This picture showed up on Facebook the other day. Of course, the words “Real Man” caught my eye, because that’s part of my mission, helping Nice Guys become Real Men. Therefore, I like to evaluate anything that claims to describe the qualities of a Real Man, to see if it agrees with what I’ve learned and what I teach.
I’ll admit, I bristled a little at the underlying idea here. In fact, I had a whole post written, describing how I thought respecting and defending women was great, but that a chivalry is mostly an outdated notion and can lead to the problems seen in many Nice Guys. It was a pretty negative post.
I went into great depth about how Nice Guys are raised to over-respect women to the point of putting them on a pedestal and treating them like goddesses, whether they deserve it or not. They give women the power to determine their worth, based on whether the women like them or not, and so they’re afraid of doing anything that will cause any woman to not like them.
This is all still true. But there’s also something called the “pendulum effect”, which is where a recovering Nice Guy swings to the opposite extreme of behavior as he unlearns old habits. For example, while he’s unlearning the habit of putting women on a pedestal, he might completely disrespect all women for a while. It’s an awkward but necessary part of the change process, and eventually the pendulum comes to rest in a nice healthy middle ground.
I still sometimes find myself in that other end of the pendulum swing, and that’s why I bristle at ideas like the one in the Chris Young picture. I, like many other recovering Nice Guys, sometimes worry so much about going back to unhealthy habits that I resort to an equally unhealthy opposite attitude at times.
So let me try to find the healthy middle ground.
On the one hand, putting women on a pedestal simply by virtue of their gender is silly. Women are people too. As with all people, there are some you will respect and want to associate with, and whose opinion and judgment you will value. And there are some who are immature and a bit crazy, and whose opinion should mean nothing to you. Allowing any woman at all to determine your worth is silly, because that’s something that should come from inside yourself. Contrary to the beliefs of most Nice Guys, women will actually agree with all this.
On the other hand, chivalry really is still manly. For one thing, being courteous towards others (men and women) is a mark of a mature confident man. For another, there’s a certain “warrior” energy tied up in defending and protecting women, feminism notwithstanding, and that still feels pretty cool to us guys.
It’s important to know the difference between being chivalrous and seeking approval. The key lies in finding your motivation for what you do.
Sure, holding the door open for the beautiful blonde feels good. But where does the good feeling come from?
If you’re holding the door because she’s hot and you’re hoping she’ll smile at you, talk to you, or agree to go out with you, then the good feeling is coming from outside yourself. You’re doing it to look good in her eyes, and that’s a good sign you’re approval-seeking.
If you’re holding the door because you consciously value chivalry and respect, but don’t really care what she thinks of you, then the good feeling is coming from inside yourself. You’re doing it simply because you want to, and that’s a good sign you’re a confident man.
Even as long as I’ve been working on this, I still have to be constantly aware of my own motivations in my relationship with my girlfriend. It’s sometimes tricky to find and stay in that middle ground, where I respect and honor her, but I’m not doing it because I need her approval. Thankfully, I’ve got a really great woman who calls me out when I need it and helps me stay in the right place. Hers is an opinion I respect and give weight to, not just because she’s female, but because she’s earned that with me.
This can be a tricky concept to grasp if you haven’t yet experienced it for yourself. If you’re just starting on your journey from Nice Guy to Real Man, then don’t worry about the pendulum swinging the other way for a while. But eventually, find your own middle ground. Know your motivations. Be kind and chivalrous because you want to, not because you’re afraid of the judgment of others if you don’t. Knock down the pedestals, but don’t lose the respect and chivalry that come from having true confidence and integrity. These are still good parts of being a Real Man.