Etiquette: Offering Your Arm
In honor of Valentine’s Day, I wanted to post something with a little romantic twist. So here are my thoughts on offering an arm to a significant other (Sig-O), or other in need of assistance…
Here in Northern New England, we’re in the midst of yet another frigid winter. Ice is everywhere: steps, sidewalks, streets, and all places in between. More than ever, I am offering my wife, and others, my arm in assistance. Though it may seem trivial, I believe offering someone your arm can be a touching display of gentlemanly consideration. But, there are a few rules I have found in this small, yet meaningful, action.
To Whom Do you Offer Your Arm, and When?
This question depends on the circumstances. With my wife (or, for you, any Sig-O, of any sex or gender expression), I offer my arm on a regular basis when we are walking around town. I don’t offer my arm every day, at every instance; go with your gut on this. On date night, I offer my arm to my wife in every instance we are walking together for longer than a few yards, and anytime we’re walking up and down steps, or over a curb. Beyond date night, it depends on the situation, but I try to always offer my arm before steps and curbs. Keep in mind, just because I offer my arm, doesn’t mean that she always takes it. Sometimes she doesn’t take my arm, and that’s totally fine.
Beyond my wife, I offer my arm to anyone whose balance may be impaired. With elderly individuals, for instance, I typically offer my arm, or a hand. Please note, not all people will appreciate the offer of assistance. However, I prefer to err on the side of gentlemanly manners. Plus, the number of times older people have complimented me as a “charming, polite young man,” makes all the turn downs totally worth it.
Lastly, I often offer my arm to friends when there is ice, or they are in heels of any substantial height. Prior to my transition, I spent several years in Cotillions: I remember, quiet vividly, how challenging heels can be (or were, for me; I realize many people have no trouble in heels). For these reasons I offer those in heels my arm. You may differ in your choices of who to offer your arm to, but these are my general thoughts.
How to Offer your Arm
How to offer your arm, again, depends on the individual situations. With my wife, we’re been together for so long, she knows the smallest movements which indicate I’m about to offer my arm. Almost instinctively, she takes my arm just as I’m offering it. Of course, this is the result of years of reading my body language. So, let’s start from the beginning:
First, a gentleman typically offers his arm – rather than being prompted to do so. With a close acquaintance or Sig-O’s, you can use more subtle cues: bending your arm closest to the individual, keeping your hand (fisted) midway between your stomach and chest. You may tilt your elbow out, slightly, and signal with your eyes, inquisitively, to ask your Sig-O or acquaintance if they would like to take your arm. If they don’t pick up on the clue, you may choose to abandon your offer, or, ask “may I take your arm?” Asking, or not, is up to you.
You may be offering your arm to someone for a specific purpose, such as assistance over some icy steps, a slippery curb, or other such hazards. In instances such as these, I typically descend down the hazard (step down the curb, down a few steps, over the hurtle, etc), then lean forward, making eye contact outstretching my arm. If I can’t make eye contact, or if I feel necessary, I will ask “May I be of assistance?” For strangers, including the elderly, I use a very similar method. I will extend my elbow, and offer any assistance.
A few notes on form: yes, there is a form to this. When walking with a person on your arm, keep your elbow at a right angle (or smaller, but not by much). Keep your hand fisted, and held between your chest and your navel. Keep your hand centered, not too far to one side or the other. In informal situations, such as a walk down the street on an average day, I may place my hand in my coat pocket, but with my elbow extended for my wife to grasp. Here are a few great examples of how to do this properly: http://jcricketevents.blogspot.com/2009/01/how-to-take-mans-arm.html
Also remember, offering a hand or arm for an individual to use, means that you must be solid on your feet. Don’t offer your arm if your own balance or ability to walk is compromised.
Considerations For Transmen
For me, offering an arm to someone is utterly satisfying. It is an assertion of not only my masculinity, but my ideals as a gentleman as well. Of course, it can be intimidating, especially if you’re not passing. I would suggest to begin with friends who recognize your identity. Think of people who would see offering your arm as a natural extension of your identity. Try offering your arm to them, first; get used to the feeling of having someone on your arm, and the process of offering your arm. When you get more comfortable with offering your arm, adventure out, and try it on a stranger, or further removed acquaintance. Go with what feels natural. Chances are, if you feel odd offering your arm, it will come off as strange, and may not be received well.