Monday, January 2, 2012

Chivalry is White Gloved

There is a tale in my family - that when my great-grandfather "came to call" on an eligible gal who would later become his wife, he arrived wearing white gloves and carrying a cane. 

According to the lore, it was those accessories that drove her to the chuppah.  

While we may all guffaw that such times are long behind us - a date once showed up on my doorstep in a disintegrating baseball cap and cargo pants, then inquired why I was so dressed up (in my simplest dress) - there is, of course, still that yearning when men wore tails and women wore silk gloves, the very romantic formality depicted in Cinderella.  

Charlotte Altar, who grew up with tales such as these from her mother's reminiscing, felt the lack that a dating website cannot fulfill. She, also, sought a memory of romance to pass on to the next generation.
When it comes to love, the main lesson I absorbed from my mother’s experiences was that even if most relationships hit the rocks, you should at least walk away with a good story. And I had none. So when I saw a chance to step into a memorable narrative of my own, I leapt.
She began to see a West Point Cadet. Despite her lack of feelings for him,  she was taken. 

He invited her to a West Point banquet, and her grandmother commented that she has a "beau." 
I rolled my eyes, though I was secretly pleased to have this experience vaguely linked to an earlier time, when people wore gloves and dating was a social fact. There was something comforting in the idea that my experience was not completely foreign to her.
I began to realize that even though this flirtation with the Cadet wasn’t a real romance, I was romanticizing it nevertheless. I was practically clutching at the idea even if I wasn’t clinging to the person.
The banquet itself was a blur of pinched toes and formal introductions. The Cadet wore a white uniform, crisp gloves and a sword.
Freshmen (guys my own age) waited on us, bringing us drinks with a stiff “Yes, sir,” and “For the lady.” 
. . . He had a sword, we drank Champagne, there was war talk: that sounds like a real love story, doesn’t it?
While the experiences with the Cadet may seem a bit much, even dates taking a walk by the river, as baby boomer college alumni inquired of their former university, is extinct. 
“Well, what do people do then, on a date?”
I wanted to assure him that people still occasionally go out to dinner or attend formal events. But the truth is that sometimes these encounters feel more like acts of nostalgia than acts of love.
My great-grandparents' story survived past world wars until today. And that was a shidduch date, yet! 

I have no such desires, truly. My parents have no story; my siblings have no story. My grandparents do, possibly because they were survivors, so any story is automatically gripping.  

"Happily ever afters" do not necessarily require "Once upon a time." I can settle for a non-epic. 

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