Recently, while scarfing down my lunch at a local fast food restaurant, I noticed a 1980-something Buick pull into the handicap parking space. Out inched an old man, and I stared at him as he shuffled to the passenger door to open it for his wife.

I wondered how many times, in the many years they had been married, had he opened a door or pulled out a chair for this now silver-haired woman? How many times had he still yet to perform these simple gestures?Chivalry has been around since knights galloped around on their white steeds saving "damsels in distress." And it was through these deeds that a man won the love of a lady.

Throughout time (or at least in all the blockbuster motion pictures), chivalry has been the ultimate form of heroism, and it still creates a win-win situation for both the giver and the receiver. The giver (usually male) gets the opportunity to do something nice and feel like a gentleman. The receiver (usually female) gets the obvious reward: a doorman, a porter, a free meal or a movie.

Chivalry does seem like the ultimate random act of kindness, which is why I am so confused as to why it seems to be such a controversial topic. It seems that to some people, chivalry is as outdated as metal armor and as silly as those pointed princess hats.

It's true that chivalry has had some difficulty melding with new dating philosophies, especially for teenagers. For example, what happens when it's the girl who asks the guy out on a date? Who opens the doors? Who drives? Who pays? Many people would rather just abolish chivalry altogether than figure out how to integrate it into the 1990s.

Today, men aren't out to rescue the "damsel in distress" simply because there aren't that many out there. Now they have to find a way to catch the eye - and the heart - of competent and capable women who want to feel equal but still be treated with respect.

Although such a view is admirable, it is a little bit unrealistic. The recent explosion of feminism has created many good things in society, but it has also added a shade of insecurity. Many women feel that through chivalry, they will be viewed on a lower level than men, and so they demand to be treated as equals. But that doesn't work either. Very few women will find a fulfilling, long-lasting relationship by being counted as "one of the guys." (Unless, of course, they prefer spontaneous wrestling matches and belching contests.)

Of course, that's not to say that a feminist's view is unprovoked. There are also a few males out there who let their insecurities cause a very dangerous outlook. The chauvinist male lives on the opposite end of the spectrum and is just as insecure as the feminist. He feels that he needs to be superior and tries to do this by the illusion that he is putting the woman in her place.

Although both of these points of view are rare and at far extremes, in their diluted forms they are still slowly poisoning the pure idea of chivalry.

Chivalry, in fact, may be more important than anyone realizes. Actions do speak louder than words, and often they are a lot easier. Many men have a difficult time expressing their feelings, but a simple act of chivalry can say it all. Chivalry can mean anything from "I love you" to "Look, I am a polite person."

Often I wonder how many relationships and marriages are saved because of chivalry. It remains a simple and constant reminder that two people can love each other and be nice to each other, or at the very least, be civil. I believe that chivalry could prevent many break-ups and divorces that occur. Chivalry provides an unspoken foundation for a relationship. If two people learn to respect each other first, then other things can develop. But if the respect and kindness aren't there, a relationship is useless.

It's time for our society to learn the difference between chivalry and chauvinism. If we decide that chivalry is bad, we may as well do away with every "please," "thank you" and "excuse me."

Chivalry is defined as "a special courtesy to women." I fear the day that courtesy finally goes out of style.

Men, chivalry is a good thing; keep it up.

Ladies, let the guys open the door for you; you'll both feel better.