Why Chivalry Is Dead And What It Means For Romance
Updated May 27, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Karen Devlin, LPC
Somewhere, as you're reading this, a man in a striped trilby is complaining that chivalry's dead. You've probably heard the complaint before. But why is chivalry dead? What does its death mean for romance? And, to be clear, what is chivalry?
We'll get into why chivalry is dead and what it means for romance next. However, you need to know that there is no formula for how to win a woman's heart - which is what the men in striped trilbies want. For a while, it was chivalry, and now that chivalry has become a quaint anachronism, you'll have to get to know the woman that you're interested in and go from there to make her happy.
It's true; we would all like a cheat sheet like chivalry to help us through romance. Romance is complicated. Without chivalry, you have more to figure out on your own, but you also have more freedom to romance your way. If you need a hand, the end of this article will help direct you to further resources.
What Is Chivalry Anyway?
Before we discuss what the death of chivalry means, we should define it. Most people have some idea, but that idea is often incomplete and almost always wrong.
Chivalry was a code of conduct that governed the behavior of knights in the middle ages of Europe. The code included coming to the aid of damsels in distress, but it had to do with martial interactions for the most part.
The middle ages lasted roughly from the collapse of the roman empire to the renaissance, so why has chivalry remained such a big deal? There are several significant reasons. The first is that the middle ages' legends, the King Arthur Legends being a notable example, have staying power. From their origins around the fourth century to the earliest existing texts from the twelfth century to recent action films directed by Ridley Scott and Guy Ritchie, the stories that exemplify chivalry just haven't gone away.
The next significant reason is that the concept of chivalry - in particular, its approach to romance - experienced a resurgence in popularity among well-to-do Europeans around the nineteenth century. This was one of the golden ages of the novel, so many popular novels - romance novels in particular - from this era are still read today. In this way, this distorted view of chivalry as a code of romantic conduct has worked its way into our contemporary views on courtship.
What's Wrong With That?
There are a couple of reasons that chivalry doesn't make a whole lot of sense as a romantic toolbox in our current day and age. It has to do with gender roles, economics, and politics.
As we've discussed, chivalry was codified for use by feudal knights and the people they interacted with - other wealthy and powerful people. This put their military and political power in direct contact with the lack of physical and political power that was the wealthy lady.
Further, because ladies in feudal Europe were often married for money or politics rather than for love, they were often in a position to need saving.
Finally, there wasn't a whole lot of room for social mobility in feudal Europe. A knight was going to live and die a knight. A lady was going to live and die a lady. A man was always going to be more powerful than a woman.
Clearly, the chivalric code's instructions regarding protecting and serving women are not harmful. However, they don't track well with today's society.
Today, women seldom need chivalric care, and men are seldom equipped to provide it. As a result, treating women with chivalry today - even by those who mean well - necessarily means exalting the self and putting down the lady. To treat a woman chivalrously is to say, "I am using the strength and power that I have inherited through my manhood to protect the weakness and vulnerability that you have inherited through your womanhood."
Do you see why no woman would want to hear that?
What Does It Mean For Romance?
Now that we understand what chivalry is and why it's dead, what's a man to do? How do you let a woman know you care for her without honor duels, slaying dragons, holding doors open (you can still hold doors open).
You can do whatever you want. Chivalry was a code of conduct, and now that it's dead, you can court women in any way that you see fit. Start from square one. See what works and what doesn't work. Just be respectful and be genuine.
Chivalry died because what it means to be a woman has changed. What it means to be a man is changing too. You're going to get a lot more credibility with the ladies (and live a healthier, happier life) if you act based on your compass. Don't treat women the way that men treated women seven hundred years ago. Treat women the way that you think men should treat women today. Please don't treat them as soft and powerless things that need to be protected. Treat them like strong and powerful people that need support -like you're a strong, powerful person that needs support.
Bringing Chivalry Up To Date
All of this slamming chivalry doesn't mean that you can't learn from it. The knights of old - and the shined-up versions of them that have been passed down in stories - are fine role models. Just remember that their lives were bigger than just courting women.
The old knights were sworn to protect damsels in distress, but they were also sworn to protect the poor and live honest and just lives. If you're going to help a woman, help her because she's a person who could use a hand, not because you think that she needs you to be her knight in shining armor, and certainly not because you hope to get something out of it.
There is one more thing that we can learn from chivalry, and it has to do with power dynamics.
We've already discussed how the knights of old were regularly in a position to put themselves in harm's way for mistreated ladies. You can still do that - kind of.
A lot has changed since chivalry was codified - that's why it died. However, while women have a lot more freedom and power now than they did then, in many circumstances, men are given more than their fair share of power and influence, you don't have to fight duels over a fair maiden's honor but the next time that you see women being mistreated or under-represented in your place of work, where you go to school, or anywhere else, stand up for them. Just remember, it shouldn't be about hoping for some reward or doing it because you feel somehow honor-bound to an antiquated code of conduct that you read about in some book. It should be about doing the right thing.
When people objectify women or speak of them as weak or irrational, speak of them with respect.
Navigating Modern Relationships
Chivalry had so much staying power because it was a rulebook. People pretend that they don't like rules, but really, they don't like enforcement. They like rules plenty. Rules tell us what to do. You didn't have to listen to women or understand them or care what they said when you led a chivalrous life because chivalry told you what you had to do in a given circumstance.
We don't have a rulebook today if things are changing too fast for no reason other than that. From the fall of the roman empire to the beginning of the renaissance was roughly a thousand years and, from a sociological and technical perspective, not a whole lot changed. By comparison, a thousand years before you're reading, this was the middle of the middle ages, and things are changing all the time! We live in a completely different social and technological landscape than we did a thousand years ago, a hundred years ago, even ten years ago. It's no wonder we want someone to tell us what to do.
So, when you need someone to tell you what to do, who do you turn to?
Working With A Relationship Counselor
To be clear, relationship counselors aren't there to tell you what to do. They will help you understand yourself, your views on relationships, and how to navigate a relationship. They can help you start a relationship healthily, communicate with your partner, and troubleshoot the relationship to avoid problems or solve the problems in healthy and productive ways. If the relationship just wasn't meant to be, they'll help you end it healthily and productively too.
Depending on where you live, you may have access to a relationship counselor in your community. However, you also may not. Working with a relationship counselor over the internet gives you more options, convenience, and less cost. For more information about how an online relationship counselor can help you, visit https://www.regain.us/start/.
Okay, so chivalry is dead. That doesn't mean that you can't treat women with respect and be a good person. It just means that you have to do it for the sake of being a good person rather than to land a girlfriend.
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