Susan Bitar and her 17-year-old daughter, Sophia Davis, a senior at Christian Brothers High School, were talking about the ins and outs of etiquette one day when they came to the conclusion that not everybody knows this stuff.
Especially teenagers who are ready and eager to start dating. They realized bad manners would inevitably lead to bad dates.
After plenty of brainstorming, writing and editing, the mother-daughter tandem produced a brochure titled “Dating Etiquette: It’s Always in Fashion – A Guide for Guys & Girls.” They enlisted the help of Amanda Maurer, a Christian Brothers junior, to illustrate the pamphlet. They’re making it available free of charge and distributing it to local schools.
“I know I have my own ideas about etiquette, but it was really important that this reflect Sophia’s generation and that it be realistic,” said Bitar, a Sacramento public relations consultant. “I do think things change, but etiquette will always stay alive if it’s meaningful.”
Etiquette is daunting to master and is endlessly nuanced, as apparent from the dictionary-sized Emily Post reference book that Bitar brought with her for this interview.
“It’s not something you learn from your teachers or your classmates,” Davis said. “It’s something you learn from your parents. But if they don’t teach you, you’re kind of out of luck.”
Enter this trifold, cream-colored brochure (Davis said she decided to publish it in print in hopes that it would last longer and stand out from online ephemera, but it’s available as a PDF as well).
“Hardly anyone talks about manners today,” it begins. “While some people think it’s old-fashioned, knowing the basics of dating etiquette may be more timely than you think. People with good manners have a definite advantage in the world and when dating, too.”
The brochure straddles the line between contemporary and old-school, assuming traditional roles for males and females, and making no mention of same-sex dates. The boys pick up the girls for the date, for instance, and are advised to not only have a clean car – it assumes that the boy isn’t so cool or green or cash-strapped that he rides a bike or takes public transit – but to show up with a full tank of gas,
These days, when equality among the sexes is a given, gender roles can get confusing.
“I don’t think guys really open the door for girls,” said Davis. “I mean, they should, but they don’t really talk about it.”
“Chivalry is never out of style,” added her mom.
Under the “Guide for Guys” section, the brochure advises asking the girl out for a date in person “not via text, email or even voice mail.”
The guide also touches on what to wear, then goes into some detail on how to navigate the potentially awkward, or disastrous, few minutes when the guy meets her parents or parent.
“When meeting her parents, smile and look each parent in the eye. Extend your right hand to shake her mother’s right hand first and then her father’s. If you’re meeting them for the first time, introduce yourself with your full name as you shake hands. Say goodbye to her parents as you leave.”
If you survive that, you are then advised to hold open all doors for your date throughout the evening.
Girls are advised that if they ask the guy out, they should make the plans for the night out. And, yes, if she’s doing the asking, she should do the paying if they go out to eat, according to the brochure.
Davis is not currently dating – “I don’t have time,” she said – but she did have a date for homecoming, a young man who did all the right things when it came to etiquette.
After putting together the brochure with her mom, Davis said she came to understand the importance of etiquette. It may seem like something superficial, but it’s a key element in successful social interactions.
“It just makes people work better together. It’s just a happier place when everybody is nice and thoughtful toward each other,” she said.
Bitar knew that providing an etiquette guide would be worthwhile, but she didn’t realize how readily teenagers were clamoring for this kind of information until she went to speak to a high school art class to recruit an illustrator.
“I went in and presented the idea to the students and they were so interested in it – much more so than I thought they would be,” Bitar said.
“It underscored the fact that they are missing this information and there is a great opportunity to convey it. They’re really open to it.”