Chivalry isn’t dead. It’s simply confused.
Aside from medieval images of knights and ladies-in-waiting, the concept of chivalry generally implies a unidirectional, male-toward-female interaction.
But with gender standards shifting on the sands of time, poor little chivalry finds itself today in romantic turmoil. Traditional gender roles and the lines between idealized masculinity and femininity have entered into a state of indistinctness. Consequently, chivalry doesn’t know what to do with itself; it is tormented with mixed signals, welcomed and unwanted, endeared and scorned.
First, there is the gentleman who tries. Generally dubbed the “nice guy,” he’s the one who tries to show you he cares by following the conventional (if clich‚) manifestations of chivalry.
No, not by jousting the next armor-clad guy so he can’t get to you first. This guy opens doors, pulls out chairs, and picks up the restaurant tabs, among other typical gestures. He hopes he’ll impress you with his sincerity and attentiveness, and maybe woo you enough to get you to accompany him to the Michaelmas feast next Saturday.
But, there is the lady who doesn’t allow him to.
To heck with corsets and side-saddle nonsense. “I can open my own damn door!” Believe it or not, I can also seat myself at a table with no assistance, and I can even pay for my own dinner. Heck, I can pay for yours too. (All the same, don’t act like you forgot your wallet; that’s just bad taste.)
This young woman calls herself strong and self-sufficient and doesn’t need your paltry attempts at gallantry to get by. Your behavior may nauseate her so much, her physical regurgitative reaction could have you reaching for your handkerchief.
However, their alter-egos do exist – and in this same universe!
There is the lady of more delicate sensibility who pines for a chap of goodly breeding to make haste into her life and redeem her perceptions of crude and boorish maledom.
All she’s asking for is a little courtesy; a sweet young man who will bring flowers “just because,” write a love letter every so often, and unsuccessfully try to hide the fact that he’s crying along with her during that one scene in “The Notebook.” Striking white steed preferred, but not essential. Shining armor a plus, but a button-up once in a while will do (psst – they can do wonders for you, guys!).
And the boorish brute lacking all gentlemanly graces?
That may be a harsh conviction; I should not condemn him as boorish or brutish, as he is not always ill-mannered (sometimes he actually uses a napkin instead of a sleeve). In terms of chivalrous behavior, this gentleman can be named “He-who-hath-not-a-clue.” He absent-mindedly (truly, there is no mind involved here) goes about his interaction with you without a second thought as to your feminine sensitivities.
Perhaps he figures you really can “open your own damn door.” Or perhaps he isn’t thinking about doors or chairs, but instead worrying about spilling red sauce on his rarely-worn white dress shirt. Simply, his lack of action dooms him, and tragically, he may never know why he didn’t make it with you.
Let’s sum up.
Guys: too much door-opening and you’re in danger of being a male chauvinist. What, you think she can’t do it? You think she’s too weak to open that big heavy door all by her lonesome?
But girls: too little door-opening from him and you’re annoyed. If you both approach the door and he doesn’t trip over himself to get it for you, you mutter with a terse, “Gee, thanks a lot.”
What’s the deal here? Is chivalry good or bad? When is it appropriate to resort to chivalrous methods, and in what dosage?
A prudent prescription – chivalry in small-to-moderate quantities – seems your safest bet. I can’t speak for the kingdom of the female sex in its entirety, but for myself and my feminine acquaintances, an initial offer is always appreciated.
Example: on a first date, obviously you focus on making a good impression. Show that you’re capable of knight-like conduct, but not that you’re stuck in old-world habits. Use the initial encounter to gauge future behavior – if she wrinkles her nose at a knightly gesture, don’t do it next time.
Girls: realize that you’re being attended to. The person opening your damn door is trying to impress you. And eventually, we must admit to ourselves that gentlemen just don’t speak the same ladylike lingo we do. If you want him to pick up the tab – or if you don’t – verbalize! It may be a little awkward to address the topic, but it will be worth the clarity.
Also, don’t start thinking “white picket fence” and take off running – but a real estate motto works well here: “Location, location, location.” If you’re dining at Vieni Vai Trattoria downtown, pulling out her chair might not seem quite so out of place as it would if you did at The Avenue. (Not that a first date should ever, ever occur at The Avenue.)
So, with these words of wisdom, I dub thee Knights and Ladies of a new, modern court. Let it be known throughout the land that chivalry isn’t dead but henceforth, updated.
Sarah Carbonel is a psychology and English junior and Mustang Daily dating columnist.