I found an interesting blog post yesterday on Insist on Honesty. It was written by a wife whose husband had a deep emotional affair after having a long string of inappropriate friendships (could be wrong on the particulars here – I haven’t read the blog before). You see, he has a hero complex, or at least something similar that could be called that. He sees a damsel in distress and he rescues her. Quoting:
He has this incredibly strong desire to rescue damsels in distress; to be their hero and make them feel better. He’ll fix it and thereby, feels appreciated.
Go read the rest if you haven’t already. The first 2/3 of the post is like it’s my wife writing about me.
I don’t think I go looking for these damsels in distress, but they sure do find me. My wife thinks it’s partly because people see me, a married and successful man, as someone who is also stable and reliable. Like the adage “Men are like parking spaces – all the good ones are taken,” I, being in a long-term relationship, must be good, while all the single men must be defective in some way.
I don’t say this to flatter myself (although I used to think that way), only to say there’s a certain logic to it if. This is especially true if one doesn’t think too hard about what it says when a man in a long-term relationship would enter into an inappropriate relationship – namely, that I’m not a good man, just a man.
I also think there are women out there who play the damsel in distress because they want someone to be their hero. I imagine it must feel good to have someone care for them and make them feel good about themselves. They may not be looking for an affair, but quite possibly they are looking for someone to flatter them because they themselves are insecure.
However they find me, I’m only too happy to play the hero. I’ve always been a pretty good listener to women and I’ve learned what to say in order to make women feel better. It’s not simple flattery – I see the worth and the beauty in all women, and I have compassion for them when they are in distress. So when I tell someone that they are not stupid, they are not ugly, they are not unlovable but instead that they deserve to be listened to and praised – I’m telling the truth and I do want them to feel better.
And they do feel better. For my part, it feels good to make them feel better. It’s become a part of my identity that I have this ability with women, and it definitely tends to puff me up. “Look at me, I’m the super-man who can make women feel good about themselves. Aren’t I just so awesomely selfless?”
What the women don’t see is all the times I’m a selfish jerk, or the times I’m short tempered and irritable, or the times I leave trash on the kitchen counter. So it satisfies, but it’s not lasting satisfaction based on true intimacy.
That’s why being appreciated by another woman is akin to false intimacy. Intentionally or not, I show my best features in a safe, controlled way that makes me look like I’m some kind of demigod among all those selfish men out there. It’s self-flattery by proxy. I show the carefully edited version of myself and get appreciation and praise in return. Yes, I am also trying to help them with their problems, but I can’t claim to have purely altruistic motives.
Even my blogging has been part of this pattern, which is something my wife and I have talked about. We both want to make sure that I’m not doing my hero bit to all the hurt women out here in the blogosphere. That’s part of why I’m not going to be as involved in other people’s blogs. It’s not my job to make anyone feel loved or appreciated, with one exception: the woman I pledged my life and my heart to over a decade ago.
So why do I do it? Like IOH’s husband, I think it’s insecurity on my part. Yes, it feels good to make someone else feel good and it feels good to be appreciated and looked up to like a hero. But deep down, I’m a very insecure person (as I’ve noted many times before). I need to be appreciated and looked up to because I feel unworthy of those things. I’m insecure about what appreciation I do get because I feel like I’m unworthy of it and that it will only last until the real me is revealed. I’ve always been uncomfortable with praise, probably for the same reason.
Ultimately, it’s not helpful to the damsels or to myself, but I chase it anyway like a cheap high. Being the hero and reaping the praise and attention that comes from that fulfills the desire for appreciation, but it doesn’t solve the insecurity.
Really what it comes down to is I already have a woman who deserves my best AND sees me at my worst. And you know what? She still loves me. If I really want to be kind to these other women, I won’t put both of us in a position where I’m being something to her that I cannot and should not be. If I really want to be the hero, it starts with taking care of the woman I’m supposed to take care of, my wife. I can’t do that and be the hero to the damsels in distress who inevitably find me. To try both is to fail at both.