s part of the feminine bonding process to gang up on men. Make the most of their friendship; it can only be helpful to have a female perspective on what your consort really likes in the way of birthday presents, surprise outings or underwear. The positives of this useful alliance overwhelmingly outweigh the fact that every time you see them laugh together, you’ll think they’re laughing at you. And you’ll probably be right.
Freud had a point. All men are mummy’s boys au fond. Success with women depends largely on how you manage this crucial relationship. The way a man treats his mother sends clear signals to a potential mate about his attitude to women in general.
Accept that, to your mother, you will always be a child (you can rail against it, but it won’t make a blind bit of difference). Your partner, on the other hand, has signed up for a man. It is a conundrum only you can solve.
The filial image you want to project is one of affectionate independence. It will not enhance your profile as an alpha male if your mum still washes your clothes and cuts your hair. Nor is it attractive in a man to be constantly seeking maternal approval (particularly in the matter of whom you choose to go out with and how you conduct your life as a couple).
Respect, however, or at the least kindness, is due to mothers. Even if you are not close, it is your adult responsibility to keep in touch and look out for her comfort.
In the event of a clash between your mother and your love interest, it is best to avoid the appearance of siding with either party. Try to discuss the problem, in private, with each of them. “Having it all out in the open” rarely helps, as any momentary satisfaction that your mother or girlfriend may feel in publicly trumping the other will be cancelled out by many long, painful years of pretending it never happened. Above all, if you wish to maintain any kind of erotic life, you should avoid treating your lover like your mother. Oedipus, you will recall, confused the two most important women in his life – and all he ended up with was a complex.
YOUR GIRLFRIEND’S BEST FRIEND (GBF)
The GBF can make or break your relationship. Suspicion and criticism are often her default position, so you’re going to have to work hard at getting her on-side.
First, you should concede unreservedly that she knows your girlfriend better than you do. You will get nowhere with the GBF until this important point is settled. If she doesn’t like you, redouble your efforts to please, but make sure your charm offensive is not confused with attempted seduction as this will play very badly with both GBF and girlfriend. Even if you have good reason to suspect the GBF of real malevolence, bite your lip as a feud will only make your girlfriend miserable and an ultimatum (“it’s her or me!”) can only ever sound hysterical.
Going out in a foursome with the GBF’s other half is one way of spreading the emotional overload. Otherwise keep an impeccably friendly distance and let your girlfriend see the meddling harridan on her own. Should you gain her good opinion, however, the GBF is a sound ally. She is the one your girlfriend is going to moan to when things are less than perfect in your relationship and her positive intervention is invaluable.
However well you get on, remember whose best friend she is. It is a mistake for you to moan about any aspect, however trifling, of your love life to the GBF - not least because it will go straight back to your girlfriend before you’ve even had time to add the bit about how much you adore her anyway.
There will inevitably be occasions when you are obliged to witness the GBF’s romantic crises. While you should give every impression of support, your role, here, is essentially nonspeaking. Expressions of blokeish solidarity (“look at it his way”, “the chap has a point”) are unwanted and irrelevant. Far better to pour two large glasses of wine and leave before it is noticed that if all men are emotional cripples you must be one too.
— ©Debrett’s Limited 2007. Extracted from Manners for Men: What Women Really Want by E. Jane Dickson published by Debrett’s, £12.99. Available from Times BooksFirst for £11.69, free P&P. 0870 1608080, timesonline.co.uk/booksfirst
These bad habits do not impress us
Nobody’s perfect and not all bad habits are deal-breakers. That said, any man honing his seduction skills will do well to avoid:
The dangerous delusion that your needs, desires or opinions are, without exception, more important than the next man’s is the No 1 turn-off for women. Arrogance should never be confused with confidence. If you’re boasting to impress us, it is likely to have the opposite effect. Ladies know that quality is discreet. We wouldn’t pick a handbag that shouts too hard and we won’t pick you.
Drink is a great disinhibitor. The snag is that it disinhibits only the drinker. Once you are disinhibited to the point of declaring your love for barmaids/bus drivers/lampposts, we will be less than receptive to any more advances. If getting oiled is part of the night’s fun, gauge it carefully so you are never drunker than we are. We do not want to be responsible for getting you home.
Losing your temper, particularly in public, shows a worrying lack of self-control. Shouting at people you don’t know and who are not in a position to shout back (eg, waiting staff, juniors) is particularly unattractive, as is any degree of physical aggression.
If you smoke and we don’t, we will mind the smell. We’ll mind it on your clothes and your hair and we’ll mind it even more on ours. Crucially, we will never want to slip between your malodorous sheets.
Modern women do not take well to being “corrected” in their dress, speech or opinions. You may see yourself as Pygmalion. We just see the pig.
And how are you going to talk to women after reading this article?
In the only manner they seem to understand.