Death of the White Knight?

Jenn Moss over at Rough and Ready Fiction had an interesting post on “goody-good” characters and why they don’t work in modern fiction.

She writes science fiction, whereas I’m a romance writer, so our audiences are not quite the same. Still, it got me to thinking about the anti-hero and bad-boy tropes that seem to be quite popular.


I’ll think more on the anti-hero, but research says that bad boys really don’t get the girl. There’s several links in that article to the studies proving it, too.

It also explains the role of narcissists in this perception. Narcissists are really good at fooling us into believing that they are good people in the short-term, but they can’t live up to it in the long-term. Nor do they really want to as they aren’t interested in those types of relationships anyway.

They article also explains that there are reasons that some women may be attracted to bad boys, but a lot of that has to do with how they were brought up and their family life. Basically, what they’ve come to expect from a relationship.

Many years ago, I had a good friend who had a thing for bad boys. After again being treated poorly by her current love interest, we were eating ice cream together while she lamented the state of her heart. This had not been the first time this series of events had happened, and I asked her what she’d expected.

We knew he dabbled in drugs, drank, smoked, and was barely passing in school. He was more interested in his motorcycle than he was her. What did she think was going to change?


She was dumbstruck by the question , and she never gave me a straight answer. In hindsight, I don’t think she knew. Not really, and I never did understand. Eventually, we drifted apart as friends because you can only watch someone self-destruct so often before you just can’t feel much for them.

When life hands you onions and you cry, I’ll be there holding the tissue. But when you keep going to the onion patch and picking onions, eventually I gotta shrug and walk away.

It didn’t help that relationship that I’ve always been a fan of the white knight. The good boy that understands duty, honor, and kindness. I liked Luke better than Han, King Arthur better than Sir Lancelot, etc.

Many years later, and I think I’m starting to get it.

You see, my mother was very adamant with me that you love someone for who they are that day. They aren’t going to change. They aren’t going to become someone new for you. They are who they are, and either you love them then and there or you don’t. If you love them for who you think they can be, you’re only hurting them and yourself.

That stuck with me my whole life. If I wanted to be with a person who’d love and respect me, I needed to marry someone who was already like that.

And I did.

But this wisdom doesn’t seem to flow through our culture. There’s this expectation that if you love someone enough, they’ll change for you. That underneath their angst and misery is a heart of gold just waiting to fall in love with the girl that saves them.

Maybe some others have had experiences where this is true, but outside of fiction and the movies, I’ve never seen it.

I’ll keep the white knight.
How about you? Do you think the White Knight’s dead? Ever had a friend go for the “bad” boy or girl? Maybe you do or did? How’d it go?



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13 thoughts on “Death of the White Knight?

  1. I think this is something there are so many layers to.

    I hopefully have arrived at the point in my life where I realize people are complex and rarely what they say but rather what they do.

    The white knight might not do the dishes ever. The guy who helps out around the house might cheat. The bad boy might be amazing in bed.

    I think it’s weird to say but there’s also an element of growth. If you’re 20 you might want lots of sex and not care that he’s a jerk. At 30 you might want some one who helps with childcare or pays 20% more of the rent because he gets that society is sexist. Or whatever. The real trouble comes I think when you change, because people do change and you don’t change and grow together. I know the man I found attractive at 20 isn’t the one I’d want today. I’d hope he isn’t the same either.

    I don’t know. I don’t have a great track record with men so I’m not sure how much my voice is worth on this either.

    I’ve never gone for a real “bad boy” but I’m easily sucked in by guys with ….charisma I guess? That unexplainable magnetic quality of making you feel like the center of the world when their attention is on you. But those men have been way way more dangerous than bad boys for me.

  2. Funny this was mentioned, just got to add I just got out of such a relationship myself. Just to give some perspective: it’s not so much that people like me are attracted to them, so much that a lot of us have a hard time protesting it, and generally can’t defend ourselves from it.

    My last room mate sexually assaulted me, it took a while for me to accept it, but now I know it’s probably better for my mental health just to not see anyone. Bad Boy (or bad girl) types seem to be the ones most drawn to me, and at times I wonder if that says something about me.

    Sorry, not trying to lay the guilt trip, I just mean sometimes it’s difficult for people to come to accept they have a problem, and it’s something they need to work out for themselves.

    For me as a writer, I generally try to avoid Goody Goody or Baddy Bad types. One of the worst things about my prior relationship, as she would gradually come to dominate my writing life and trying to take over some of my characters. So eventually I had to hide new stories from her and so I could actually sit down and write something.

    To much of this in fiction can be emotionally exhausting. Catharsis only really works if you dib it out a little at a time. I think that’s probably why I’m not super wild about my old book series, and I think I might switch to middle grade fantasy again.

    But really I think the term avoiding goody goody is disingenuous. I think the important thing is giving your character sympathetic flaws and making them change through the story.

    My last room mate, one of the worst things she did was treat my MC Nadine (loosely based on my middle grade years, and who I thought I would torn out like if I kept going down the road of friends I knew in high school) was try to convince me that she saw Nadine as being a little bit of a bad guy.

    She didn’t realize she was calling me a bad guy, either unwittingly or … looking back on it, almost deliberately.

    Journaling helps though, to sort out such issues.

    And I’m here to say, you deserve people better than my room mate. Be proud of you.

    1. I am sorry you went through so much. Perhaps there is something to what you think you “deserve” and that makes you accept things you are way too good to have to take.

      Gives me some food for thought.

      Please be gentle with yourself. You *deserve* that.

      1. Plus panick attacks arent fun. This still carries over into stressful situations to this day. People take it as ignoring, but its really me having processing issues being so tired. At least I’ll get a doctor soon.

        This one guy in French class is maling learning impossible too. He’s like in his early 60s, he’s old enough to know better. I’d be curious to find out if he’s a similar narcissist. Or just unusually extroverted.

  3. Oh, I agree so much that we should be looking for a good person as a partner! Don’t look twice at the bad boys and girls! (Unless they prove themselves like Han arguably did first. Notice Leia didn’t get involved with him until after he showed his courage and helped both his new friends and the Rebellion considerably.)

    And I have seen multiple friends and loved ones look for all the wrong things in a partner. It never seems to end well. Kudos to you for setting the bar high!

  4. I think some people are sub-consciously drawn to the idea of ‘saving’ someone. I’ve never seen the appeal. I think in fiction though bad characters with a hint of good can make really compelling reading. Even with my ‘goodies’ I don’t like reading about people who are perfect, I think even the hero/heroine need some flaws or they become boring. Fiction isn’t reality and characters need the complexity of at least a couple of flaws!


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