‘[T]he age of chivalry is on its way out.’ So opens a recent article published on the website of the Guardian newspaper. Of course, given that I am a romance novelist, this declaration piqued my interest.
The article (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/jan/11/lovable-or-rogue-britons-admit-confusion-about-romantic-gestures) summarises the results of a recent survey carried out by long-standing British romance publisher Mills & Boon to mark the launch of The Mills & Boon Rules of Romance, a ‘guide to romance in the digital age’.
The Guardian reports: ‘Almost all (93%) of over-45s believed there was still a place for historically chivalrous acts in the 21st century, while 37% of 18-24-year-olds did not think so. Ordering for someone at a restaurant was particularly frowned on, while taking off a hat when entering a room, and standing at a table when your partner arrives and leaves were considered outdated.’
Perhaps chivalrous acts are too far out of step with feminism. But it strikes me that it is worth revisiting the definition of chivalry. From the Oxford English Dictionary:
Chivalry. Noun. Courteous behaviour, especially that of a man towards women.
Courteous. Adjective. Polite, respectful, or considerate in manner.
I wonder, why is it ‘outdated’ for a man to be polite, respectful or considerate in manner with women?
Mills & Boon also found that 76% of Brits would like more romance in their lives, and yet more than half (57%) do not make romantic gestures because they fear being seen as ‘cheesy’. That is a word I have seen applied to romance novels too many times to count. Back to the Oxford English Dictionary:
Cheesy. Adjective. Hackneyed and obviously sentimental.
Hackneyed. Adjective. (Of a phrase or idea) having been overused; unoriginal and trite.
Sentimental. Adjective. Having or arousing feelings of tenderness, sadness, or nostalgia, typically in an exaggerated and self-indulgent way.
‘Trite’, ‘self-indulgent’ – these are not words I like to see applied to romance. Why be afraid of being sentimental, of being tender with another and showing your heartfelt feelings? Why hold back from being romantic because you think to do so is unoriginal? We are surely put on this planet to love and be loved in return.
According to Mills & Boon, in this digital age ‘the definition of romance and what being romantic means is no longer clear’. More than half (59%) of those surveyed admitted they were bewildered by what it means to be ‘romantic’. Tellingly, a similar number of respondents (52%) reported that the medium through which they communicate with their partner most is digital: social media, text message and so on.
It strikes me that what is needed is a return to the very basics. We need to put the Romance back into romance! Grand gestures with flowers and chocolates aren’t essential; the very simplest of gestures can be the most powerful: eye contact, a gentle touch, a warm smile, active listening. It is no surprise to me that top of the poll for best-loved romantic gestures are hand-holding and cuddling; really, we all crave contact.
Is it challenging to be romantic in the modern era? Yes – if you complicate the notion of romance. But if you remember that romance is simply two people connecting with one another in a warm and positive way, then there need be no fear, no confusion, no demand to ‘modernise’ what is age-old and beautiful.
I will never write a book in which romance is conveyed by a heart emoticon in an electronic message; I will always write books in which romance is about a look, a touch, a courteous and thoughtful gesture.
British novelist Elinor Glyn wrote, ‘Romance is the glamour which turns the dust of everyday life into a golden haze.’ I agree: romance brings the world to life; makes it vibrant; makes it even more precious. But for me, romance is not a glamour, a temporary illusion: it is, if you so choose, a way of life.