Gentleman Scholar

Must a Gentleman Sit on the Couch With His Hand Down His Pants Like Al Bundy?

Also, how do I properly offer my arm to a lady?

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My husband is generally a polite and thoughtful person. His manners in public are perfect. However, at home he does something that I really find strange. When he is relaxing on the couch, he always puts one hand into his pants.

I have heard that lots of men do this. Whatever for? Is this something that I should be concerned about? Is there any way for me to convince a grown man to relax in some other way on the couch?

Wondering Wife

Troy Patterson.
Troy Patterson.

Photo by Christina Paige

No, thank you.

This posture—famously associated with Al Bundy, the anti-patriarch on Married … With Children—is best translated from body language as a genial insensate grunt. I imagine a zoologist would describe it as a comfort behavior: A kind of psychological grooming is afoot. Your husband, assuming this posture, announces himself at absolute ease—safe at home, secure from society, at peace with his vulnerability, free and unguarded and approaching a pleasure that is not remotely autoerotic but rather the bliss of pure being. Implicit in the posture, of course, is his security with you. Let it slide.


Soft lighting, subtle background music, and fine linen greet diners at my favorite Thai restaurant. But the red curry is no less brutal than the so-called Panang Deathburn at the cramped and rowdy dive where the local college students prefer to go down in flames. How do I handle a runny nose at the dinner table? I am skilled at inconspicuously removing basil from between my teeth, but I know of no polite way to stanch the flow of my runny nose. Napkin? Tablecloth? Beckon the waiter imperiously and call for a perfumed roll of Bounty?

Thank you for showing consideration for your fellow diners—for bothering to care about putting them off their pad see ew with your rhinorrheal goo.

Runny noses caused by capsaicin and other fine irritants are, like excessively chummy waiters, a common nuisance, and some people find that chasing their gra prow kai dow with a sweet and milky Thai iced tea provides relief superior to that of dousing their mouths with water or beer. In any event, it would be dishonorable to address your nasal discharge with a cloth napkin. A backup paper napkin would be better. A Kleenex-type paper tissue would also be fine. (Do you have kids? Just fish around in your pockets, you’ll find a tissue in there, along with pretzel dust and a Lego and a Lego-hard raisin.)

The strongest move would be to reach for a moist towelette, such as the one presented with the wings at Pok Pok. Ask your waiter if he has any available, but be aware that some people find the word moist to be totally squicky, so maybe call it a wet wipe. Blot, don’t rub. Bon appétit!


I was taught that a man offering his arm to a woman (when ushering at a wedding, for instance) should bend his arm at 90 degrees and point the arm forward. I often see men with their arms crossed across their chest. Which is correct?

Thanks for your question.

The right angle is the right idea, but the best form involves centering the hand of the escorting arm on the torso, between the sternum and the navel. An organization devoted to preserving the standards of old cotillions demands, moreover, that a gentleman in this position “does not leave his arm dangling at his side, nor does he let his wrist loose.” However, a gentleman who did not, as a youth, study in that school of deportment should assume whatever natural pose helps him to avoid artificial posturing. In this matter, legislation passed by the Emily Post Institute is vetoed by Frankie: Relax.

When may you offer your arm to a woman? When strolling after nightfall or striding up a wedding aisle or gliding into a formal dinner or onto a ballroom floor. She clasps your arm lightly, and the two of you assume a bearing more stately than intimate. She does not hang or helplessly lean, for as one Gloria Goddard put it in Etiquette for Moderns (1941), “the clinging female disappeared with crinolines.” You are not to grab her elbow unless you are helping her up into a trolley, say, or keeping her from stepping into the path of one.

You may offer your arm to any lady, not just Your Special Lady, but, as a platonic maneuver, it works best with ladies who are on some level old-fashioned broads and whose wardrobes suit this aspect of their personalities such that they really do need steadying when ticking across cobblestones in pencil skirts and hobbling heels. Also, it can be wonderfully gallant to squire your dear mother around in this fashion, at least until you start getting weird looks from people who assume you to be her boy toy.


In your March 12 column, you advised a letter writer who is the sole custodian of a 7-year-old daughter against having his girlfriend move in. You aren’t explicit about why you think it’s a bad idea, but I think it has something to do with providing stability for the daughter.

I’m a young man with a serious girlfriend and no children. I always assumed that one should live with one’s girlfriend before popping the question, to get a taste of what living constantly in close proximity and sharing real responsibilities bring out in each other and in the relationship. Do you agree that serious couples should live together before getting engaged? Or, as your advice to the single father seems to suggest, do you think a couple can get to know (and love) each other sufficiently well without living together to make proposing marriage a responsible choice?

Thanks for reading and for writing.

In the absence of a rug-rat infestation, I see nothing wrong, in general, with shacking up with one’s romantic partner. (However, I’d be curious to see a rigorous study of premature cohabitation—a socioeconomic analysis of those couples who rush into living together as a way of launching affordable-housing programs.) Just, you know, be cautious: Bearing in mind that a lease, like a marriage, is a contract, put both of your names on it.

Is it healthful to think of such an experiment in commitment as the equivalent of a test drive? Maybe. Or perhaps you’ll find it useful to regard it simply as an expression of optimism: The two of you sense the ground beneath your feet moving in a certain direction and take steps to live under one roof. In any case, if you live in a city like New York, where the apartment-hunting process has evolved into a cruelty that violates the Geneva Conventions, you’ll find that the very act of trying to find a nice place to live in sin will test your collective mettle. Will the ritual demoralizations of the apartment search be a crucible forging a deeper bond or a four-alarm fire incinerating your love? Will you stand on the street, some weekend morning, squabbling about the merits of the $3,000-a-month rathole a broker has deigned to show you? After your squabble, will you make up and go to brunch?  After brunch, will you engage in makeup sex, eggs Benedict lingering on your passionate breath? There’s only one way to find out!

Good luck. Please refer your girlfriend to this column’s topmost letter if she evinces any concern about your sofa decorum.