Three years ago on a visit to Chicago, while my husband and I were walking along the edge of Millennium Park, we were approached by a man asking for some money. He appeared jovial and hopeful. Feeling good ourselves, we gave him some money. He responded with “Thank you, man!” leaned in for a hug, and said to my husband “And you’ve gotta walk on the outside of her!”
A man walking on the outside of a woman is an old custom with various origins ranging from needing to keep the sword side free if it needed to be drawn, blocking a woman from the muck that splashes up from the street, and being on-the-ready to shield a woman from harm. Oh my! I’m curious to know how many men still practice this custom. It shows up in gentlemen’s etiquette guides. I don’t mind the act of chivalry, but by no means expect it. With that said, sometimes when my husband tries to shift to take the outside, I look at him with a confused look on my face and stand my ground. Sometimes I forget that he’s trying to make this gentlemanly gesture. It’s comical and sweet.
We laughed loudly and bashfully, and wished him and his partner a good night. As we continued down the way, we held each other tight, happy to have met a nice person who was down on his luck but still had a sense of humor. And with one smooth move, my husband switched places with me, and took the outside.