Recently, my husband remarked that in both my novels, I have a knight in shining armor that gets “dumped on.”
He’s right. In The Cruelest Month, Lucy, a young bipolar woman, commits suicide. Her husband Andrew is devastated. For years, he has helped her, supported her, encouraged her to do whatever it takes to stay stable: take her medications, use her songwriting to express her feelings, avoid those who judge her. He fights bullies for her, risks his own reputation to be her friend, and protects her from gossip as best he can. Yet in the end, no amount of effort on his part can rescue Lucy from the consequences of her mental illness.
In my current novel, Linnea has sex with her brother-in-law and becomes pregnant. Her friend Thurston is in love with her and pursues her with the well-intentioned but naive idea that if he marries her, everything will turn out fine. They can raise her child, her brother-in-law and sister can repair their marriage, and people will stop gossiping and pointing fingers at her. Nice try, but will that work outside of a fairy tale? Or will Thurston get hurt?
My husband called it a feminist critique of the traditional fairy tale. I preferred to think of it as acceptance of reality.
No person can be another one’s savior.
Despite their noblest intentions, Andrew and Thurston ultimately can’t save either woman from themselves. Andrew can’t cure Lucy of her mental illness. Thurston can’t take away the devastating consequences of Linnea’s choice.
Back when I was a twenty-one-year old single, I was lonely. I didn’t have close friends. Honestly, I didn’t try very hard to make friends; I had been hurt one too many times and didn’t trust anyone.
Yet I desperately longed to be married.
If only I could find a husband, then I would be happy. Float down the aisle, say “I do”, and be swept off my feet and carried by my knight in a black tuxedo to our three-bedroom, two-bath castle in the clouds: then I would be happy. Then I wouldn’t be lonely or frightened or discouraged. That’s what happens in fairy tales and Shakespearean comedies and Harlequin romance novels. The hero rescues the heroine and the author writes “The End”.
Yet I forgot one thing: my husband wasn’t perfect. The shining armor was a rented tuxedo, our castle was a one story house in need of redecorating, and clouds aren’t the best foundations for castles.
My husband couldn’t cure my problems.
He couldn’t rescue me from loneliness or depression or lack of direction in my life. I had enough baggage to fill the cargo hold of a Boeing 747, and that plane wasn’t going to get off the ground.
The same thing applies to any human relationship. I won’t find perfect friends to rescue me from loneliness. I won’t find the perfect church to save me from questions about my faith and God. I won’t find the perfect doctor to diagnose and cure all my ailments.
It’s an appealing dream, one that captures our imaginations and beguile us into thinking it’s reality. But it’s just that: a dream. Other people can help me and I can help other people. Yet there are limits because we are limited.
People can help, but they can’t save.
I thought about the times when I have tried to play the hero. Save my children from the consequences of their poor choices. Meet every single one of my husband’s needs even when it is impossible. Perform a miracle and make everyone happy. It’s impossible. Inevitably, I am disappointed by the results and hurt when my attempts to be a god-like savior are rejected.
Maybe it’s time to stop trying to make this fairy tale real. Close the book. Accept reality. Ask for help, offer to help. But stop trying to save someone else. Stop expecting some other human to save me. In real life, a knight in shining armor gets dumped upon and the damsel is still in distress if she expects him to slay every dragon in her life. None of us are God.
Have you ever expected someone (a spouse, friend, child) to rescue you? What happened?