“Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed?
Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream
of what I need”
Bonnie Tyler – “I Need a Hero”
Watching “The Notebook”, I had a crush on Rachel McAdams, but wanted to be Ryan Gosling.
I believe strongly in gallantry.
As a young boy I would dress for Halloween as Sir Lancelot.
I tried once to infuse a little ‘Night in Shining Armour’ into my daily life, but, one Tuesday, my jousting lance pierced the back of our new front-loading washer as I did a load of towels. Then I cut my chin on the edge of my shield as I tried to get the vacuum cleaner out of the broom closet. The final straw was trying to justify that horse to my wife.
He had to be set free (which created a new level of headaches for our local public security office).
I would have to be just plain old me, going about chivalry to the best of my ability.
In 2013, though, a guy can sometimes be left to decipher for himself what level of chivalry is expected by the maiden he is courting.
My earliest memory of chivalry is preparing a warm, overly milky cup of tea for my grandmother. I would regularly sleep over there on Friday nights; mostly because I loved Grandma, but I was also influenced by access to cable television cartoons and Fruit Loops Saturday mornings. Those Fridays, I would carefully balance that sloshy mug of tea as I pitter-pattered to our armchair. Between the two armrests Grandma and I would wedge our bums, and there we would snuggle – cheek-to-cheek, shoulder-to-shoulder – as we watched “The Dukes of Hazzard”.
I didn’t bring her tea as an act of chivalry, but simply because an 8-year-old loves to please Grandma. I imagine she would similarly describe her motivation for subjecting herself to twenty or so one-hour episodes of a dated hillbilly comedy throughout the year. I mean, what Golden-Ager aspires to spend their Golden Years watching this:
As a young adult, chivalry is a means to an end. When you are courting a new ‘Love of Your Life’ every eight months or so, opening doors for your date is a sign of gallantry, sure; but really a late-teen or twenty-something boy is also navigating towards gaining an advantage in so many other areas. It’s not for nothing we spend a month’s worth of our minimum-wage McDonald’s paycheck on a fancy-pants dinner for two at Red Lobster. (It was at that point in my life I stopped dating girls with the appetite of a barn swallow. It hurts too much to spend that much on a plate of seafood only to watch it be pushed aside after six bites. Those girls also quickly lost interest in me once I reached across the table and grabbed the leftover claws off her plate. When your date squirts you with lobster juice as he scavenges your leftovers, the first date is the last date.)
Marriage changes all the rules; especially after a full decade of it. Chivalry is borne more so on the back of routine than of anything else. Sure, some tasks are relegated on the basis of physical attributes. “Honey” reaches for the stuff on the top shelves, as well as lifts anything which weighs more than one of the children. “Sweetie” organizes the kids’ lives, and handles the gardening, and social calendar, and keeps the house from degenerating into its natural state – a post-war farmer’s residence.
There are other specialty chores: Sweetie brings sick cats to the vet for their last days as living felines (Honey had brought the cats into the relationship from his previous life as a bachelor, and had grown far too fond of “Mike” and “Betty” to see to the deeds himself – despite the many months during which Mike had been wiping his hindquarters on the living room rug); Honey kills spiders.
There are other acts of convenience and protection which may be categorized as ‘Chivalry’: securing the gate to the yard as it clangs in the wind at 3am; “I think I left the front door unlocked, Honey, would you mind?” (Also 3am); snaking drains, unclogging toilets, etc. These things can range from ‘inconvenient’ to ‘gross’ and back again. But, bad smells and night-time pokes are part of what defines “marriage”. As does finding a new shirt in your closet; one you would have never bought for yourself.
But, Sweetie was outfitting the kids and thought of Honey. As a result, Honey looks a little sharper that he did a week ago, and honey can finally get rid of that ‘nice’ shirt; that one he’s had for twenty years; that one with the red Lobster lobster stain on the sternum.
I teach my children chivalry is not about expecting chivalry in return. But rather about how nice it feels to be nice to someone. Chivalry used to be about opening doors and picking up checks. But once those metaphorical doors were built to revolve instead of open, the game became complicated. Once Honeys were invited to dinner by Sweeties, who picked up which check became a question of feel rather than one of regulation.
Understanding becomes respect. Respect becomes love. Love becomes understanding.
Now, chivalry is an open door…which occasionally is propped ajar by someone else.