How to be a Man

(This article is the first of a 10-part series about the things this writer has learned from being in a relationship.)

What does it mean to be a man?

When I first asked myself that question, I initially thought it was pretty simple—well, you simply be one, don’t you?—but after thinking more about this for an hour, I was nowhere close to a more satisfactory answer. (As an exercise, ask that to your boyfriend or husband, and I bet most of them would be equally stumped.) Yet, I can humbly say that I am a man and that I’m certain I became one at some point between eight years ago when I met the girl that would become my wife and last year when I married her.

The moment when we turn from boys to men isn’t always clear.
Photo by Kinici Photo

As is usually the case these days when I want to know something personal, such as what would be a good birthday gift for my mum or where my favorite socks are, I asked my wife. It attests to her sense of practicality and profession as a biologist that her answer was that human males have XY chromosomes. And I say, with absolutely no sense of sarcasm, that she had been very helpful, as always. Her answer, which while not exactly what we need here, did lead me to a better (at any rate, more answerable) question: What are the characteristics of a man?

And with that, I think the answers are that he is kind (a topic that I’ll address in a separate article), dependable, and a gentleman.

How to be a Gentleman

There are some people who say that chivalry is an outmoded ideal with no place in the modern world. I beg to differ. I like to think that men and women are not each other’s opposite but each other’s complement, and as long as that’s the case, there is a place for gentlemen. Admittedly, some actions have become outdate, awkward even (standing whenever a lady enters the room, for example), but the basic tenets of being a gentleman have remained the same. These include:

1. Putting others ahead of you. When people say “nice guys finish last”, they often mean that good men lose to, shall we say, the more selfish members of our species. Let’s change that. When nice men—gentlemen—finish last, it’s not because we’re less able, but because we know we have to put others ahead of ourselves. Being a gentleman means giving way to those who are more in need.

Chivalry is not out of fashion.
Photo by My Dream Wedding

2. Treating your woman well. The crux of being a gentleman (although definitely not the only thing that matters in being one) is treating your lady as she should be treated. This entails, among other things, holding doors open for her, walking on the curb-side of the street, offering your arm for support, and carrying her things. Do this not because she can’t do it herself—she fully well can—but because these gestures show that you care for her and that you would always put her ahead of you.

3. Loving one woman only. This is what separates a “player” from a gentleman. A player charms different women and leaves a trail of broken hearts; a gentleman loves only one woman, with all his heart and for the rest of his life. For a better relationship, practice the different ways of expressing your love to your partner.

A gentleman has a big heart, but it’s only big enough for one woman.
Photo by Seletar Broadway

4. Guarding your woman’s honor. In medieval times, men would defend a woman’s honor by fighting to the death. Thankfully, doing so today is no longer as fatal. Keeping your woman’s honor is as simple as making a point to present her in a positive light to your family and friends, and standing up for her if anyone talks ill of her. Let your private affairs remain private—a gentleman does not kiss and tell.

5. Treating other people well. A gentleman does not pick and choose who he would be nice to as he treats everyone with respect. Do something because it’s the right thing to do—not because you want to impress your woman, and not so that you can post about it on social media. When talking to someone, give them your full attention. Be courteous to everyone, even the people you don’t like. Use your words carefully: flatter with caution, and give only sincere compliments.

A good man knows how to deal with everyone, including cute weeny flower girls who have forgotten their cue.
Photo by Annabel Law Productions

6. Taking care of yourself. You can’t take care of other people if you can’t take care of yourself. That means you have to maintain proper hygiene, pick up after your own mess, manage your personality around people, and have a sense of style. Mind your health and the impression you give to people. Attend to your own needs: just because you put others ahead of you, it doesn’t mean you’ll leave nothing to yourself.

7. Being aware of the situation. Avoid being too lively to the point that you annoy people, nor being too serious that you make them feel awkward around you. (Remember: nobody likes a wet blanket.) Adjust your behavior according to the situation, but regardless of where you are, always behave with integrity and don’t do anything you might regret later on. Make people like you and avoid or deflate conflicts without compromising your principles.

8. Keeping your promises. “The word of a gentleman is as good as his bond,” so wrote Charles Dickens in 1840, and that message rings true until now. So be earnest with your promises and don’t make any promises that you can’t keep. During courtship, be clear and honest about your intentions; do not commit into a relationship that you know won’t work out; honor your marriage vows above all else.

The ultimate promise is one’s wedding vows.
Photo by Avior Pictures

9. Having a clear purpose. Men evolved to hunt while women evolved to gather—this is why we have different ways of going about things. Women, in general, multi-task to cover more ground and pick useful things as they go along. Meanwhile, men set a single task first and then concentrate on that before moving on to the next task. This explains why men who move with a purpose—those who work efficiently and do not concern themselves with trifles—appear more dependable and, in effect, like a gentleman.

10. Acting when others won’t. This refers back to the gentleman’s trait of putting others ahead of himself, or in some cases, putting himself between people in need and their problem. This isn’t to say that you have to go out of your way to find people in trouble (thankfully, we have government agencies to do that), but if you do encounter them, be ready to help. Any person can feel indignant and whine about a wrong thing, but a real man acts to correct it.

Things a Man Should Know

Kindness makes a man good, gentlemanly manners makes him desirable, and being someone people can depend on makes him indispensable. The following are 30 practical things that could help you be “the Man”.

Sometimes, you just know you can depend on someone just by the looks of him.
Photo by Renatus Photography

(A caveat: these tips are based on my personal experience. Some might not be applicable to other men; conversely, some things that are absolutely essential to others might not be on this list. Not knowing some of these things do not automatically make any man less—these are just the things that I personally find very helpful in living up as a man. As in all things, use your best judgment.)

A man should know how to:

1. Balance his finances. Live according to your means, or work to accommodate the life you want to live. Set something aside for the rainy days.

2. Explain his profession. First of all, you need to have one, then you need to have a deep understanding of your work. If you can’t clearly explain what you do for a living, you’re not doing it right.

3. Shake someone’s hand. Be firm but make sure not to hurt the other person. Smile, make eye contact, and say something pleasant.

4. Give an impromptu speech. If you weren’t notified beforehand, just thank the host for their graces, and tell how you’re related to them and what nice people they are.

5. Argue his case. Back up your claims with facts; use examples and analogies. Never raise your voice.

6. Make small talk. Chit-chats may seem trivial, but they make things less awkward. To do this, simply give a nice comment or point to something you find funny. Nod a lot.

Being able to put people at ease is an important yet often underappreciated talent.
Photo by Chris Ling Photography

7. Go about the island. Know your way around Singapore—the public transport routes, shortcuts, and traffic density in each area—to avoid wasting time.

8. Haggle (when it’s acceptable). You know what they say, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

9. Do basic carpentry. A hammer, tape measure, saw, pencil and nails are usually all you need to do small fixes in your home.

10. Do basic electronics. Make sure the device you’re checking isn’t plugged, open it up using a set of screwdrivers, and replace the part that looks broken or fried.

11. Take care of a computer. Have your account password-protected and always have an anti-virus on. Defragment and clean up your discs regularly. Uninstall programs you don’t use.

12. Drive a motor vehicle. You never know when you might need a quick transport and there are no public vehicles around.

13. Play a sport. It’s good for your health and social well-being, plus it’s often the only way for urbanites like me and you to avoid our muscles from wasting away.

Playing sports is the best way to test our physical limits.
Photo by Renatus Photography

14. Act in an emergency. Call emergency hotlines. Give first aid or CPR if necessary. Keep calm as much as possible.

15. Take care of a sick person. For simple illnesses, all that’s actually needed are just food and rest. But keeping a sick person company does wonders too.

16. Cheer up a sad or hurt kid. Candies and theatrics—distraction is the key here.

17. Clean his own place. If you can’t keep your own apartment clean, you probably can’t keep a girl happy either.

18. Pick fresh food. No material things are more important as the ones you put inside your body.

19. Cook for himself. Because your mum or your wife won’t always be around, and food that come in cans are not good for you.

20. Cook a special dish. It doesn’t need to impress Gordon Ramsay, but it should at least impress your in-laws.

21. Prepare breakfast (for your partner). For a decent breakfast, the least you’ll need are scrambled eggs, toast with butter, some fruits and juice or coffee.

22. Tie his own necktie. This takes just 4 minutes to learn on YouTube, and just a couple of tries to master.

23. Dress to impress. Dress appropriately, wear flattering clothes, keep your shirts clean, and keep your shoes polished. Keep in mind: a well-trimmed suit makes any man look more dashing.

Dress and behave in such a way that she keeps falling for you.
Photo by My Dream Wedding

24. Get a table at a busy restaurant. Don’t just give up after being told the place is full. Ask the receptionist to check and re-check for any vacated tables or missed reservations.

25. Treat a girl to a night out. You need to provide: a convenient transport, delicious food, some entertainment, and good conversation. Do this regularly, even after you’ve married the girl.

26. When to call it a night. You know that point when you’re out with your buddies and doing something wrong starts to sound fun? Yeah, that’s when you need to go home.

27. Make his girl calm down. Here’s a science-based lifesaver: if your girl is in a bad mood, just tell her things will be ok and then give her a long hug. This produces the “happy hormones”, endorphins and serotonin.

28. Give a massage. For the back and neck: knead the tight or “knotted” muscles. For the feet: knead and apply pressure on various points on the sole.

29. When to apologize. Simple answer: whenever you hurt another person, but most especially your partner. Admit when you’re mistaken and apologize sincerely.

30. Satisfy his girl in bed. You’ll have to figure this one out on your own, champ.

In the end, if you love her and she loves you, and you’re still together, then you’re doing ok.
Photo by Kinici Photo

Going back to our first question, I guess a better answer would be is that being a man means doing the right thing, with emphasis on doing—because simply knowing something and not doing anything with it counts for nothing. A good man is a man of action. Lastly, I’ve found out that being a man isn’t something that just happens as you grow old. It’s a process… and I’m still learning myself.

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