You don’t know how long it’s taken me to bring this up. Believe me: I think about this subject so often that one would think these thoughts would just spew forth from my lips like freshly-sipped Coca Cola after something incredibly shocking has been said. However, to think on it is one thing. To discuss it is entirely another.
But it’s time. So, here goes nothin’ but the truth:
I not only expect men to be chivalrous; I get bummed out when they are not. I’m sweating a little out of embarrassment even writing this, but bear with me and I’ll explain. Then maybe we can all have a conversation about where we go from here.
Chivalry became a buzz word in the latter part of the Middle Ages. At the start of this era, women were required to be subordinate, restricted to working in or around the household. Women were supposed to know “their place.” They were not considered equal to men. (Ok, ouch.) Then, during the latter part of the time period men began to treat women with more overall respect, thanks in part to the introduction of the Chivalric Code. Knights, originally considered a class of lower nobility, began to earn high respect for their services. They were rewarded with land and rank for serving their country, and “knighted” in honorary fashion for all types of service to the Monarch or country.
This sense of distinction created what boils down to a “boys club” – but one in which the club rules charged them to live up to the honor of their titles. Thus began the Chivalric Code. They upheld values of faith, loyalty, courage and gentility, charging themselves to stand up for right and wrong, defend and protect the weak and the poor, and respect all life as valuable. This code of conduct, initially meant only for knights, became widely adopted as a code of conduct for all good men.
That took a lot of research, y’all. I learned a lot but I’m done with the library. Now I wanna talk about my history:
I was raised by a father who would pull the car up onto the sidewalk of the grocery store if it was raining (Yep, you read that right; now take a moment to visualize it) so that my mother’s freshly-coiffed hair would not get wet. He would open car doors for her as naturally as he would walk, talk or breathe. He would open my and my sister’s car doors for us as well. It felt natural to me. I never felt like I was being held prisoner inside the vehicle. I just knew that he would open it for me, so it truly didn’t even cross my mind to get out of the car until his hand was on the door. I cherished it. It made me feel cared for. It also defined what I believed “care” to be.
Throughout my upbringing (in the South/USA, to be exact), I’ve continued to have these rituals performed for me by courteous gentlemen who have called me “Ma’am,” even when I was 12 years old. I have watched men pick up tabs, carry luggage and hold umbrellas for women without so much as a second thought. Right alongside that growing up, I also saw women in leadership roles who took crap from no one – strong, fierce; women who exuded badassity – and still allowed doors to be held for them. Dare I say … they expected them to be.
I am blessed to be currently dating a wonderful man (and I’d like to keep him please, baby Jesus) whose generosity I could write a book about. He grabs the heavy grocery bags, holds the umbrella in the rain, brings me flowers when I’m sad, and more things than I will say here because let’s admit it: Bragging is no better a color than jealousy.
But get this:
In recognizing that this was indeed the kind of man that I have dreamed of my whole life long, I found myself conflicted by the fact that he didn’t open my car door for me. Let me note that I was more frustrated than conflicted – not in him, but in myself that something so small could hold such significance in my mind. I began to think that maybe I had created some mental obstacles for myself within the real world.
As I search my heart and psyche deeply, I have to say that my expectation of chivalry does not come from a sense of entitlement, but simply from a program. I have struggled to make sense of how I regard chivalry as an adult. It’s just a different time and a different world than it once was. I do like a lot of the social modifications that have come with the globe turning a few kajillion times. However, I still find that I am frustrated because I still have programmed expectations of how a certain few things “should be.”
The concept of dating is where I feel the most pushback. I have been involved with men who were raised to open doors and open wallets, and the give-and-take within those relationships worked for me quite naturally. I would open refrigerators, ovens, and laundry doors to reciprocate. “Does that make me a traitor to the progress of my own gender?” I would ask myself, afraid of what other women might think of me. For me, it just meant that I liked to cook and so gravitated towards men who liked to eat, in the same way that I like to be treated like a princess and so gravitate towards men who embody the manner of a prince.
Simply by the nature of the beast, I have engaged in relationships wherein the individual “programs” conflict – when a man was raised with a differing knowledge of social expectation than I was. I have often found myself holding doors, or getting out my debit card to go halfsies on every non-special-occasion dinner out, grocery bill or Walmart/Target excursion. I once had a boyfriend print me out a spreadsheet of expenses that I owed him half of (including dinners, drinks, and a bottle of Liquid Drano). These behaviors might not have come as a surprise to me if I were raised by a different daddy or brought up in a different town. But when these incidents did occur, my entire system was taken aback by it.
For some reason, this makes me mad. Translation: This makes me mad for being mad.
Too hard on myself, you say? Nice to meet you.
No matter what “way of life” I personally might prefer, I am of the opinion that men should not be labeled scoundrels for not grabbing every door or every bill. How rude that world would be where men were judged in that way. It simply would not be a fair assessment. And oftentimes, these are still gentle-men by nature, who were just not raised to think to do these things.
Here’s the flip; these gentle-men might actually have even been raised not to. Woah. Have you thought about that? I know firsthand that there are a lot of women who actually find it rather patronizing to be “helped.” The disdain felt when a man insists on doing anything that she can do herself is real, and I’ve heard that it can evoke thoughts of face-punching. A lot of these women become mothers and teachers and teach men the dos and don’ts of acceptable social behavior, instilling in them that every living thing is equal – not worse; not better – just the same. I’d be lying if I said that I don’t comprehend that concept. Respect.
With that said, I also don’t want to live a life of judgment that one opinion on the act of chivalry is better than another. There are pros and cons to both sides of the story. I’m learning to see them both.
In conclusion, I believe that those of us who are lucky enough to be involved in loving, rewarding relationships with generous people must cherish what we have. We must stay aware of reality versus expectation. We must take into account the sweet and wonderful gestures of love and attention we are given and not let programmed concepts of acceptable behavior dictate or dampen our openness or acceptance of our realities.
I do not think a man is in the wrong if he walks in a door before me. Sometimes he just doesn’t want his cat to get out. (And I sure as heck don’t like it when I’m the one who accidentally lets her slip out. She’s so little!) I do not believe that a man is in the wrong if he doesn’t open my car door for me. I have been blessed with good hands and strong limbs to do so myself. Do I still *like it* when my boyfriend opens the car door for me? Hell to the yes, people. But when he doesn’t, I won’t fret because I’m most thankful that he opens my heart. Fair trade.