Rescue Fantasies – Free Ebook

Of the many desires we might harbour in relationships,
few attract as much mockery or suspicion as

‘the rescue fantasy.’ According to this
longing, a lover – normally a man – becomes

unnaturally concerned with finding a partner
– normally a woman – who is suffering

and unhappy. While ostensibly interested in
assuaging her grief, the lover is in reality

more concerned with exploiting her vulnerability
– for what are assumed to be nefarious ends.

He is excited, perhaps even sexually, by her
sadness and far from rescuing her, uses her

sorrow to aggrandize himself. Even before
mentioning the horse on which the rescuer

might ride into town, this is all meant to
– and does indeed – sound properly ridiculous,

if not outright sinister. However, it is arguable

that the longing to assist someone does in
fact occupy a legitimate role in healthy love

for both genders – and that we should dare
to understand and recognise the appeal in

ourselves and our partners. Emotional sanity
may be wholly compatible with a powerful,

intermittent attraction to distress. It is
normal if we are sometimes drawn to, and deeply

touched by, what has made someone sad, what
they find hard, what they have until now been

very alone with. It is as we discover the
fragile sides of someone that we have a sense

of what separates them from casual acquaintances
and recognise, with relief and a sense of

new loyalty, how much they share in our own
confusion and pain.

We can admire people for their accomplishments,

their vibrant social life or their buoyancy
of character. But in so far as we love them,

it is often because of bits of them have known
suffering, because moments of their childhood

were difficult, because they can doubt themselves
and are acquainted with melancholy and isolation.

Nor should it surprise us if there can be
an erotic component to our attraction, sex

being bound up with a desire to be close,
intimate and nurturing. Unless a partner allows

us to see their vulnerable core, it may feel
as if there is nothing for our love to hold

on to. It would be impossible to love an invulnerable
person; only, at best, to feel happy for them.

That said, there is a way in which the desire
to rescue someone can go awry: when the intention

is entirely asymmetrical: when we want to
rescue but have a serious resistance to being

rescued. It is for some of us a great deal
easier to fall into the caring rather than

the dependent role. So long as we are assisting
someone else with their fears, insecurities

and shame, we can keep our own collection
of vulnerabilities out of sight and mind.

Perhaps, in childhood, we did not have a chance
to come to a good accomodation with our weakness,

we lacked reliable nurture, had to be strong
before we were ready and now flinch at the

prospect of opening up to someone who might
betray us in the way we were once betrayed.

In such circumstances, starting to look after
a lover can provide a psychologically-ideal

scenario: another’s vulnerability enables
us to get in touch with our own, while at

the same time, not requiring us to show our
weakness directly, with all the dangers involved.

We can be vulnerable, as it were, by proxy;
we can be weak via another while at the same

time shielding ourselves from the risks of
abandonment and hurt.

©Flickr/Bhavishya Goel
This suggests that healthy love isn’t one

in which the desire to rescue is absent. It
is one in which the desire is honoured as

mutual; in which both parties have accepted
the risks that come from showing the other

their needy, dependent and fragile sides.
It is very kind to want to help someone; it

is more heroic and truly brave at other points
to let them look after us; to show them that

we too are scared, small and ashamed, and
could be desperately hurt by their indifference

and coldness. A rescue fantasy isn’t wrong,
it is simply only ever one part, and should

never be a one-sided part, of what love really
involves.

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