First dates can produce some awkward moments, and as I discovered, all the more in 2018. This one happened even before the evening truly began. I was on my best behaviour, or so I thought. I held the restaurant door open, except my lady friend didn’t walk through the door. A few moments passed, and a young couple passed through and thanked me for keeping the door open for them. It’s at that moment that I decided I had held the door open long enough and ran the risk of being perceived as the doorman for the establishment. I walked in, my friend followed; she had made her point without a diatribe on chivalry or chauvinism.
We had a lovely evening, I restrained myself when our waiter missed a couple of service cues and served me first. On another occasion, I might have reminded him about his training manual and how you always serve the lady first, but not that evening. A week later I was at the Rosemont outlet mall in Chicago with another lady friend. I am a compulsive shopper but on that day my friend outdid me, eight shopping bags to none. I was still recovering from playing doorman and didn’t offer my friend any assistance with the bags until the disapproving looks from fellow shoppers started to play on me.
My offer to carry some of her bags was met with more than just approval. ‘About time too’ was her response.
Incidents like these keep reaffirming one thing — it’s not easy to be a gentleman in the 2010s. I’ll save the definition of the modern gentleman for another day.
Let’s just focus on chivarly for now. The Cambridge dictionary has two definitions for chivalry — ‘very polite, honest and kind behaviour, especially by men towards women’. The second — ‘the system of behaviour followed by knights in the medieval period of history that put a high value on honour, kindness and courage’
My friend at the restaurant wins. The 2010s have seen the fourth wave of feminism in the age of social media and to see ‘especially by men towards women’ sounds archaic. A year ago, I would have not thought twice about complimenting a female colleague about her new haircut or a trendy handbag, but I would definitely hold back now for the fear of being misinterpreted. It’s not even easy being polite now. Most gentlemen go through these moments. In the middle ages, the knight’s code of chivalry might have been about a show of strength. But many of us like to believe that Victorian era chivalry is more about being genteel. Even that seems suddenly outdated now. And it’s not entirely the modern gentleman’s fault. Most modern women seem divided on whether chivalry is relevant and what it truly means. For every woman who looks at modern attempts of chivalry as being patronising, there’s another who lectures her partner on how he should be more gentlemanly and more romantic. Eventually I did speak to my friend from the restaurant about why she declined my attempt at chivalry. “Would you open the door for a male friend?” she asked. I must admit that I may not have and even if I did, it wouldn’t have been to be chivalrous.
And she went on to quiz me “Would you like it if I held the door open for you or offered to carry your purse”. It sounded like a great idea. I would be happy if anyone did that for me and even happier if my date insisted on picking up the tab. It would be good karma for all the times I ran out of my weekly allowance in high school with just one pizza date.
I’d love if we could all agree on a 2018 version of chivalry. Or maybe we could alternate roles. So, one day it’s the role of the woman to be chivalrous. Open doors, wait for her male partner till he safely walks into his apartment and turns on the light.
Because I’m tired of conflicting signals each time I’m being chivalrous within my understanding of the word. Something most modern gentlemen have to grapple with. Just offering to carry a lady’s heavy bag can produce a volley of different reactions from how you’re being old-fashioned or chauvinistic or sweet or how we wish more men could be like you. Its time women decide if they want us to treat them like men or ladies. It’s hard enough trying to be chivalrous, even tougher if that chivalry goes unappreciated.