I am a storyteller, a collector of story and myth the world over and look to them for guidance now and again, especially as a dating and relationship coach. But one of my favorite lessons from history is on chivalry - a hot topic in the modern dating scene, just as it was thousands of years ago.
And now it’s time to ask the hard questions and there’s no better place to start than the age old question:
Is Chivalry Dead?
A look through history reveals that chivalry isn't dead, it is misunderstood. It goes much deeper than good manners and provides a structure for men that’s refined and attractive.
Learning what it really means will have you asking, “how can I live my life with chivalry more fully?”
To understand chivalry we can look no further than that great and noble King Arthur and that round table of gallant companions.
I will take you to one New Year's Eve when all the people of the court were together in feast and cheer around Arthur’s table.
An intruder entered and interrupted the feasting and joyous occasion. The man brought with him an intricately carved axe. The green knight. All were in awe, terrified, and assumed this man was here for a fight. The grand man explained he was not there for a fight, nor a drink, just a game. He wanted to play a game of blow by blow and invited Arthur, or anyone willing, the first swing of his axe. He knew Arthur couldn't back down from the challenge without losing face. Arthur kindly accepted and took the axe in his hands.
For everyone else, the thought of losing Arthur was a heavy grief. His knights were in a tricky situation as well - they wanted to protect him, but at the same time, honor his decision.
Everyone was afraid, until Sir Gawain spoke.
Sir Gawain cleared his throat, gestured to the Queen to beg his pardon, and rose to his feet. He said something to the effect of
My king I am the weakest and the ugliest man here, my manners poor, and I am in my current position only because I am your cousin, please excuse me from your table, let me be the one to swing that axe, and if the man rises back to his feet and I be the one to fall, no one will miss me."
Much of this completely false. His King took this in and after careful consideration pardoned Gawain from the table, and with the tenderest of looks bequeathed the axe.
What is our dear friend Gawain saying with his actions in this moment? What is there to learn by his example?
Simply put, __grace under pressure. __
For him to say “I am weak, and ugly, let me take the blow in place of the one I love”. He has the cunning to see the option that allows everyone to save face, and the courage to save his King despite the consequences.
Chivalry, I am suggesting, has little to do with holding the door for your grandmother (although you should anyway). It is being gallant, sincere, socially courageous and beyond. Chivalry then has more to do with showing up in our most difficult moments with poise, gallantry, and most importantly courage. Courage in the face of real consequences. It also requires integrity, service to our truth, not only through our words, but through our actions.
Living our lives in such a way that is congruent with who we say we are and desire to be. Moving toward and showing up for our goals. It requires discipline, patience, stewardship, and at times, cunning.
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# By now, hopefully you're asking yourself “how can I live my life with chivalry more fully?” Let’s look at a few contemporary examples of Chivalry at work first:
1) Jon Snow deciding to allow the Wilding’s Army to travel south of the wall for the good of all living people, the realms of men, knowing his men would struggle with this decision. And eventually dying for it.
2) Darth Vader turning against the emperor in order to save his son Luke Skywalker, which led to his redemption and death.
3) Forest Gump returning to the jungle after escaping the explosions to rescue the men in his platoon knowing he could surely die by going back in. I’ll concede he was looking for Bubba, but nonetheless it took great courage to enter back into the jungle and carry these men to safety.
Chivalry is being full of fear and insecurity, yet still willing to love. Willing to move forward and be vulnerable with our partner. Willing to have the difficult conversations and speak our truth. And willing to maintain our boundaries, draw those lines in the sand, and at times say ‘no’. With some style, with manners, and especially with courage.
As a relationship coach, everyday I speak with clients that tell me their partner ran at the first sign of trouble, and framed it as doing the honorable thing. “I didn’t want to lead you on”, “I didn’t want to waste your time”, “I will always be respectful of you”.
If I may be blunt, I imagine Arthur’s men would call this cowardly, not chivalry. By being more chivalrous, we improve our connection with others by being more respectful, honest, and compassionate - especially when it's most difficult.