Friday, March 2, 2012

"White Knight" syndrome...

Today's topic is one with which I am very familiar.  I am married to a so-called "White Knight".  He is a kind, benevolent, gentle man who has a propensity toward rescuing people, especially women.  There are a lot of guys out there in the world who are "White Knights".  They can be wonderful, supportive partners to people who are not abusive.  However, when they get involved with drama queens who exploit others, they can end up in serious trouble.

While it would be easy for me to just write about my husband's "White Knight" syndrome, I would first rather highlight a situation I recently ran across online on one of the many message boards I troll.  I found a prime example of a post written by a guy who appears to have "White Knight" syndrome.

Here it is, posted on Facebook for all the world to see...  I redacted names to protect the guilty.

I love ______ with everything i have got to give. She is the most amazing woman that i have ever met. She captured my heart with her smile and the sparkle in her eyes. She engaged my mind with her wit, humor and intellect. Wicked Smaht! And she saved my soul and made me want to be a better man...not for her but for me. She is incredibly strong and a wonderful mother to five incredible kids of which i have grown quite fond. She is a PRINCESS and deserves to be treated in that manner. I LOVE YOU _____! Thank you for everything you have done for me.

Now, bear in mind that the guy who wrote this is dating the "princess" who is referred to in this post. And the so-called "princess" is still married to her husband with whom she has five young kids. She has no doubt told this man whose heart she's stolen that her husband is an abusive bastard. And who knows? Maybe he is a bastard. On the other hand, she is still married to him and has been with him for years. I know this because I have followed her story for years and I have seen that she has a flair for embellishment and drama.

"Princess" does indeed have five adorable kids whose pictures she has plastered all over the Internet, along with their full names, birthdays, likes and dislikes, etcetera. She has a lot of people who support her because she comes across as very charismatic. She's also young and attractive and has a way of making people think she's a victim. She also has a long history of financial problems and has posted repeatedly about her many personal dramas. Despite her physical attractiveness and surface congeniality, "Princess" lives a life that seems constantly embroiled in chaos.

Guys with "White Knight" syndrome are drawn like moths to a flame to women like "Princess". She looks good. She has adorable kids. She needs HELP, because her ex or soon-to-be-ex is supposedly an abusive, irresponsible bastard. None of this situation is her fault. And she is perfectly justified in "dating" even though she is still legally married because she is such a victim and none of this is her fault! She conveniently ignores the fact that she's a grown woman with choices and responsibilities, particularly toward her five kids. Instead of taking actions that would get her on the track to recovery and stability, she throws up her hands and wails "RESCUE ME!"

"White Knights" who encounter these types of women get swept up in the drama. They see a helpless damsel who needs them to "step up to the plate" and "save the day". And something inside these "White Knights" prompts them to act, envisioning themselves as heroes. They feel better about themselves. The damsel in distress feels better for having been rescued. The children may or may not like the new arrangement and it may not be the best thing for them, but who cares about them, right? Because it's all about the drama queen who never emotionally matured beyond adolescence and, to a lesser extent, the "White Knight" who has a need to feel needed and a desire to rescue someone. But what happens after the great rescue? Reality sets in.

My husband rescued his ex wife and her eldest son. She showed up on his doorstep in Germany after my husband had a chance encounter with his ex's first husband on a military airplane on the way back to Germany. The three of them had gone to high school together; ex had supposedly married her first husband as a means of escaping her abusive mother. She had a son with him, but later claimed that her first husband was "crazy" and "abusive". When the ex and her child showed up in Germany, she was still married to her ex husband. But she tearfully told my husband tales of woe about her disastrous marriage. She alluded to her first husband's abusive treatment of their son. She rationalized that because her husband was so abusive, she was perfectly justified in cheating on him. She laid it on thick and sweet and my husband, who suffered from low self-esteem and poor self-image as well as an overly large heart, bought her stories hook, line, and sinker. That was his first huge mistake.

My husband and Ex eventually got married once Ex got divorced. My husband was quickly assimilated into the "dad" role to his ex wife's son. By the time the kid was six, his real father was completely out of the picture and didn't even pay child support. Ex also somehow managed to change the boy's name. Meanwhile, Ex, who had claimed to be on birth control, got pregnant within a couple of months of marrying my husband. Bear in mind that at the time, she had no income and my husband was a junior officer in the Army who also wasn't making much money. Getting married, stepping into daddy role, and not insisting on condoms were my husband's second, third, and fourth big mistakes.

A couple of years after my husband's daughter was born, Ex got pregnant again. Again, she claimed that the birth control had failed. My husband's second daughter was born and their finances were about to get worse because Ex wanted my husband to leave the Army. She said she didn't want to live the military lifestyle, moving from place to place. For a number of reasons, my husband's career wasn't going so well back then. He agreed to leave the Army. They moved from Washington State to a town in Arkansas, where my husband had an awful time finding a suitable job. Meanwhile Ex had a lot of trouble holding down employment and would frequently complain about how she didn't want the kids being raised in daycare, hence justifying staying unemployed.

Soon, my "White Knight" husband was doing a lot of the housework, earning most of the money, and taking care of the kids, when he wasn't working second shift in a factory making $25,000 a year. At one point, Ex moved her younger sister in with the family. The younger sister also had no job, but she did have a daughter. Soon, my husband was supporting seven people on a tiny salary. As you might imagine, things went to hell in a hand basket from a financial standpoint. But my husband stayed committed to the woman he had "saved" and their kids together.

When my husband finally wised up and decided he needed to get back into the Army full-time, the marriage quickly crumbled. And before he knew it, my husband's beloved daughters and the "son" he had informally adopted all hated him due to things Ex had told them about him. Ex was also trying hard to ruin my husband's relationships with his parents.

It was during this period of crisis that my husband found me, at the time, very single. Our relationship developed platonically and online over a couple of years, which is probably why we still get along so fabulously. And maybe I have a touch of "White Knight" syndrome myself... because common sense should have told me NOT to get involved with him. However, I did get involved and ended up with a wonderful supportive "White Knight" for a husband. Our marriage has been very good, but it hasn't been without cost. It's taken years to recover from the financial mess my husband was in when he was with his "damsel in distress". He has lost contact with his kids... which may actually be a blessing in disguise, since it means we have no contact with their mother, either.

Meanwhile, the cycle has started anew with Ex's third marriage and two youngest kids. No doubt Ex's current husband has heard all sorts of horrible things about my husband and he's probably dumb enough to believe her without even using his common sense or powers of logic. Ex is uncannily persuasive and believable. Even after all he had been through, my husband was still believing a lot of his ex wife's bullshit when we first got married. It's taken years for him to move past the fog and see the truth. Meanwhile, my husband's "son" has reunited with his biological father, the man who was supposedly so abusive to him when he was a little boy that he needed a name change. "Son", by the way, has changed his name back to what it originally was and has no contact with the man he called "dad" for most of his life.

As for the "White Knight" and "Princess" I wrote of at the beginning of this post, well... I have heard that maybe their relationship has gone a bit rocky. If so, it's probably a blessing for the gallant knight, who will have no doubt dodged a bullet. It's a pity that the Princess's young kids have bonded with this man, since he will no doubt be going away at some point. If he doesn't do it now, it will happen some time in the future. These "damsel" types never like to stay rescued for long. They love the high drama of being in a crisis and being swept to safety by some kind-hearted guy. After a few minutes of being wrapped in a loving blanket of kindness and support and given a nice mug of sweet love to warm them, a true damsel will jump back into the sea of despair, waiting for the next "White Knight" to come along and rescue her.

I have a lot of empathy for "White Knights". I wish they would take some time for self-reflection and save themselves. It's admirable to want to "step up to the plate" and sometimes "White Knights" really can end up rescuing an appreciative woman and her children. But I would caution anyone who feels the need to "rescue" to step back, take a deep breath, and take stock. You can't save anyone who doesn't want to save themselves. And you can't truly replace an absentee parent. Don't kid yourself. Being a "White Knight" is a thankless job that will get you nowhere.

For more on this subject, I recommend reading Dr. Tara J. Palmatier's excellent blog, Shrink4Men.

9 comments:

  1. I'm kind of glad I read this, I suffer from white knight syndrome, 25 there is a girl i know, knew the kid since he was born, the dad is a deadbeat who is constantly on drugs(seen this myself) the mother is 19 no support from family but...isn't coping with the fact she has 9 month old, pops pills to numb the pain or w/e and jumps from guy to guy to guy.

    I'm pretty angry because I see where that kids life is going to go if she doesn't step up to the plate herself anyway, if you have any thoughts on how to let go of that attachment to the kid, your thoughts would be most welcome

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  2. Hi randomwhiteknight,

    I'm sorry for your situation. I'm going to have my husband leave you a comment, since he has personal experience with "white knight syndrome". I also want to reiterate my suggestion to check out www.shrink4men.com. There's a forum on that site where you can converse with other guys who have been in your predicament and can offer you support and insight.

    You're a good person for wanting to help the child. Unfortunately, I don't think there's much you can do for him without getting involved with his mother, which really could potentially lead to disaster. I think it's a good thing that you're thinking about the potential ramifications of such a decision. It could save you a lot of heartache down the road.

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  3. randomwhitenight,

    Knotty's husband here. Difficulty "letting go" is perhaps the White Knight's fatal flaw. Look at how we are often portrayed in literature and you'll see it. We are cautioned, (often by our mentors) to adopt an attitude of non-attachment. To clarify, some attachments are good (when you find the right person, for instance, to spend your life with), but we have a particular tendency to form attachments at the drop of a hat. Ultimately, everything (even a truly good thing)will end.

    I think with us this is really a profound need to be needed. We want to have purpose. We want to be heroes. Not entirely a bad thing either, but it's a short stretch from hero to martyr.

    What Knotty said is true. People have to want to change, to save themselves. You have to become sensitive to that if you're going to avoid being trapped. You didn't put this girl into the situation she's in. You didn't sire her child. And if you were to step more permanently into their lives, you will never be the child's real father. That connection is real, even if the man is a bastard.

    Instead. I recommend you take a step back. What I can't tell from your post is whether or not she's asked for your help. If she has, you must proceed with caution. As I said earlier, you simply cannot change people. They have to want to change themselves.

    It occurs to me that you might not think I'm like you at all, and that's furthest from the truth. I'm what you'll become if you get involved with the girl you describe. The little boy that captured my heart so long ago when my ex showed up with him on my doorstep grew up to betray me and my family.

    I am a career Soldier and I live the Warrior Ethos: Mission first, never surrender, never quit, and never leave a fallen comrade behind. So what I'm writing is hard, because people like you and I are compelled to rescue others. As hard as it might be for you, you have to realize that you can't (or shouldn't) save everyone.

    There is no magic way to become non-attached, you have to learn to make rational decisions, not emotional ones. Let her go and see what happens. Find someone who is perfectly capable living without you--physically and emotionally. Trust me, find that person and you will find ways to be a White Knight to them. And you'll be truly appreciated for it.

    Good luck

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  4. Hey guys, thanks for the speedy reply, and i was dating her briefly as well she didn't ask me to 'step in' per say. You're absolutely right, and that I didn't put her in that position and the child isn't mine and if things fell through hard, like you I'd have no rights to see that kid as he's not mine so no matter how attached you become. I realise much to my dismay there is nothing to be done about it.

    Thanks for the guidance, finding someone who has their stuff together will ultimately provide a better relationship, and even as you said, it's a quick road to martyrdom so thanks again for your thoughts to a complete stranger they've helped me more than you might think.

    It's that "oh but I can change the course of this childs life and by being with the mother I can help her become a better person" no matter how dire her situation is, she made a choice to be in it. It's just hard to see someone flounder and go down the wrong path without wanting to go intervene.

    Thanks to both of you again,

    -Mike.

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  5. You're welcome, Mike.

    I know it's difficult and painful, but seriously, you could end up in a world of pain if you don't steer clear. My husband has had a happy ending, but he's been lucky. And his happy ending didn't come without significant pain. I've been with him in the years since he and his ex wife split up. If you read this blog, you will see how this doesn't just affect him. It affects me and his other loved ones as well. We're finally at the point now that we can start putting all this crap in the past.

    Good luck to you.

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  6. My husband is a white knight. We married very young and I just thought he was a nice guy who liked to take care of people. I never thought that I needed a white knight to rescue me. In fact, we were friends for 5+ years before marrying. After a while, he felt like I didn't need him and eventually decided to "rescue" a stripper. Good times! Eventually, he got out of that mess and we reconciled. How do you stay married to a white knight if he doesn't feel like he is rescuing someone? I am even more worried about this because he just lost his mom (his original damsel in distress) and is very vulnerable. any suggestions?

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    1. Wow...

      It's hard to offer advice, since I don't know the people involved or the facts about the situation. What I will say is that in our relationship, I let my husband do things that satisfy his care taking instinct. They are admittedly little things, but they satisfy his need to be needed.

      Not knowing you or the people in your situation, I can't say if that would work for you. Also, I admit the I like his caretaker side, but I am not so addicted to drama that I need to be rescued. And he has learned not to need the rescue high he once sought.

      I think it takes commitment from both people to make a relationship work. Being a rescuer addicted to drama is one way to distract oneself from all the other things that need attention in a person's life. If you are busy saving people, you aren't focusing on yourself or your own issues.

      I hope this helps. I'm writing early in the morning on an iPad.

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  7. My husband may be a white knight. I recently found out that he's been talking to other women, all single mothers with bad boyfriends and messed up childhoods, for years. I believe he never crossed the line of meeting them or worse but it's still frustrating that while we were floundering financially and I was doing everything I could to take care of him and my stepdaughter, to the point of anxiety attacks, he was consoling other women. I also feel like I need advice for how to keep our relationship strong because I'm very antidrama and when there's a problem I confront it. Sometimes I wonder if we're just not right for each other. Or if he was just using me this whole time to satisfy his financial and coparenting needs while he was really pining after women he could rescue and everything we have or had was a façade. It's been three weeks since I found out about the other women. Things have been better romantically but I still check all his online accounts and our mobile records daily.

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    1. Wow, that's tough. Not knowing either of you, my guess is that he gets a charge out of thinking he's helping those women. But if he's neglecting you and his daughter, then maybe he's more of a narcissist than a white knight. It does sound like he's using you, though, and I don't blame you for not trusting him.

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