If you drop the word “chivalry” at a party, chances of sparking an accidental debate run high. Some women love it but can’t find it; other women do find it, but then find it insulting. The other side isn't much clearer: some men despise it as a “double-standard”; other men believe it embodies their very upbringing—a standard to show women that they care.
Another more sinister reality about chivalry? For some, it's really more of a manipulation tactic to serve the “gentleman’s” interests, rather than a courteous act of service for the other. Yes, modern dating can be confusing, but a man who formulaically leverages chivalry as a way to hide selfish or chauvinistic intentions isn’t doing anything original or new. Just pick up an old book—you’ll find endless examples of false chivalry across the ages (Mr. Willoughby anyone?).
But since real life isn’t as easy to read as books, and because we would like to give the well-intentioned guys the benefit of the doubt, this quandary still befuddles all of us. So we’ve decided to map out how you can tell if a gesture of chivalry is more about him than you and more about manipulation than fostering mutual respect between the sexes. Here are the clues:
01. He’s more concerned about “his rules” than your preferences.
You offer to pay your half, and he looks at you like you slapped him in the face; you don’t take his hand as he helps you into the taxi, he responds with offense. In these cases, it might be a sign that he’s more concerned about following a checklist than his heart. Sure, these reactions may be slight or subtle, but there is a meaningful difference between a guy graciously saying, “Ah, thank you, but I’ve got it—my treat,” or, “Do you want any help?” and a man who demands and then responds to refusal with a chilling look or emotional withdrawal. Ultimately, if his chivalrous offer doesn’t feel like you have much of a choice or if you feel like you will be punished if you don’t accept, it’s a sign that his chivalry isn’t authentic, but just way to go through the motions and get to what he wants.
02. He is overly flattering.
“Nothing in this world is harder than speaking the truth, nothing is easier than flattery,” Fyodor Dostoevsky’s amoral, sexual-prowling character Svidrigaïlov tells us in Crime in Punishment (right before he declares that flattery could even seduce a vestal virgin and boasts of his sexual conquests). While few things in the world feel better than true compliments, few things are worse than false ones. How to tell? If he’s laying the compliments on thick, and they just seem generic (you know when something sounds like a line), it might be a time take a step back and consider how authentic his intentions really are—and what they really mean.
03. He’s transactional about his “good deeds.”
Is he calculating his alleged acts of service? Does he seem to be keeping tabs on how much he’s doing “right”? Does he boast about it later? If he believes that he’s entitled to "get some" just because he bought you dinner—and proceeds to explain his expectations, or even disappointment at not getting what he wanted—this isn’t only a sign of a man who doesn’t quite understand how chivalry works, this is a man who doesn’t understand how basic human interaction works. And that, my dears, is a blinking, bright, red, neon sign that says, “RUN.” If a guy is making you seem that a meal, a drink, or any chivalrous gesture equates to sexual favors, time to say, goodbye, talk never.
04. His politeness is only directed at you.
If he opens the door, but not for the old man behind you, or if he says kind words, but proceeds to act condescending towards the bartender—don’t think for one second that you’ll always be above his condescension. Men who are very single-minded in their politeness, aren’t the kind of men who are acting authentically chivalrous, as it means they they’re very single-minded in getting what they want, and only what they want. In some ways this kind of singled-out attention can make us feel awesome, as if we’re on a higher-level, but ultimately, it’s a clear-cut sign that his chivalry is shallow, and that he sees you (and others) as people ready to be manipulated, not a fellow human worthy of truly knowing. Also, it’s a sign of narcissism, and that’s a major red flag to consider.
05. He gets rough when you don’t play your part.
This is the ultimate sign of false chivalry. Matchmaker Bonnie Winston shared with me that she had a female client who found a man who obsessed with one small thing: he absolutely insisted on walking next to the curb for “her safety.”
“At first she didn't mind, but if she forgot and walked on the wrong side he’d yell at her,” explains Winston. “They broke up because one night on their way to dinner he put his hands on her, and pushed her away from the curb and she fell.”
So much for safety and chivalry, this action was obviously about control and aggression. Fortunately, the girl promptly broke up with him—but looking back, I can’t help but wonder if she wished she called it quits after his weird bouts of yelling, before it came to actual aggression.
Remember, chivalry isn’t just a set of actions that men use to get something. As Bret McKay of The Art of Manliness told Verily: “Chivalry is not about either the inferiority or the lofty superiority of women. Instead, it can foster mutual respect and remind us of our underlying biological differences and the complementary nature of the sexes. These little social gestures add some texture to a social life that often feels bland and homogenized.” As McKay points out, true chivalry is one of the few remnants of courtship we have left, often the big differentiator between a date and a nebulous “hang out.”
Ultimately, real chivalry boils down to this one question: do you feel honored and appreciated, or do you feel pressured and pulled? It might take one or two dates to really know your answer, but when you do, you’ll know in your gut, not by tallying minute details.