Invoking the idea of chivalry will either prompt romantic sentiments or dramatic eye rolls, and that will be largely dependent on your ideas around courtship. The word is a relic from the days of knights and damsels (some even in distress), but today the idea clings to life when we discuss just how far a gentleman should go to demonstrate his ability to protect and attend to “his” lady. The conversation can quickly descend into feminist/anti-feminist dichotomous rants that assign blame, stoke gender wars, and generally help nobody. At the end, we’re mostly left in the same camp that we started in. And the worst part? The whole argument infantilises women and men, as though all mature, sensible adults struggle to negotiate their own terms and boundaries when it comes to dating and partnership.
What Women Want
Sorry, there’s no easy answer to this – we all want different things, which means we have differing standards and expectations when it comes to gendered interactions. Some women will feel positively swept off their feel by grand romantic gestures, and others will find it cringe-worthy and even slightly humiliating. It also depends on the gesture, of course. Paying for dinner is a perfect example. Instead of insisting that you pay for dinner, how about offering to pay for dinner? “I’d like to take care of the bill, do you mind?” Be prepared to accept a split bill, or even a counter-offer to pay. By asking, and not assuming, you’ve shown respect and allowed them to set their own terms.
Aretha wasn’t kidding. It’s fundamental to any happy partnership, and it includes knowing when your help is or isn’t wanted or needed. Doing everything for a woman may just wear her down and make her feel useless, but it also removes her opportunity to return any kindnesses. And really, kindness is what we should be talking about here. The idea that being kind and considerate towards women will induce man-hating outrage is pretty absurd. The point at which a woman will reject chivalry is the point at which she feels her choices and independence are being restricted.
So – Is It Really Dead?
Like all social ideas over time, chivalry has evolved. How could it not? Relationships in their entirety have evolved – women are more educated and participating in the workforce and creating their own successes like never before, and marriage and child-rearing are taking place in a later life-stage, if at all, compared with even a generation ago. As a result, modern women are comfortable making choices that suit them, and no longer rely on marriage and courtship for long-term security. This doesn’t mean that she won’t appreciate a fresh bunch of flowers, or an offer to help her with a bulky coat, but it might suggest that you tone down the heroic tendencies. You should be able to get some clues about what she wants by reading body language and gauging her personality. And if you’re not sure – just ask.
The Key Message
It’s pretty simple, really – courtesy, not chivalry, is your safest bet. Charm, and not dominance, will likely win the day. It’s sale by negotiation. You’re both grown-ups with your own ideas and preferences, and if you can’t figure those out between you pretty quickly then it doesn’t matter one iota if you ride in and save the day or not. Respect. Consent. Kindness. Courtesy. It’s a shame they won’t slot into a nice acronym, because they’re the most important attributes you can carry with you when you’re exploring new territory. Try to remember them anyway.