No, after you

Every once in a while I’ll be walking in or out of a building somewhere and I’ll see someone else behind me, so I’ll stand there and hold the door open to let that person pass. It’s a courtesy, right? Why do we do these things? Is it really saving the person behind me anything at all? Any time? Any energy? Am I really doing you a favor by holding the door open? Or am I just forcing a weird little social ritual upon you? And now here we are, two strangers, I did something for you, unasked for, and now you’re supposed to engage in the fakest of fake pleasantries, with me, a complete stranger, “Thank you,” “You’re welcome.”

It’s crazy, and yet I’m very conscious of it every time I’m going through some sort of public door. Why? Because I don’t want anybody behind me to think that I’m inconsiderate. Even though I really think the whole holding the door thing is a little too much. Worse still, I actually feel a reaction inside when I hold the door for somebody and I get no response. I’ll hold the door, and then nothing. I always get angry. I think to myself, listen, I didn’t want to hold the door for you in the first place. I don’t know who came up with this hold-open, thank you nonsense. It wasn’t me. But I’m still doing it, so the least you could do is your part, because I already did my part.

Sometimes that’ll happen, where I hold the door and get no acknowledgment, and I’ll let out a big fake, “You’re welcome,” after the person doesn’t respond. Look, if the person is that oblivious to me in the first place, is that completely unaware that I was even standing there holding the door open, they’re unlikely to flinch at me saying, “You’re welcome,” in a sarcastic voice. But still, I feel like I have to say it. Because the alternative is me standing there, having done a fake little door opening, something I really don’t get the point of, something that even though I don’t agree with, I still did it, and if I get nothing back, then I feel stupid, like the other person basically agrees with me, that it’s stupid, but I was the one who, even though I don’t like it, I still did it, whereas this person doesn’t like it, and doesn’t pretend to like it by giving me the usual, “Thanks a lot.”

So it’s really me then, I’m a part of the problem. I’m the one initiating and, if you think about it, upholding these strange practices, relics of a bygone era. What’s the point of holding the door really? It’s worse when you consider gender roles and dynamics. Technically, if a man is walking in somewhere and so is a women, the proper thing to do is for the guy to hold open the door and let the lady pass first, right? This is the worst because there are just way too many things going on, in the moment, in history, the familiar and the unknowable, and it’s all converging on this one singular action, a random guy going out of his way for a random lady, and all over nothing in particular, it’s over a meaningless act, it’s over a door.

I get it. There are certain times in life, in society, where people should stand side by side, where maybe even somebody should stand up for somebody else. If I see somebody getting harassed on the street, do I intervene? Should I? I would want to say that, yes, I should. But for a door? Is it really worth establishing a micro relationship with another person over holding a door open? I don’t know. There’s just too much that can go wrong.

It all gets way too political, it brings out the weird dynamics of any group. Say you and a bunch of your friends are going out to a restaurant and you’re all walking in at the same time. I might go to the door first and open it to let everyone else in. But what am I really doing? Is this like a power grab? I’m in charge so I hold the door? What if somebody else was going to go for the door? What if you have a friend in the group that always goes for the door, every single time? What if, one time, you somehow manage to beat him to the door, and you let the whole group to go through, only to have that friend, at the very end of the line, come up to you last and say to you while gesturing towards the inside, “No, after you,” do you have to stand your ground? Do you say to your friend, “No, I insist?” How do you get out of something like this?

Why can’t we all just open the doors for ourselves on a case by case basis? If there’s a massive group of people in a highly trafficked doorway, obviously the door will just kind of prop itself open as everyone passes by in a tightly knit line. And please don’t get me going on elevator etiquette. I’m never sure on the details of, for example, if I let everybody else go in the elevator first, and I enter last, I’ll then be the closest to the door. So when the elevator gets to where we’re all going, do I selfishly exit first? Or do I selflessly yet awkwardly shove my body to the side, maybe in the process getting a little too close in the personal space of somebody next to me, just so others can leave ahead of myself? Stuff like this makes me want to stay inside, permanently, I’ll just order all of my groceries and anything else I might need to be delivered from the Internet, and I’ll never leave the house.

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