Updated: Feb 4
Chivalry’s not dead, compliments go a long way, and consistency is the key to it all.
A few nights ago, I was having a conversation about dating with my twenty-year-old son. We started talking that evening because he was behaving distanced and short with me and I called him on it. He finally voiced his irritation about me starting to date. Not because he didn’t want me to meet new people, but his concern was about my choice in men. He through an off-handed comment out about how I should just be careful not to end up with someone who was toxic for me and stay with them for too long despite being treated badly. The only place that message could have come from was the one relationship he witnessed me in, my seventeen-year marriage to his father. I was mortified and had a tragic epiphany all at once. My son’s comment made me realize, my children don’t trust that I value myself enough when it comes to men, and for teen boys, that lack of awareness leads them to worry about me and my decisions.
I thought I had proven I wasn’t putting up with that in my life when I walked away from the most impactful toxicity in my life. But maybe I needed to see that toxicity can look more benign than it sounds. Toxicity is the first red flag that you can get caught into if you don’t realize what you want from someone. It’s the absence of the non-negotiables and the presence of too much questioning, wondering, and uncertainty. After the shock subsided and I gained my composure and footing, we talked it through and I ensured my son that he can trust I know much better in my wisdom of 42 years than I did when committing to marriage at 22. No fools. narcissists, bums or assholes are getting past the screening for even a first date.
However, it got me thinking about what really will be different this time in my dating plan and approach so that I don’t go down the same road and accept less than what I deserve again. A big distinction is that my usual habit of giving to others by caring, listening, supporting, and prioritizing their needs and interests without having it reciprocated, has to shift. That’s my toxicity to own and undo. If I want a clean house, I have to take some inventory of everything in it, including what I own. I won’t get what I want if I don’t know what to look for. So what are my non-negotiables?
Chivalry’s not dead, compliments when done right lead to trust, and consistency is the key to it all.
A few months ago I ended up at an impromptu happy hour to catch up with an ex-boyfriend from my high school days. As we walked back to the car, the simple gesture of him opening my car door for me to get into the passenger’s side of his car, made me see how he had matured and recognized how to treat a woman. I was also reminded of how long it had been since someone opened a car door for me. Opening a door for a woman is not controlling or taking away her independence, it shows effort and value for who she is. That’s the reason chivalry is very much alive, kicking, and on my non-negotiable list. I think back to when I read the book “We Should All Be Feminist” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche and she reframes the limited perspective of who is and is not a feminist. She explains that we can be feminine and get support from men, while not abdicating our power and voice as women who are intelligent and highly capable and still feel like women who are valued and taken care of. I’m not sure how the men in my life see chivalry, but I see it as a gateway to showing respect, building trust, and feeling safe in a connection where I am seen and valued.
My ex is complicated and frustrating on many levels, but he is one of the main reasons my children are chivalrous. They have been trained and reminded to carry bags, hold the door open for everyone, and offer their assistance when it’s needed. They know what it means to be chivalrous and do it selflessly without expectation of something in return. If I expect my sons to do it for others, I can expect a man to take those steps with me.
So that day out with my ex reminded me of something I had settled without and now realize I want and expect. I want someone who opens my car door, walks me to my car, offers me a beverage when I come over, and brings something when he comes to see me. It’s all a matter of effort and forethought and for someone who genuinely wants to be with me. It really should come with ease and eventually become second nature because when you see what gives me joy and makes me feel comfortable, you will continue to want me to feel that way. The presence and absence of something both send messages. The question is which message and I am ready to listen to. Red flags are subtle but send the signs of who is worth the effort.
Who doesn’t love a compliment? That doesn’t mean you always know what to do with them. Compliments are welcomed and necessary, but there’s some nuance to how they are done. And there are ranges of appropriate and welcomed compliments but overall the right compliments go a long way. Some can be disingenuous or coerced. And others just land perfectly to make you feel seen, validated, and valued in the eyes of someone whose opinion matters. Knowing why you are complimenting someone impacts how it comes out.
Don’t get it twisted, just because I know I did something well as a mother or recognized that those few extra minutes getting ready, made a difference in how I look, does not mean I don’t need to still hear the effort has been noticed. More important than what you see, when you can complement and acknowledge my mind, ideas, or how I do something as a mother and professional, you have seen my spirit and soul and that is always a reason to compliment someone. Those compliments are acknowledgment and affirmation that create a foundation to move a stranger into someone you are familiar with. They understand what is important to you and validate your effort to be better and do better. So, he needs to notice and say what he sees and feels about me.
The key to all of it, be consistent. As I said at the start, I am a giver. I don’t expect any of the things above without providing them in return. My chivalry will come out in an effort to cook for you, edit your writing, listen to your poetry for feedback, and inquire about your job, kids, and even sometimes ex relationships that impact you. I will do that and more with consistency and follow-through. But it has to be reciprocated. Consistency and communication are two of the foundations in any relationship romantic or not.
I need very little from someone else in my life, but these few things are important and no longer negotiable, at some point we move from accepting crumbs people are willing to throw periodically to wanting the whole cookie to enjoy for ourselves regularly.
Chivalry sets the tone, compliments build the foundation and consistency proves it’s authentic.
When I finally take the step to bring a man in front of my kids, he’s going to fit into my life and world authentically. Because I roll deep with a big crew of three men who know and value how I love and can sense bullshit. So, as much as they question me dating, I know it’s because my boys want to see me at peace and valued by a good man who recognizes what he has. So do I.