Traditional romantic practice is dead. Its birthday is unknown – It may have begun with the first homo sapiens, grunting and gesturing their way through sexual selection in an attempt to find the least hairy mate; or perhaps with apes, competing to find the most bugs in their crush’s scalp (how attractive can someone with bugs in their hair really be?), but either way its tragic death has spawned a finger-pointing murder mystery where everyone’s a suspect. Recently an article by John Picciuto entitled Why Chivalry Is Dead, From a Man’s Perspective made the web rounds and has ignited the discussion, where Picciuto blames women for its death and calls upon them to solve the crisis they’ve apparently created as if they’ve just let their gender go like a lazy spouse after marriage. “The real problem here is that women, for one reason or another, have become complacent and allowed men to get away with adhering to the bare minimum.” He may explicitly admit his bias right there in the title, but his admission can’t excuse a gross simplification of a complex issue.
Let’s begin with women, the supposed sole reason for why it’s become more normal for a relationship to spawn from an intoxicated physical encounter than a friendship and why 50% of marriages end in divorce. Women are still seen as holding the cards in the dating scene, sitting back and letting men compete against each other for their selective approval. If this were true, and selection were still entirely in their hands, then it would follow that they had collectively lowered the bar for romantic approval and could just as easily raise it back up. How simple! All we have to do is send a mass email to the female listserv, and the prototypical dinner and a movie can become the glorious norm once again! Obviously this notion of unilateral female control is an illusion, however, women certainly share the burden of responsibility. A four character text message has become a sufficient expression of interest; the rare man courageous enough to ask a woman on a date in a presumably genuine attempt to get to know her is blacklisted as a creep or a weirdo; and many women continually compete against each other to create the path of least resistance for their lazy male counterparts.
Piciutto and others take for granted in this discussion that women must want to have formal dating rituals and experience a drawn out romance before they get involved with a partner, because our society is uncomfortable with the idea that some women might actually revel in the death of ‘chivalry’ and prefer more direct relationships and less commitment. As a result, women find themselves haunted by a dichotomous social labeling system as either a slut or a tease and are encouraged to spend their romantic lives mentally and physically pinballing between two extremes where everyone loses and there’s no right answer.
Guys, we aren’t helping the situation either. Men and women have worked together to lower the bar for effort – men have an oft-forgotten power of refusal as well an ability to influence the individual and collective relationship culture. If we wanted chivalry back, we could avoid relationships with women who aren’t interested in it, trading ease of access for deeper satisfaction and reversing the female competition culture. The new fight would become one for the path of most resistance, where the most desirable women were the ones whose first romantic move was an offer to get lunch, not a 3 AM text message of “Where are you?” Unfortunately there’s a pervasive misconception in male culture that we have inherently less self-control than women and so are unable to make these decisions for delayed gratification and are thus powerless to bring chivalry back. These issues are compounded when most men are brainwashed to think that it’s feminine to actually prefer effortful romance and deeper relationships over the ubiquitous low-hanging fruit. Acceptance is the first step – how can men bring back chivalry if they’re afraid to admit they miss it, if they don’t even know they want it back?
The technology of the information age and the maturation of the first antisocial generations has only accelerated the casual romantic trend. Picciuto said it well – “I think, in an ever-changing landscape of communication between 140 character tweets, LOLs and ROTFLs, we’ve lost our ability to communicate, altogether.” Dating is hard. It’s always been hard. It means thinking of something creative and personalized to do together, spending money, and – not to forget the purpose of the whole practice – hours of face-to-face conversation, a thought that terrifies your average TwitterKid whose idea of getting acquainted means spending a few hours painstakingly combing through her love interest’s Facebook profile without a word spoken between them. Increasingly popular online dating websites like OKCupid and EHarmony prey on the fear of interaction and a fatigued single population by removing the most difficult element of the communicative process, matching potential partners based on an exhaustive personality inventory so that finding your eventual divorcee is easier than ever.
Why should you care? Why do we want chivalry back anyway? Perhaps the death of chivalry is a form of social progression, a welcome abandonment of archaic social rituals that only serve to waste time and money and put women on pedestals in a supposedly egalitarian society. Draw your own conclusions about the relationship between today’s dating culture and the state and depth of the modern relationship – all I ask is that you take action. If you celebrate the status quo and are satisfied in your relationships, by all means stay the course. But if you possess a creeping fear that we’re doing something wrong, don’t stand on the sidelines. Ask for coffee dates and walks in the park, for music festivals and ice cream, and perhaps one day you’ll find someone who loves black raspberry as much as you do.