I’ve noticed a pattern dating at in my 40s. About half the men I’ve go out with have a story. It’s a remarkably similar story even those these dudes don’t know each other. The tell me a story of woe. A lost young lady stranded in the wilderness, but if it wasn’t for them saving her, she would have gone down an even worse path. Some go on to tell me how once the damsel in distress left them she descended into complete chaos. Now I can bite my tongue when these conversations come up. In fact, I do bite my tongue over dinner, but my thoughts are running wild. Maybe some wonderful men have swooped in just in time to save the damsel in distress, but I’ve got news for many of these men. You didn’t ride in on the white pony like Captain Save A Lot and make this lady’s life better. In fact, you didn’t save her–she saved herself. Or maybe to paraphrase the esteemed rapper JCole, “Don’t Save Her; She Don’t Wanna Be Saved.”
What do I mean by that? If you were really as wonderful as you think you are, she’d probably still be with you now.
What I also find fascinating about these stories in that they always involve a man who thinks he’s done no wrong. Take the story of Ben. Ben “saved” his ex-wife by getting her a job and home. He wanted to tell me how great he was for having a business and buying a home for his family, and using his connections to get his wife her dream job. Even though she sacrificed for Ben and moved to 3 different cities while he pursued an advanced degree and his subsequent business ventured. He viewed this as saving her. I’m sorry Ben, but you were an asshole, and that’s one reason why we had exactly one date. Maybe your wife didn’t appreciate some of your hard work, but I think you left out the part of the story where she sacrificed her own career so you could pursue your dreams. You left out the part about how her resume was kind of thin because she moved around with you and left a job, and then subsequently had three children with you. If you think you saved her by using your connections to help her get that job, you are an ASS. Maybe she would not have needed all of that saving if she didn’t sacrifice herself for the kids and your career.
This is one of the central problems with this very common 40 year old male narrative–it ignores the sacrifices that women make for men. It ignores how many men are indeed saved by the women in their lives. Forget damsels in distress, there are plenty of dudes in distress, and they are being saved by women. Some of those women are their mothers, and sisters, and aunties, and some of them are their girlfriends and wives, but in this patriarchal culture, many men don’t want to acknowledge this. For all of his flaws, I definitely appreciate the sentiments my ex Randy shared with me a few years ago when he told me he was grateful that I helped him graduate from college, but I have never claimed to have saved him. In fact, when he told me, he had a graduate degree and said I helped him with that. I was quick to tell him, he achieved that himself. We weren’t even together at that point; maybe I helped him with his study habits in college, but I was a partner, not a savior.
I’ve come to believe this savior complex is the heterosexual male version of Cinderella. It’s a myth that says–if you are nice to a woman and you make her feel better you have saved her from herself or from other men. And for this, she owes her man even when he’s an ass, even when he cheats, even when he doesn’t appreciate all of the things she’s done to help her family get ahead.
I can’t speak for other women, but when I sit down to dinner with a man, I’m not looking for a savior. If a meet a man who wants to lift me up and help me that’s wonderful, but many of us don’t need or want to be saved. I’d much rather be loved and appreciated than saved. So before you put on your cape Mister Captain Save A Lot, look in the mirror, look at the woman in front of you. What does she want? What does she need? And realistically, what do you have to offer? Most of us don’t want or need a savior, and some of those things men are calling saving a woman, are really just part of being a decent human being and not an asshole. Furthermore, most women don’t leave men who have really “saved them.” Your ex probably didn’t just develop a sense amnesia and leave you; the story is usually more complicated than that.
I’ve encountered plenty of men who think they are Princes even though they act like frogs. Listen here men–it is not your job to save us. It is not your job to pretend that you saved us. Your ex is not an evil ungrateful wench who up and left her Knight in Shining Armor. It’s almost always more complicated than that. In a good relationship, we can work together. We can be a team. Maybe we can save each other.