Social decorum

B■ David Porter / Contributed

ig Vince was slouched down in the oversized leather chair looking glum. While the other guys in the cigar shop debated whether Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player ever, Vince just stared off into space and tended his stick.
I sat down next to him, mostly because the only other seat was with the Jordan debaters. I didn’t care much about that.
“What’s the matter, Vince?” I asked.
He looked up and took a puff on his cigar. I could tell he was about to say something, but it took him awhile to get there.
Finally, he said, “All this sexual harassment stuff in the news. It’s gotten to where you can’t give a girl a pat on the arm, anymore.”
“Well, I’ve always taken a hands off approach,” I said. “I suppose it depends on your intent.”
“Used to be, you could go into a bar, and if you saw a girl you liked, you could go up, put your arm around her and say, “‘Hi, cutie.’ You can’t do that anymore.”
“That certainly is a direct approach, but it’s always been risky,” I said. “I could never do it, but it’s not my personality.”
I thought back to when I was single. I never had much confidence in approaching women. I’d be lucky to muster the courage to say hello.
“I don’t know where the line is, anymore,” Vince said. “Even if you’re just chatting and she seems interested. At some point, you touch her. That let’s her know you’re interested, too. Under the rules today, I don’t think any guy with any age on him hasn’t said or done something in his life that would be considered off-limits today.”
“I haven’t,” said Paul the know-it-all.
Of course, you haven’t, I thought.
Paul was standing at a high table and turned to face us. “It’s not that hard to understand,” he said. “You don’t touch her unless she touches you first.”
“Now that’s a double standard,” Vince said. He thought for a moment. “But you’re right. They can touch you and nobody would say a thing.”
Jeffrey, another regular, turned around in his seat. “She can touch me all night long,” he said.
I could sense the conversation entering the locker room talk stage.
“I get it,” Vince said. “I’ve had unwanted advances. It happens. But I don’t post it on Facebook or act all bent out of shape about it. I just say ‘No, I’m not into that.”
“Into what?” Jeffrey asked incredulously. “Women?”
“No, I’ve had a couple of dudes hit on me,” Vince explained.
Well, this conversation just took a turn. Who would hit on Vince, a big macho guy who one would expect to answer with a fist upside the head?
We were all a bit dumbfounded, I think. We just looked at Vince with expressions that encouraged him to explain further.
“It kinda freaked me out the first time it happened,” he said. “I was maybe 25, 26. I was sitting in a bar, and this guy comes up and starts talking to me. So, I chatted. You know, I didn’t think anything about it. Then he started saying things that made me think he was, you know, hittin’ on me. I didn’t know what to do, honestly. But finally, I just said, ‘Hey man, I’m not sure where you’re going with this, but just so you know, I ain’t that guy.”
“How did he react?” Paul asked.
Vince took a puff. “He said he was sorry and he hoped he hadn’t offended me. I told him I ain’t offended; I just don’t do that.”
“Did he touch you?” Jeffrey teased.
Vince mulled the question. “He was like right up against me, and yeah, he touched me on the arm I think. It was a long time ago.” Was that a blush spreading across Vince’s cheeks? “But it didn’t go anywhere, obviously,” Vince continued.
He went on to say that recent news has made him think about that. He said he had touched women in the past to show that he was interested in them. A pat on the seat, or a touch to the elbow. “I didn’t feel bad at the time, but like I said, I don’t know where the line is, anymore.”
“I think touching a girl on the arm or elbow is OK if you’ve been chatting with her and she seems interested in you,” I said. “I’m with you, Vince. For a relationship to get started and move forward, at some point you sort of have to make a move. People give each other verbal and nonverbal cues all the time.”
“I say don’t do it,” Paul said. “Unless she touches you first, I wouldn’t touch her in any way, shape or form.”
Vince looked down at the floor and sighed.
“I think it’s good that we’re talking about it,” Paul said. He raised his pipe to his lips in his trademark pretentious fashion. “As a nation. Women have felt marginalized for a long time.”
Jeffrey chimed in with an almost angry retort: “The way it is now, women are totally in charge. They’ve got men so afraid to say anything. Some women might be sitting there thinking you’re not interested in them because you haven’t made a move on them.”
“Well, we aren’t living in caveman days,” Paul said as he torched the briar. “You can’t just grab her by her hair and drag her off to your cave.” He smiled in that smug, self-righteous way.
“Who decides what is OK and not OK,” Jeffrey ranted. “It’s the media. They focus too much on this.”
“I think there’s always been social decorum,” I said, ignoring the media blame. “When I was young, the guy was expected to ask the girl to dance or ask the girl to go out, but it was never OK to just grab her.”
Tony turned toward our group. “What do you guys think? Jordan, yes or no?” And the conversation switched over to basketball. Nothing got solved that afternoon. Not even who owns the title of greatest player in the NBA.


Copyright 2017 by David Porter who can be reached at porter@ramblinman.us. One more reason to be glad I’m married. I don’t have to worry about these things.

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