What’s the difference between romance and chivalry?
Colleen and I had an interesting discussion a while back. The two can look nearly identical, we thought – bringing flowers, pulling out a chair, taking a jacket – but something separates them.
I do think some things are not so chivalrous and are exclusively romantic – candlelight dinner, gazing into each other’s eyes, promises of love + affection – but pretty much all the chivalrous actions seem to fall under a romantic umbrella. Like a sub-set of romance.
But see, sometimes chivalry is purely kind and thoughtful, with no romance whatsoever. When I hold the door open for a stranger, or for my mom or sister or a straight girl friend, I do it with no romantic intent.
Ah – so perhaps that’s what differentiates the two: intention. That’s what Colleen and I concluded.
Chivalrous actions are done purely for the sake of doing the action – kindness, thoughtfulness, observation of something that would assist someone else.
Romantic actions, however, are done with a particular purpose: of wooing the other person. Romance does want something in return, and when the relationship changes to “just friends” or ends, the romantic gestures cease.
So the gestures of romance and chivalry can appear the same, but are given with different intentions.
So (here’s the part where I get personal), I’ve always been a romantic. Big time. Love poems, handmade gifts, mix cds, sweet nothings. (I know, you’re shocked.) Lately I have been extremely suspicious of romance and the webs of seduction it spins, but I haven’t let go of chivalry. In fact, my chivalrous impulses have gotten stronger.
Trouble here is, I think my chivalry is often misinterpreted as romance. Paying for dinner, holding her door. I’m told these aren’t things that many transmasculine folks do, so they can be interpreted as grand gestures, even though honestly that’s just how I am.
As with everything else in my dating life, it seems, I need to make my intentions clearer in matters like this. I’m learning, I guess – to have better boundaries, to trust they are in place, to be clear, to listen to others and hear when they are not accepting of the boundaries I have.
Sometimes I feel like the boundaries I have in place are too strong, too much, too thick. Huge cement walls with barbed wire instead of lines in the sand. But the strange thing is, it isn’t until my huge cement walls are accepted – really accepted and acknowledged – that I can start putting up a chain link fence instead, then a picket fence, then a hopscotch chalk line.
The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change. – Carl Rogers
Update: I also wrote about chivalry on the post for March’s masthead, bringing butch back – specifically the ways that I approach chivalry as deeply feminist.