The Problem With Being a White Knight
When I was younger I fell into a pattern of behavior that many would call being a white knight. I think that most people are pretty familiar with this term and this idea but if you’re not familiar with what this means, it’s basically a reference to males who try to rescue and save women. I have a good idea about what goes on here because I lived a previous life that orbited around women and my apparent need to save them from their tragic lives.
When I Was a Young White Knight
When I was in my twenties I was doing this nonsense, chasing some kind of hero status by rescuing women that I believed were broken and in need of saving. I latched onto women that I perceived to be victims of some kind of tragedy and I was determined to be their personal hero. I wanted to save them, defend them and fix them and God knows I tried. Let me be really clear about something here. It was wrong of me to do this and I wouldn’t have done it if I had known better but I just didn’t at that time in my life. I was wrong about a lot of things. It was wrong of me to decide that a person needed rescuing and it was wrong of me to decide that I was the one that needed to be the rescuer. They didn’t ask for my help specifically, I just decided that they needed it and I was the one to give it. They didn’t have a say in the matter in the situation, I made all of these conclusions for myself and for them.
It was self-centered and selfish of me to label people as broken and assign myself as the designated fixer, especially considering the state of brokenness that I was in. And while I think that being a rescuer initially comes with the idea that we are being unselfish, the opposite is actually true. I look back at my rescuing days, when I was presenting myself as being unselfish in my quest to save women that I perceived as broken and in need of saving and fixing. The truth is, I did it for selfish reasons. I wanted other people to see me doing something good and thought that would help me feel better about myself. I wanted to be seen as a great person and I wanted her to think I was really amazing. I wanted the praise from her and others for being so heroic. The bottom line is that I was desperate for approval.
When I encounter white knights and challenge them about this, they, of course, deny it but I’m confident that they are in denial because well, I certainly was. Giving up being a white knight, back when I was doing it, would have left me feeling lost and without a sense of purpose. In retrospect, it was a little bit sad for me. At the time I felt like this was the only thing that, I thought, would give me any sense of value or purpose in my life. I felt like if I failed at this, then I had to face the facts of personal worthlessness, which is truly a dark and shameful place to be. I know a lot of guys face this, which is why so many of them consider suicide. It seems that the only road map many of us get, is that we need to be infallibly pure in our pursuit to please others.
I talk about this a lot and it probably has a lot to do with the fact that I see scores and scores of guys that end up living the exact same story. Between being a therapist, running men’s groups and from my own experience, there is a dominating pattern of misery and guys fall into the modern story line of trying to be some kind of hero to women. It seems to be one of the only things that many of us get attached to when we seek to establish an identity and find a sense of responsibility and purpose in our lives.
I really believe that males are hard-wired to be heroes and to protect their partners and their families. Previous generations of older eras faced much more dangerous times than most of us do. Even some of our grandfathers went off to fight in World War 2 while the women stayed home. Women have always been protected and I believe that we are even genetically predisposed to protect them. It’s in our DNA. I believe wholeheartedly that males are hard-wired to be heroes but white knight behavior is a warped version of our genetic predisposition to be heroic.
For many of us, women just don’t need to be protected like they used to. Our day-to-day experience isn’t nearly as dangerous as it used to be. We can’t easily turn off our natural compulsion to try and protect them. Modern women really don’t need to be protected like they used to but many of us are still digging in and insisting that it must be done. The most interesting part, to me at least, is to listen to these guys talk as though these women are incapable or unable to make their own decisions or fix their own problems. At the risk of sounding like a feminist, women are not objects. They have a will, they have the ability to act independently and autonomously. They can fix themselves if they choose to do so. They don’t need Sir Lancelot riding in to rescue her.
The Uncomfortable Truth
White knights actually dis-empower women. When you treat someone like they are helpless and incapable, they tend to live up to that. Nobody, in my experience, treats women like they are incapable and helpless quite like white knights. White knights will say that they want what is best for the woman they love. However, rendering them powerless, taking away their autonomy and enabling them to rely on you is not an act of love. White knights don’t want to hear it but codependent white knight behavior actually causes harm to women. There aren’t enough males that are willing to be honest with themselves about this.
When you treat your female partner like she is helpless and incapable, it inevitably generates frustration and resentment in the relationship. Yes, she will be frustrated, and what’s worse, she will resent you, That resentment will often be subconscious to her without really having a firm grasp on why she does. In a sense, white knights use women as a way to self-medicate. They use her as a way to soothe his own insecurities and low self-esteem, or at the very least, hide it.
When I was able to break away from my attachment to being a rescuer and a fixer, I felt free, like I never had before. It was an uncomfortable and difficult process but ultimately one that carries no regrets. If I had to do it over again, I’d seek out like-minded guys and talk with them through the process instead of taking it on by myself. Personal growth should not be a DYI situation.
For those that can break free of their need to rescue and fix women that they perceive to be broken, there are amazingly loving and close relationships waiting for them. Not only with healthier and better-balanced women but also with themselves. Being a white knight is a limited perspective that undermines both your personal power and hers, so be willing to take a closer look at it and take it on.