There’s really no avoiding it. You’re the one taking something comfortable and making it uncomfortable. You’re the one pushing the half-eaten sandwich to the center of the table as you shrug your shoulders. You’re the one who spent a few weeks acting aloof on the outside chance that this person will do you a huge favor and end the relationship herself. What you’re doing is “cruel” in a literal sense. You’re intentionally doing something knowing it will hurt the other person. On top of that, there’s a good chance you’ve already made your peace with it. You spent the weeks — or even months — leading up to this moment imagining life without this person. You’re so comfortable with the proceedings that you barely care, but you don’t want to look like a sociopath, so you fake it. Maybe you squeeze out a tear, contorting your face so desperately that other diners at the restaurant shake their heads in disgust. “You are not a good actor,” they all silently think to themselves, “and you are definitely not a good person.”
Last week, I put out a column called “Chivalry Is Dead, And That’s A Good Thing.” It started — as almost all these columns do — as something else. I meant to ruminate on the idea that consequences don’t always match actions. You could treat someone with the utmost kindness your whole life and that could result only in them taking your warmth for granted. Conversely, you could steal a thousand dollars from someone and just be a thousand dollars richer. That’s it, end of story. This isn’t the movies, there is no required comeuppance. Life does not work in organized ways — it is chaotic and unpredictable, despite all of our best efforts. Of course, it started this way and ended up as “stop slobbering all over chicks,” because I’m not Billy fucking Shakespeare. Sorry. This is TFM, not the New Yorker. But the kernel of the idea was there: Good actions do not mean good results, even in relationships. Especially in relationships. I titled it the way I did because it was kind of click-baity and daddy needs that page-view count, baby. Then I sent it in and got the lube ready to whack off as the “nice moves” count tick upward. (One pump for every “nice move.” That’s what I’m doing right now, actually. I’m rock hard. Yeah, just reach up and click that little thumbs up. You want to. You NEED to. Oh yeah.)
But I got a lot of feedback about how chivalry is not dead and “real” men hold doors and help women into their seats and pay bills. I realized then that “chivalry” is a pretty loaded word and people really want to hold on to some pretty charming notions of romance. I got emails from unhappy women and some respectfully disagreeing young gentlemen. Yet, I never meant to convey that we should all be shutting doors in women’s faces and farting at dinner. In fact, you should hold doors for women. That’s a nice thing to do. I agree with that. But, guys, we really need to cut the “I still believe in treating women right” soapbox bullshit. Everyone outside of the NFL agrees with you. You are not the last descendant of Galahad. You are not Chris Pine at the Oscars. This is not Elite Daily. Spare us the sanctimony. What is this straw man you’re building? Where is all of the non-chivalry happening that I seem to be missing? Here’s where: in the moment in the restaurant when you tell her it’s over. The uncomfortable truth is that there’s a point where your kindness is more harmful than the alternative. There’s a point where your needs must outweigh the needs of the person across from you — because sometimes that’s the right thing to do. Real “chivalry,” if we extend the definition, should be knowing not to drag out people’s expectations or create unattainable idealized versions of our capabilities as men, as boyfriends, as husbands.
Right now, I’m listening to the couple next door to me fight. If you think you’re above that inevitability, you’re fucking high. So, let’s end the “I’m a perfect gentleman” schtick because it only works until it doesn’t. You can hold doors, lay down jackets, and pick up bar tabs until your balls fall off, but there are realities in this world you can’t wave away with quaint ideas of personal morality. Call me crazy, but I’m trying to get fucked because I’m a human male — so are you. No, it’s not chivalrous, but isn’t that honesty real kindness? Can’t that truth enable me to have more productive conversations with people? Ultimately, won’t that build me a lasting relationship? Chivalry gets me a second date; honesty can get me a lifetime. This isn’t about being good, it’s about being right. .