Thought Catalog

Why I Only Date Southern Gentlemen

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My friends have always referred to my boyfriends as “nice.” And it’s true, every guy I’ve dated (with perhaps one rule-proving exception of whom I swiftly rid myself) has been kind, generous, thoughtful, respectful, and polite — generally everything that falls under the “nice” umbrella. But when my friends say it — whether male or female — it sounds almost like an insult. It is said with just half a sneer, as if to imply that “nice” is simply a euphemism for “lame,” “weak,” or “not very masculine.” Which upsets me deeply, as, for me, there is no more important a quality in a potential significant other — in anyone, really, but certainly the man I’d be giving my romantic attentions to — than having an all-around good foundation of human decency.

My fellow Thought Catalog contributor, Jack Cazir, published a piece earlier this month that serves as a manifesto of sorts for the proverbial Good Guy — or, as he terms it, the Southern Gentleman. The Southern Gentleman doesn’t have to be southern, of course, but he embodies the characteristics that traditionally defined one: generous, patient, restrained, intelligent, respectful, and kind. To see a twenty-something man set out such a clear, concise, simple set of guidelines for being this man that we’ve come to regard as unicorn-level-rare is disarming, to say the least. But as someone who’s always sought out and spent my time with the men Cazir terms the Southern Gentleman, I am quite glad that the gauntlet has been thrown.

There is a deafening cry of late that chivalry, romance, and courtship went the way of the dodo sometime in the early nineties — perhaps with the rise of grunge and Liv Tyler, no one quite knows. As men become more and more lost in terms of societal role and expected behavior, as they bob endlessly in a sea of overwhelming choice and little-to-no pressure, it’s no surprise that ridding themselves of the hassle of courtship would be high on the list. Why date, why charm, why pursue, when you can string a girl along for what you want and dump her the second she gets too “needy?” But not all men are defined by Call of Duty and perpetually Cheeto-dusted fingers. Far from it. As Cazir points out, many men still take immense pride in treating others (including those they pursue romantically) with the utmost respect.

And these men, though perhaps fewer and farther between than a few generations ago, are worth all the more by continuing to embrace the importance of respect and honor even when it is not explicitly required of them. The so-called “nice” guys I date are such because pulling out a chair, holding a door, breaking up a fight, asking questions, and listening to answers are things that are important to them — regardless of who does or doesn’t require it. And, as Cazir mentions, this type of man is separated in spirit from the rest — not in social status or earnings. Whether a man is working doubles at Starbucks or excelling at a Fortune 500 company, it is the attitude and motivation behind what he does that counts. It is easy to lose sight of the true distinction between the two — that someone can be trying and struggling, versus succeeding with relative ease — and renders the difference between the Southern Gentleman and those simply rewarded by society at large all the more hard to see.

But when we mourn the loss of this chivalry and tradition, we’re not so much mourning that they don’t treat us a certain way as women, we mourn that they don’t treat us a certain way as someone they are courting. Courtship in general — no matter which sexes are involved — is a dying art. Taking the time to slowly get to know someone, to put your best foot forward, to learn what they like (and how they are different from you) and to accommodate that, is something that we rarely consider anymore. The courting period is an essential one, and as it gets blurrier, so does that butterfly-in-the-stomach-fueled need to embrace it for what it is. When men treat us differently than they treat their bros, it is out of respect and appreciation for the fact that we may not want the same things. We may place value on things that they don’t, such as holding doors open, calling back within a 48-hour-period, or watching The Notebook for the forty-seventh time in a row.

And when we date a man who treats us like crap, who plays that sexy emotional evasion game, that doesn’t respect our feelings or treat us like we’re special, we’re telling him that it’s all we deserve. We’re telling ourselves that’s all we deserve. And, perhaps most dangerously of all, we’re telling men in general that that is what we want— that it is what we find attractive. Perhaps in a childish, roller-coaster-thrill kind of way we like people who don’t treat us very well, but when we think about who is really worth our time and our love, it is not that kind of person. At least, it shouldn’t be. So dating anyone but the Southern Gentleman — telling both him and the world at large that you are willing to settle for less than decency — is directly lowering the stock of the Good Guys.

So it behooves all of us, should we find ourselves in the market to have dinner with an XY chromosome, to hold him to a high standard and not allow him our time nor our affection if he’s not willing to hold himself to a very reasonable standard of behavior. Because Southern Gentlemen still abound — even if many of them are languishing in the Friend Zone – -and we must respect each other enough to encourage them. If treating women like ladies (and treating men like gentlemen) comes back in style and becomes the ticket to having a successful partnership, as it once was, chivalry will prove to not be as far gone as we imagine it to be. Chivalry is not dead, it’s just on the asleep on the futon.TC mark

image – Jennifer

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    • Anonymous

      love this! my personal motto is: “chivalry isn’t dead, we just stopped asking for it.” i will not date guys who don’t adhere to the chivalrous mindset. this means, not only do they act how they think a gentleman (southern or otherwise) should act but he also THINKS the way gentlemen should act.

      also, if he regularly plays video games, it’s a deal breaker for me. no. thanks. 

      by the way, this is amazingly well said. thank you!!

      • DUhr

        No “gentleman” genuinely THINKS the way that he acts, hon. Sorry..

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=20302003 Brian Scola

      having an all-around good foundation of human decency.
      -Confederate Flag license plate, check.

    • Aidan

      when someone talks about how men should act like gentlemen and women should act like ladies I instantly get skeptical. being generous, patient, restrained, intelligent, respectful, and kind are all good things, but why apply this only to masculine or gentlemanly qualities? there’s nothing wrong and everything good with respecting your romantic partner; it’s when you promote the language of rigid gender roles and shame those who don’t want to conform that there’s a problem. chivalry is treating a gender differently based on tradition and prescribed social roles; I’d rather have honesty and freedom in my relationships.

      • Anonymous

        Here, here. I like when my partner takes care of me, but who’s to say I can’t take care of my partner in the same fashion just because I’m a woman? These are slippery slopes that perpetuate gender stereotypes and false assumptions that women are the weaker sex and we can’t take care of ourselves.

        • Guest

          Well, this *is* a Chelsea Fagan piece after all…

        • http://karyninny.com/ karyn

          No one is saying that women can’t/aren’t/don’t. In fact, I think the point is that women, the good ones, are caretakers. They do show love and concern and consideration for their mate and they’d like to receive as well.
          Since writing my piece, I have started dating a gentleman. He puts my coat on for me and stands up when I leave the table. It’s insanely nice and everytime he does something to “take care” of me, I do something right back. It’s a nice relationship with two nice people and that’s just fucking nice. I am wrapped up in the niceness of it all and I wish the same for everyone who wants it. And for those of you who don’t, for those who have hangups about it like Natalie at the top, who think that when someone does something kind for you it suggests that you are incapable of doing something yourself, I hope that you get what you want, too – apparently a thoughtless bad boy and a lot of opportunity to open your own doors. To each their own. I heart gentlemen.

      • Anonymous

        no one is saying that being a lady isnt being generous kind and respectful, regardless of status or money. I thought it was… and that the qualites found in a ‘gentleman’ are the same as those found in a ‘gentlewoman’ or ‘lady’  :)

        Agree with what you say about chivalry. Although I would say that holding doors open is something for everyone. Not car doors. I find that strange, and also not so comfortable with habving a chair pulled out for me. Mainly because it can be a little smooth, and not from a genuine decency.

    • http://twitter.com/RonanConway Christopher Conway

      god I hate the phrase “the friend zone.” I’ve seen it almost exclusively used by self-identifying Nice Guys who are have a martyrdom complex because none of their female friends want to sleep with them, making the effort to maintain friendship pointless in their minds. because heaven forbid a man want to be friends with a woman for reasons other than sex.

      • Ariel

        I 100% agree with this. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504951716 Tau Zaman

        It’s not nearly as bad as those who say, “All the good ones are gay.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=522355349 Ike Ashley L'Étranges-Obi

      I shit on this piece. You’re trying to gain common ground on a process that differs INDIVIDUALLY.

      • Anonymous

        “I shit on this piece.” Lol I hope you refer to things you do in that way all the time.

        “I eat this waffle.”
        “I ride this bicycle for two.”
        “I leave this comment.”

        • TYLER JAMES

          Personally, I am soo glad this article exists and so grateful to have found it. I recently moved to LA from South Africa and I was brought up kinda old school with the whole chivalry thing listed as one of the most important things my father would ever teach me. Then I got to LA and not only do douchebags abound but the women are fine with it and look at me like I’m a ghost when I hold a goddam door for them. Culture shock central. So it is awesome to know that there’s hope in finding self-respecting women somewhere in this country. thanks :)

          And by the way for those that assume “nice” guys are always stuck in the “friend zone” that’s not exactly true. Guys that are too nice to the point of being needy and overly shy are stuck there maybe, but it’s a balancing act. No one is saying you can’t be a badass or adventurous or confident… just know how to treat women right while you’re at it. 

          If us guys can do that in 3rd world SA then it’s really time you 1st world men step it up. lol  

        • TYLER JAMES

          totally thought that was how I uploaded my profile pic but they still made me gray incognito man. argh

        • emma

          south african men=the hottest

        • Joanna

          As someone who recently moved from the states to SA, I’d say the guys here in Africa are WAY more forward than in the US. When guys you don’t know are constantly grabbing your arm on the street, yelling at and catcalling you, proposing to you, etc. it doesn’t really fit in to the “Southern Gentlemen” type in my opinion…

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=522355349 Ike Ashley L'Étranges-Obi

      Bullshit. Its a term coined for men who see the potential of an ideal relationship with a woman, who is in denial and refuses to admit that she perpetually described said male, as an ideal, “perfect guy”.

    • Anonymous

      You can say “I’m not going to date men who don’t act like they like me anymore” in a lot fewer words, but then at the risk of people understanding what you mean.

    • Kristi Keorkunian

      I love the mass amount of snarky hipsters waiting to jump on a writer, presumably because said writers is employed by an article-based website, while snarky hipster isn’t. Envy’s an ugly thing. Don’t worry about it, Chelsea Fagan. Nice article. Lots of people agree. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504951716 Tau Zaman

        I’m really over those who make attacks at a group of people vaguely known as ‘hipsters.’ They criticize, thus they are hipsters? Nice.

    • eff sox

      the idea that a man “should” act a certain way and a woman “should” act a certain way is just fucked up.  gender roles are for the 20th century and earlier.  i just say no one should be douchebags.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=508371039 Rayan Khayat

        who said be douchebags?

        • eff sox

          you don’t need to worry about chivalry or any medieval shit, just don’t be a douchebag.

        • DUhr

          this isn’t exactly related, but for soem reason people forget to take into account that not all girls are nice and sweet either, and they need to be reminded not to be douchebags, too. it is a two way street.  sometimes if a guy is being an asshole to a girl,  it’s because the girl is being a douchebag to him.

      • Anonymous

        Let’s say if one had to move a sofa up to the apartment, should it be the woman or should it be the man? Obviously, it should be the male since men are generally stronger than women (aside from a select few). This is where the connotations of should would come in. Both sexes are distinctly different so I would say that the guide to how they act are tailored to the specified qualities of men and women. For most of them anyways

    • Sophia

      This was excellent. Just absolutely excellent, and it elucidated a lot of what is important to me in a man, that I never realized was important to me.

    • Celeste

      I don’t understand why Cazir’s article was met with resounding approval and this one is being bashed. It’s okay for a guy to ask men to step up and start acting like considerate grown ups, but it’s not okay for a woman to do so? And for those of you who are griping about the constraints of gender roles: if you read carefully you’d have noticed that Fagan called on *both* sexes to step up their game. Also, she said nothing about adhering to antiquated gender spheres, but instead “having an all-around good foundation of human decency.”

      Bravo, Chelsea. Very well written.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504951716 Tau Zaman

      Um, didn’t Jack’s article also say that in order to qualify, you must also be able to cite Bible passages? I have nothing against spiritual people, but I question anyone who thinks that’s a requirement of someone date-able. 

      Also, chivalry is rude as heck. Preferential niceness towards one gender completely contradicts the other qualification of the Southern gentleman as someone who’s particularly nice to all people. No thanks, I’ll take the 21st century.

      • Anonymous

        *facepalm*

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504951716 Tau Zaman

          I really did love the Occupy piece, though.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=508371039 Rayan Khayat

        good luck being miserable

        • Ll

          Good luck with your condescending spouse. 

    • http://twitter.com/mariedabbles Marie Martinez

      I should use this article as inspiration and reference for the rest of my dating life.

    • Eschoolcraft

      I certainly agree with the main sentiment in both these articles that men (and women and people etc) should be nice and treat their partners/dates/friends/loved ones with respect and consideration. (CELESTE has a good point about why one article might get a relative pass and the other not, though it may just be that people didn’t speak up last time but were compelled with the second article in the same vein. I’m responding to both of them here). I just have two questions.

      First, why use the term “Southern” in this description? I know both authors don’t mean that men of the type they describe need be literally from the South, and that they are not including structural racism and paternalism in their definitions (I know, these characteristics were and are found all over, not just in the south), but it still seems strange to link being a “good guy” with being Southern, especially considering that slavery and Jim Crow laws etc were overseen by “Southern Gentlemen.” Why include any trace of geography in the term at all?

      And second, if you reversed the roles and described a model for woman should behave towards their romantic partners, would it look the same? In other words, are these qualities that you associate with heterosexual men, or do they apply to all participants in romance, regardless of gender, sex, sexual orientation etc? 

      I ask because I admire the sentiment of these articles but am a little concerned about how the “Southern Gentleman” might negatively reflect on the autonomy of women. I say “might” because it’s a little hard to tell in these articles whether or not these are just guides for men or guides for partners in general.

      • Rishtopher

        Well said, I eagerly await the answers to your questions because I’ve been wondering that myself.

      • southern douche

        the south is stereotypically more traditional than the rest of the u.s. in terms of dating, hence the term “southern gentleman”, however, in the south, men also treat women as weaklings. go figure.

    • WhoLaneJane

      Yeah yeah. You’re the girl who only dates “Southern Gentlemen” until you date a bad boy who doesn’t have dealbreaker qualities (insecure, abusive, bipolar) and realize what you’ve been missing. Then, overnight, you’ll become the girl who *REALLY KNOWS* how boring Southern Gentlemen are and will insist that all your girlfriends in regular relationships are missing out because they’re not out having sex on the outside of a moving subway train while throwing firecrackers.

      Trust me, you’re setting yourself up to be Chelsea Fagan, professional relationship hypocrite.

      This same shit happens all the time, especially with politics. 1 – Support an unpopular/stupid stance X. 2 – convince yourself it is the unquestionable truth. 3 – Come out the other side as the person you formerly despised. 4 – Tell everyone that you encounter that Y is the real truth and you know this definitely because you’re intimately familiar with how false X is. 5 – The cycle now continues in the direction of stance Z which is equally radical and illogical.

      The most unfortunate aspect of this psychological defect is that the affected can’t understand that plenty of people come to logical conclusions without having to waste 20 years dicking around with X, Y, Z. Not all of us have to publicly embarass on facebook about the virtues of Objectivism to *really understand* that The Fountainhead isn’t a profound work of economics or philosophy.

      • WHOLANEJANE

        embarrass -ourselves- on facebook

    • Charlie

      I’d just like to say that not all gentlemen have XY chromosomes.

    • Guy

      I like this article more than the “Southern Gentleman” one, but I still don’t know if either is totally applicable to all genders/orientations/whatever.  I’ll continue pondering.

    • Anonymous

      Chelsea, well done. Brilliant piece. 

    • Anonymous

      phlpn.es/7x9vmd

    • 5 GB IN

      Chelsea, I wish there were more women like you out there.

    • Chelsea Fagan

      god do people actually sit around fucking thinking about this boring tripe all day and then commit their horrible uninteresting ruminations to paper? thought catalog is so fucking stupid… im over it.

    • guest

      I adore this, I’ve recently started dating a ‘nice’ guy after a bunch of guys who seemed to only want me for my body and this really hit home. He’s a perfect gentleman which puts me a bit on edge after being treated like shite, even by some of my supposed male friends, I just need to keep reminding myself that I do deserve this and it’s exactly why I kicked those other guys to the curb.

      • DUhr

        what about the girls that don’t deserve a nice guy?..

    • Anonymous

      Love this article almost as much as I loved Jack Cazir’s. Sadly, the Southern Gentlemen types are quite often the shy ones who I don’t really notice and automatically file under the “Friends” folder. As much as I’d like to, for some reason, I seldom find myself attracted to these types. I suspect I’m one of those girls with that “I’ll make you better” defect when it comes to my taste in guys.

      • Anonymous

        I don’t think that Southern Gents are ‘quite often the shy ones.’

        I do suspect, however, that a lot of insecure/shy/disingenuous guys like to pretend that they’re gentlemen, or like to be seen as ‘nice guys,’ so they can maintain ‘friendships’ that they are hoping will one day turn into something sexual. 

        Those dudes are the worst.

    • Natalie

      To each their own, I suppose. But if a date were to pull the chair out for me I would be instantly suspicious. I’m perfectly capable of pulling out my own chair- thank you very much. I understand it is a “nice” gesture, but to me it signals that this person subscribes to a set of values that I don’t. Those values suggest that I need to be treated “gently” because of my gender, thus implying (to me) I am less capable than my date. Holding doors for me, pulling out my seat, always paying the bills takes away my power. I mean, if I can’t ever do anything myself than what does that say about ME? Behavior like this forces me into some delicate, passive, position where I am expected to behave in a way I don’t like. 

      Does this make me some crazy feminist who flips out about men trying to dominate me? No, I like to be treated nicely and I like to treat other people nicely- as (I would hope) everyone else does. I hold the door for lots of people and lots of people hold the door for me. However, I am a capable woman and I expect to be treated as such. Do I expect to be treated “like a lady” around men? Depends, what if I like Call of Duty and eating Cheetos (which I don’t)? Should everyone be on their “proper” behavior because there is a lady in the room?

      If this is what you want, then fine, you are welcome to have it. We are obviously not interested in the same men. But I do think you are mistaking this mythical “Southern Gentleman” for a normal human being; if you look around you’ll find they are everywhere. 

    • guest

      I went out with a “Southern Gentleman” once and actually felt uncomfortable. Part of me thinks it’s pathetic that it’s odd for a guy to open the car door for me. However, I think it’s mostly me feeling like I’m not on the same level as the guy and he can’t be relaxed and comfortable around me.

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