Chivalry in the 21st Century – Being a Gentleman or a Jerk

hands holding together

In an age where texting (and sexting) and hookups seem to have become common phenomena, you have to wonder if good old-fashioned chivalry is dead, or at least on a respirator. Quick chivalry quiz: are you guilty of any of the following? Have you asked out a girl or guy via text message? Have you ever stiffed your date with an unexpected bill or dinner check? Men, do you hold a door for a lady? Ladies, do you let men hold your chair or take your coat?

In an age when we all seem consumed with maintaining our personal integrity, and when getting down seems to take precedence over getting to know one another, basic acts of courtesy seem to have been lost in the shuffle.
(Full disclosure: I am writing this from the male viewpoint, but I will try to be empathetic to both sides of this issue. I would welcome you to call me out if you think I am wrong – the comments are open.)

 

Men, times have changed but common courtesy is still in fashion. There was an age, not long ago, when holding a door or a coat or a chair for a lady was second nature or walking on the curb side of the street. These small gestures are expected as a matter of common courtesy, and respect. They serve as an acknowledgment that you respect the lady you are with and want to put her at ease, not as a matter of trying to show you are in charge or that you are stronger as the man.

Common acts of chivalry should come effortlessly and naturally as a means of putting your lady companion at ease. These are common acts of deference and courtesy, just as you would offer a seat to a pregnant woman on a crowded train, or allow an elderly person precede you on a bus or in a checkout line. These acts of common courtesy take nothing away from the other party; rather they demonstrate a level of respect.

For ladies, men know that this is the 21st century and that women are independent and capable. Offering to hold a chair or a door should not feel threatening to you. Rather, it is an acknowledgment that he respects you enough to make an effort. In small acts of chivalry, you are allowed to set the bar where you feel comfortable. I knew a woman during my college days, for example, who made it clear that she felt having a door held for her was demeaning, so I stopped holding doors. You can make it clear whether you want a chair held or a coat taken, or even if you want to split a dinner check. You might also pause a moment and ask yourself if small acts of courtesy are really patronizing or denigrating. A lot of your decision will be based as much on your date’s attitude as your own. If your date is courteous and small acts of chivalry seem to come naturally, this could be a good indicator of his character and how he will likely treat as your relationship evolves.

I, for one, am somewhat old fashioned and hope that chivalry is not dead, merely evolved. With that as a precise, let’s consider some of the most common acts of chivalry that should come naturally as part of any date:

  • Standing – When a lady enters a room or your date meets you at a bar or restaurant, it is customary for the man to stand to greet her. This doesn’t mean you have to jump up every time she gets up for a drink or to use the ladies room, but standing when she arrives shows you are glad to see her.
  • Holding the door should be a natural gesture for the man to open the door for a lady. That doesn’t mean you have to rush to grab the door first, but it should be second nature, just as opening a car door for a lady before walking around to the driver’s side should be second nature.
  • Holding a coat: Men should also hold the coat for his date when appropriate. This should be a natural gesture. Just hold the coat so she can easily insert her arms and lift it onto her shoulders, nothing more.
  • Walking together: It may be old school, but men traditionally walk on the curbside of the pavement to protect women from the hazards of the road, such as splashing puddles. These days, in some cities, the chivalrous thing to do might be to allow the lady to take the curbside so you can be a barrier between her and the homeless people in doorways. Read the situation but be sure to stand between your date and any potential hazards.
  • Picking up a check – Guys, assume you will be paying for dinner, or a movie, or whatever the activity is unless you have negotiated something different in advance. Don’t get to the end of the meal and expect your date to pick up half the check. Note that many women will offer to share the bill or pick up the check on the next date. The chivalrous thing to do is just pick up the tab unless it’s very clear your date feels uncomfortable unless she contributes something.

Just think of chivalry as a common courtesy with a sexy edge. You don’t have to be patronizing, merely courteous. If you do it right, you can show how much you respect and admire your date without making it seem forced or awkward.

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