White Knight Syndrome

We give lip service to the Cinderella Complex, or did, 30 years ago. But what about its cohort in crime, the White Knight Syndrome? What of the rescue fantasies that go hand in hand, those seeds sewn in childhood?

Knight in Shining ArmorI was raised on my share of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, not to mention the Brothers Grimm. But the rescue fantasy, and the White Knight galloping in on his horse to carry me off?

No. I never dreamed that someone else would “fix” my life or save me from it. I never wanted another person to chart the course of my present or my future.

The Knight in shining armor?

He wasn’t on my list, despite the obvious advantages to such a scheme – in theory. Who wouldn’t desire obstacles to be obliterated, and tedious tasks to be vanquished?

White Knight Syndrome: Signs He Wants to Rescue You

Personally, I prefer not to place my bets on fairy tales, which doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them for what they are: stories of their times, pretty propaganda, and entertainment. But as models for women, or for that matter – for men?

Are you still living in a version of Cinderella waiting for her prince to come? Are you biding your time until a White Knight arrives? Would you know the warning signs if his need to rescue you comes at a dangerous price?

When that New Guy enters your life, and seemingly with all the answers to your prayers, you may want to think twice. Here are some of the questions I’ve learned to ask myself:

  • Is he trying to give you money rather than time, talk, gifts, or other tokens?
  • Does he insist you take it, though it makes you uncomfortable?
  • Is he controlling how you use the money, or giving it contingent on specific expenditures?
  • Does he suggest an alternate lifestyle as better for you (and possibly your children)?
  • Does that lifestyle resemble the way he currently lives or wishes to live?
  • Does that lifestyle mean you give up work, goals, pastimes, or friends that are important to you?
  • Does any attempt at discussing other options result in argument or dismissal of your point of view?
  • Does he try to control your likes and behaviors in other ways – eating, dressing, disciplining your children?
  • Does he suggest a different location, a different sort of house, a different sort of education for your children?
  • Is he trying to “upgrade” your lifestyle in targeted areas, according to his taste and values?
  • Does he threaten to exit the relationship, directly or indirectly, if you don’t follow his “suggestions?”

No doubt there are degrees of persuasion that are acceptable and even advisable, as well as healthier ways to live, that are encouraged by a caring partner. Do you know the difference between recommendations and manipulation, or coaxing and coercion?

Is it Bad to Want to be Rescued?

Should we feel guilty if we entertain an occasional rescue fantasy after being dumped, losing a job, undergoing emergency surgery, running out of money, and seeing all our friends snug in their apparently secure relationships, or more specifically – snug and smug?

Should we feel guilty if we look at the proverbial white picket fence, our smiling kids, and our daily schedules – still feeling trapped in tedium from time to time, and wishing to escape – even for a week?

Pensive Woman Dark HairIsn’t it natural to resort to the child’s response of wanting someone to “make all the bad stuff go away” when things are dismal or dreary for a period of time?

This isn’t the same as giving away your power and sitting passively until Some Implausible Magic supplies love, presents the Big Break, restores health, refills the financial coffers, and places you in a fictitious Forever Safe State of Mind.

That Knight in Shining Armor?

‘Tis true, he wants to help. In his mind, he is helping. And all those who take this role aren’t necessarily overdoing it. I’ve encountered the occasional Good Guy with a wide swath of White Knight in his persona: his offers are specific and situational; he knows when to back off; he isn’t looking to control but to assist, and as a partner.

He is an adult dealing with an adult. You. He is not reducing your role to dependent child, albeit in the guise of a well dressed princess.

But beware the encroachment of the narcissist’s charming powers. He’s a master at the cunning bait-and-switch, and the replacement of helping with fixing, and fixing with interference.

Conventional Wisdom, Married Life

With an overbearing mother from whom I dearly needed distance, I wanted to be myself, make my decisions, and face my life squarely as the primary player on my own stage.

I dated sporadically during my twenties and early thirties – studying, working, enjoying friendships. I traveled and pursued my passions. In retrospect, I lived those years more like a man than a woman. I had no grand plan to marry or have children, and if relationships happened, great! If they didn’t, I was leading an interesting life and answering to no one but myself.

Along came marriage and kids: the domestic equation became conventional in most respects, though unlike the typical “traditional” arrangement, I was expected to continue bringing in a significant income, and how I managed it was up to me.

At the time, I wasn’t even considering surrendering my role as provider. It had defined me for 15 years, I enjoyed the mental stimulation, and I was vested in my hard-won career. However, I restructured and downsized my working life to the extent I could in order to accommodate parenting my children. I had seen my mother’s financial dependence on my dad, and it wasn’t pretty. I didn’t want to go there.

Would I have preferred putting in fewer hours for pay while raising my kids? Absolutely. Though I tried, it didn’t work, and I came around to accepting (and tolerating) meager amounts of sleep while spreading myself very thin.

Life After Divorce: Prince Charming, You Say?

Following divorce, my financial situation changed dramatically. There were huge legal bills, rapidly accruing debt after a layoff, and the time and drain of divorce proceedings on my once-upon-a-time career continued to take their toll.




Pensive WomanA better bet. And not as a choice; as an absolute necessity. Re-prioritizing, rediscovering, reclaiming a more social and sensual self.

Yet looking back on my most active dating years, I see the particulars of the men who were willing to get involved, knowing I had my kids virtually full-time, and that my working life required long hours.

Some wanted to keep things “light” and that was fine. I could do “light.” For many years, that’s all I could do.

Other men?

White Knight Syndrome. Ready to swoop in and fix me, fix my life, tell me where to live, tell me how to live, and possibly (though not necessarily), pick up the tab for some of it, or more specifically, the aspects of “fixing” that they recommended.

I was appreciative of the kindness (in some instances), and aware of the self-interest (in others). I also recognized the near pathological all-or-nothing insistence from one or two men who epitomized Narcissist with a capital N, to which I (eventually) responded with my N – for No Thanks.

The Rescue Fantasy

Many women, especially those who’ve been through a tough divorce and its aftermath, not only harbor the rescue fantasy but seek out someone to help them fulfill it. That isn’t and hasn’t been my style, though a related discussion was sparked at Good Men Project, indirectly. That discussion deals with traditional roles in a household, give and take between men and women, and some of the more tedious realities that we all deal with when it comes to daily domestic duties.

In case you’re wondering, psychological literature dates the rescue fantasy to 1910 and Freud, as he references men with

the urge they show to ‘rescue’ the woman they love…

And what about the women who would prefer not taking responsibility for their own lives?

Perhaps in the rescue fantasies nurtured in Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, we never have to get our hands dirty scrubbing toilets, cleaning gutters, or soaking dishes. Our media reinforces a more contemporary version of the glittering good life in the free-wheeling, excess-spending “reality” housewives, and assorted overly exposed and painted young women looking for a guy who can bring the bling, the bucks, and the bliss.

But there are no free rides. We always trade pieces of independence for the someone else picking up the tab, unless we’re very lucky in knowing who we’re dealing with, and the expectations of our charming “princes.”

While I admit to being tired at this stage of life in many respects – tired of carrying such a heavy financial burden, tired after years of parenting on my own, tired of working around-the-clock – that doesn’t mean I would hand over the reins of my life to anyone.

I may find myself fantasizing from time to time – don’t we all? But my daydreams have nothing to do with diminishing my strength, or hanging on the hoof beats of an approaching steed.

You May Also Enjoy

© D. A. Wolf



  1. says

    No one has ever “rescued” me. While it may have seemed like a nice option when things were tough, I couldn’t/wouldn”t give up my control. Compromise is a big part of marriage, but that’s very different from the Cinderella fantasies. At least in my marriage.

  2. says

    Pretty Woman, 1990 movie starring Riochard Gere and Julia Roberts

    Vivian had previously told Edward about when she was a little girl: I would pretend I was a princess, trapped in the tower by a wicked queen. And then suddenly, this knight, on a white horse, with these colors flying, would come charging up and draw his sword… and I would wave, and he would climb up the tower, and rescue me.

    Final scene:

    Edward: So what happened after he climbed up the tower and rescued her?

    Vivian: She rescues him right back.

    YouTube: film clip

    • Melissa says

      Pretty Woman. Maybe because it featured big celebrities at the time too, it was so popular. Actually Gere was already a star and I think Julia Roberts was made a big star because of it. Talk about giving hookers hope.

      I had mentioned this before in another post, but these dang romantic comedies and fairy tales warp our minds. Reality check: perhaps a rich guy can rescue you from that life, bit he won’t look like Richard Gere. (Maybe as he looks today, but not the young handsome one).

      Another observation: anytime I ask if a male likes Julia Roberts, the answer I always hear is. ” I liked her in Pretty Woman, but that is about it”. Hello!! She has done lots of fine work including Steel Magnolias and Eat, Pray, Love. They like her in PW because she trounced around in a short skirt, heels, and played a hooker.

      • BigLittleWolf says

        Melissa, you’re cracking me up with your last observation. I hadn’t thought about that before, but, um… shall we all now scrounge in the back of our closets for the hot pants and thigh-highs?

        • Melissa says

          I wonder if it would make a difference if we did that – wear the hot pants. I am fearful of the comments about trying to look young again. But come to think of it there is a woman where I work who is 45 and wears tight skirts and low cut blouses, fake blond, perfume. In my opinion still extremely attractive. My husband finds it appalling that she still behaves this way, saying someone should break it to her that she is middle aged and should not be wearing the clothes she wears. (My husband who is trying to get rid of the older women). But there are at least 3 men who hang around her all the time and find her really appealing. So yes, I think we could pull that off because there will always be guys who like that look despite our age. I think the confidence is what they like as well. It is just a matter of having enough confidence to not worry about what the others are saying.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *