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Why Manners Matter

By definition, a “no-brainer” is something so obvious it shouldn’t need explanation or elaboration. It should be clear to anyone who gives it any thought at all. Yet here’s a dating no-brainer that continues to escape many people: Good manners matter.

The truth is, “common decency” in our society is not so common anymore. Social norms that our great-grandparents took for granted have been severely eroded in recent years by relentless changes in our collective values. Where they expected—even demanded—courteousness and respect in their relationships, many of us have grown accustomed to a rising tide of crass and crude behavior in ours.

That is never more detrimental than when we start a new romantic relationship. As Goethe once said, manners are a mirror in which people show the world a “portrait” of themselves. Of course, nearly everyone tries to present a polished image in social situations. But just what constitutes one’s best when dating deserves a closer look.

First of all, good manners are only the outward display of an inner mindset. Treating each other with civility and respect requires far more than opening doors for a woman or thanking a man for picking up the dinner tab. As Emily Post once said, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”

Building on that definition, here are three ways to mind your manners—and make the best possible impression—when dating:

Place limits on your language. If we set out to prove that standards of social decency have indeed decayed, the casual use of profanity in everyday life would be exhibit A. All you have to do is keep your ears attuned to how often you hear vulgar language—at the next table in a restaurant, in an overheard cell phone conversation, or between co-workers. When you are out with someone you care about, don’t contribute to the verbal pollution, no matter how common the practice has become.

Harness your humor. Everyone enjoys a good joke. It’s fun to make people laugh, especially when getting to know someone new. But one offensive joke or inappropriate reference is all it takes to ruin everything. If your sense of humor depends on racial slurs, religious insensitivity, or sexual innuendo, do yourself a favor and keep quiet. Anything else is just bad manners.

Take note of how you treat others. The self-portrait you present to the world comes into vivid focus in the way you treat people, even those with whom you have only fleeting contact: cab drivers, restaurant servers, department store clerks. If you treat such people with dignity, then good for you. If you are disrespectful, you should rethink your approach. After all, if you’re rude to peripheral people, why should your date expect any better from you?

Remember: being polite and well-mannered will set you apart from the crowd—and dramatically increase the chances that your potential partner will want to share your company for a long time to come.