We’ve seen it in movies since we were born, heard about it in stories from before we can remember, and it’s a trope we can easily picture: the damsel in distress. She’s pretty and kind, sometimes a little naive, but she always finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thank goodness for her knight in shining armor, who will slay every dragon and defeat every wicked witch who stands in his way in order to save our damsel. After all, if he doesn’t do so, who will?
The damsel and her valiant knight are definitely not limited to fairy tales – in fact, we see them all the time in today’s modern culture. True, there’s the guy who overcomes all obstacles to take care of the girl of his dreams (much like Ryan Atwood on The OC), but plenty of girls are also drawn to the bad boys that they can reform, or save from themselves.
The question is: is this truly a desirable trait?
One of my favorite authors, John Green, has mastered the creation of such characters. For example, in his novel Looking for Alaska, the protagonist falls for Alaska, who is described as “gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up and utterly fascinating.” She may be strong-minded, but she’s often completely unstable, and the most she can ever provide him (other than Simon Bolivar quotes and an interesting perspective on life) is a never-ending chase. No matter what he does to try and rescue her, he will never succeed, because she will forever remain the same Alaska.
Too often I’ll see my friends falling for people like that – people who are quirky and cute and interesting (or maybe unconventional and misunderstood), but also incredibly self-absorbed, impulsive and dependent. They make poor choices, as we all do, but they never assume responsibility for them and often repeat them. They may hurt us, but we quickly forgive them because we can’t believe they would ever do so intentionally. We hope that as long as they remain within arm’s reach and allow us to help them out when they do reach rock bottom, we will be the ones that turned their lives around. And yet, we forget that after one too many times, we may fall right down with them.
Yes, we’re all human. We all have our flaws, and we do need to lean on our friends/significant others from time to time. We are allowed to make mistakes… it’s a part of life. But we need to stop kidding ourselves — some relationships are toxic. And there comes a point when you can only accept so much of that, a point at which you have to just let go. You can’t be everyone’s hero, and you can’t just ignore the ones who don’t ask for your help on a regular basis. Sometimes the most competent and seemingly put-together people need your support, too, even if they don’t need to be whisked off of some train tracks.
Our flaws are part of what make us who we are, but they aren’t all we are. If we can’t learn from our mistakes, then what can we do?