Can chivalry and feminism coexist? Or: hold the door, please.

We’re so polarized these days, and not just about politics. Beyond the more serious social issues around race and entitlement, we’re also having what I think are ridiculous conversations about feminism versus chivalry.

Should men hold open the door for the woman? Is that a sign of respect? Is it a sign of chauvinism?

Do we split the restaurant bill, or does one treat the other?

Dinner Date
Photo by Scott Snyder

He works, she works. They are equals. But are we actually defining equality here? Is it cheap to assume that everything should be split down the middle?

I think a lot of men, particularly those aged 50-plus, want to be “gentlemen.” Many like to hold open the door, walk on the side of traffic, and pour the wine.

These men were once ultra-confident (maybe even arrogant) and didn’t think twice about how to behave. They weren’t self-conscious about their manners, or being careful about every word for fear of offending.

But today’s social narrative around feminism versus chivalry leaves these guys confused, afraid maybe. They are worried about being too much of one thing, or not enough of another. In the desire to behave correctly, they have lost their spontaneity and charm. Their personalities are dwarfed by a sense of what is or isn’t “correct.” 

I think these men are confused. They are making a naïve assumption: that chivalry and feminism are mutually exclusive.

They are not. In fact, I think it’s refreshing to meet men – professionally or socially – who understand that being a gentleman is far more than simply not being a dick. That a man can be chivalrous and respect a woman’s equal standing, both in the workplace and while on a date.

This gets me to my next point: It is highly irritating to date a guy who is afraid to be a gentleman. 

Guys, get over yourself. Stop being so leery of strong, independent, capable women. Their strength does not make you less of a man, just as yours does not make us lesser women.

In case you are a guy and don’t know how to behave around women, here are five pretty basic tips that someone should have taught you a long time ago:

  1. He or she who initiates the date should pay for it. Or agree to split the bill. Or agree to take turns. Whatever you do, don’t make this an issue.
  2. Payment for the date does not mean consent for anything else. You know that.
  3. Hold open the damn door. It’s a sign of courtesy. Open the door for women, men, children, and pets, and don’t be surprised if they (except maybe the pets) do the same.
  4. Ask yourself if you believe in human rights. If the answer is “yes,” guess what? You are a feminist. You can be chivalrous as well. 
  5. Above all, be confident in your behavior. Remember how you were, pre-divorce or pre-widower status, and go back to that. We’ll both like each other more when we are confident adults.

Personal anecdote: I once dated a guy who insisted on splitting every bill down the middle. I mean every bill – without exception. He said if I wanted “true” equality I should pay for half of everything.

This was a fiscally sound decision on his part (we went out a lot). Eventually, though, I realized that he was just cheap. The talk about equality made him feel clever and a little less cheap. His attitude took out so much of the romance that the relationship fizzled.

Extra tip: Gentlemen, don’t be cheap in the name of equality. Be cheap because you’re cheap, not because you think you’re being clever. 

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900 Do-overs

They say our skin regenerates itself every 27 days. For the average person, this translates into approximately 900 complete skin replacements in a lifetime.

Why do I find this interesting?

I don’t, actually.

But I am interested in knowing how often we can shed our emotional skins, how frequently we reinvent ourselves in a single lifetime. As in, how often we decide to get over our childhood traumas, move on from our teenage angst, or recover from our adult misdeeds. How often do we rebound from failed, possibly angry relationships? Can we recover from the death of a loved one, or do we simply muddle along until we’re numb? Do we make a conscious decision to heal, or are there other forces at play?

Do we actually need to recover?

What is recovery, anyway?

clouds daylight dhyamis kleber freedom
Photo by Dhyamis Kleber on Pexels.com

I’ve traditionally believed that most of the benign emotional issues we suffer can be solved with a quick, firm, figurative kick in the ass. An admonition to “put on your big-girl pants and get over it” can sometimes be exactly the impetus we need to walk away from a toxic situation, whether a work environment or personal relationship. I believe we can will ourselves to move on, move forward, shake it off, and come out stronger. I believe we can refuse to allow old skeletons to haunt our inner closet.

But then there are the far deeper wounds, the traumas of abuse, neglect, violence, war, or other circumstances we can’t simply walk away from. Circumstances in which the “get over it” attitude is far easier said than done, where possibly walking away can ultimately do far more damage.

If only we could shed these traumas like we shed our skin. Could we walk away and come out stronger? Can we get 900 do-overs?

I’d like to think we can have as many makeovers and do-overs as we decide to have, and that nothing is permanent, really, unless we make it so. I think eventually, we can find our own inner peace.

What do you think?

The 30-year degree. Or: how I finally just did it.

This post is adapted from one I wrote for American University in Washington, DC, a couple of years ago.

In the late 80s, I wanted to go back to school for my graduate degree. I was thinking I would go back to my alma mater, American University’s School of International Service. But I found a “real” job in a different field and begin to make “real” money. Graduate school, meh.

In the late 90s, I wanted to go back to school. But no, I couldn’t take the time. I was a freelance writer, finding a lot of work in writing government proposals for large companies. I realized I was just not cut out for 9-5, office politics, or clawing my way to the top. I worked hard at developing my growing client list. I was able to manage the peaks and valleys of customer demand. Anyone who works as a freelancer has experienced the “feast or famine” of non-traditional employment.

In 2005, I wanted to go back to school. But no, I couldn’t. I had two babies at home (they are now 16 and 14!). I had been in and out of Corporate America, pretending for a short while to claw my way to the top. In 2005, I was alternating between wanting what I thought was professional freedom and needing a stable income. I had developed that combination of freedom and stability by co-founding a small business – which, by the way, is still limping along.

In 2011, I wanted to go back to school. But no, I couldn’t. Syria, homeland of my parents, exploded in a revolution for freedom, dignity, and democracy. I jumped in to support the movement, abandoning family, work, career, and any notion of school. I became a spokesperson for one activist group, then another, and yet another. I wrote articles, opinion pieces, and book chapters on Syria’s revolution. I participated in public debates and started a nonprofit organization called FREE-Syria. I got involved in women’s groups, peace groups, protest groups, and social media groups. I coordinated workshops, facilitated trainings, and gave lectures till I was hoarse. I learned a lot, but I simply did not have time for graduate school.

In 2016, I wanted to go back to school. This had been a dream deferred for nearly 30 years! It was time – as Nike would say – to Just Do It. I stopped thinking about the reasons I didn’t have time. Instead, I focused on all the reasons to make time. I was in “yes, I can” mode.

I applied to AU’s Master of Arts in Strategic Communication program. It was the best I had found in terms of quality, depth, and prestige. Within days, an advisor contacted me. Within weeks, paperwork completed, I got my welcome letter. YES! Yes, I can.

In 2016, I finally went back to school. As you might guess, I was the oldest person in my classes, probably twice the age of the average Masters candidate. In fact, I was probably older than most of my professors. And while my fellow students tended to act a little deferential, at least they didn’t call me Grandma! But everyone –  classmates and professors – taught me something new every day. The class discussions and student interactions kept me engaged; the course materials kept me wanting to learn more. Sometimes the work was challenging; other times it merely validated what I already knew through decades of professional experience.

I really believe that one of the key factors that keeps us motivated is a quest for learning. I think that’s why we go to school and why we travel, make new friends, and seek new experiences. New knowledge just complements and enhances our toolkit of life experiences.

Masters degree
Tens of thousands of dollars and I-don’t-know-how-many-hours-later…

Anyway…

In 2018, I received my Masters in Strategic Communication. Because I learned to stop making excuses. Because I knew I could spend another few decades saying no, I can’t. Because I finally had that moment of clarity: yes, I can. And yes, I did.

I’m sure everyone out there has their own stories of personal achievement. What are some of yours? 

 

Solo travel is empowering. Or: How I fell in love with Spain.

This summer I visited a childhood friend who now lives in Madrid, Spain. We had planned to explore Andalusia, and made plans to visit cities Cordoba and Granada. The day before our planned travel, my friend had an unexpected visitor and could no longer make our trip.

What to do? Tag along and be a third wheel? Go alone? I had never traveled solo as a tourist. For business, yes – plenty of that. But as a single female tourist? Nope.

The idea of solo travel was both intriguing and intimidating: the thought of the independence and freedom was exciting. I could do whatever I damn well pleased, without having to accommodate anyone else’s desires. On the other hand, what about mealtime? I would have nobody to talk to! Was there a certain etiquette for solo travelers? Would people think I’m a loser, or have no friends? Incidentally, concerns about personal safety did not cross my mind.

In the end, I took the plunge and went to Cordoba, Granada, and Alhambra on my own.

Guess what? Solo travel is completely empowering!

CordobaIn Cordoba, as I walked from the train station to my little hotel, I realized I didn’t have to listen to someone else talking. I could focus on my surroundings. I could actually hear the sounds of the city, if that makes any sense. I fell in love with Cordoba.

At Hotel Marisa (clean, budget-friendly, awesome location), I felt a renewed sense of independence. I actually felt at peace with myself – and if you’re reading this and you know me, you know very well that it’s been a long time since I’ve been at peace with myself. In any event, I spent a couple of days walking around the old city, exploring the narrow streets and stopping occasionally for a cold beer or a glass of sangria.

Next stop, Granada. I had the same feeling of freedom, independence, and peace at Hotel Palacio de los Navas, an incredibly lovely and comfortable hotel right by the Plaza de los Campos. For a couple of days, I walked around the city, both on my own and through a free tour the hotel had recommended. I fell in love with Granada.

Alhambra
Castle at Alhambra

Before heading back to Madrid from Granada, I decided to walk to Alhambra to see the spectacular castle, fortress, and views. Unfortunately, I had to leave – otherwise, I would have stayed in Alhambra for another week. I fell in love with Alhambra.

So here’s the thing about solo travel: all it requires is a little bit of self-confidence. Mealtime is no problem if you people-watch, or chat with your server, or make conversation with other solo travelers. If people look at you, don’t get self-conscious. They’re looking at you because you’re cute. Or because they admire your courage. Or both.

What I learned is that after 50, you CAN renew your confidence. You CAN regain your inner peace. And in doing so, you can fall in love. On this trip, I fell in love with Spain, and I fell a little in love with me. 

The first post…

Wow! I’m excited to finally be writing about something, anything that is not related to  Syria!

I’ve decided to start this blog to discuss issues that affect those of us who are in the 50+ range, in the prime of our lives.

Every day I hear from people who are considerably younger than me lamenting about their “old age.” I hear, “Oh man…I’m turning 30! It’s so scary!” or “Shit, I’ve hit 40 and I still don’t know what I’m doing!”

Well, let me say this: I’m actually loving being my age. I’m 50+ and I’ve never felt better! I’m reinventing myself and learning about who I’d like to be for the next 50+ years. Well, okay, maybe 20 or 30 years.

Do you want to know why I’m reinventing myself?

Because I can! Because it’s impossible to define ourselves in a few simple words. Because as dynamic individuals, we are capable of positive change. We evolve. We mold ourselves into who we want to be in any given time span. And when we’re sick of that, we move on and become someone new. We take stock of all we learn in a given minute, hour, day, week – heck, decade – and gain new perspectives on life.

Being 50-plus has all kinds of advantages. We may be more confident at this age than ever before. We may be more secure in who we are, realizing that we have the power to change who we are. We probably know what we don’t like. And best of all, we’re old enough that we don’t have to take shit from anyone. That in itself is incredibly liberating!

So for all the 50-somethings who see this site, please let me know if you’d like to contribute any of your thoughts on any subject at all. For those who have yet to join this 50+ club, please read on – you’ll be here soon enough. Who knows – you might find some advice that helps you!

Thanks for reading!