It's pretty clear why men fantasize about being superheroes: they're strong, powerful and revered. But face it: women fantasize about superheroes too. We love to dream of being seduced by Henry Cavill as Superman, Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man, Ryan Reynolds as the Green Lantern. It's not just the jacked bod, the jawline, the superhuman strength and intellect, not just the unwavering moral compass or diehard patriotism. Whether your superhero of choice is an alien, a dark knight, or a rich recluse with really expensive toys, there's one real reason you want him: You want to be saved.
Somewhere along the line, it fell out of favor to admit this. I went to an all-girls Catholic high school where we studied women’s history and asked dates to our own dances. Men weren’t part of our daily lives—they remained on the periphery, as an extra-curricular, some distant, fuzzy destination. Playing fields were being leveled, gender was being neutralized. The message was clear: You don't need anyone to save you. You can and must save yourself.
Of course, I'm glad I learned this early on. After all, if I didn’t believe I could stand on my own two feet, I wouldn't be where I am, thriving as a self-employed woman in New York City. As a dating and relationship expert, I know that the expectation we're fed from an early age that 'the Perfect Man will make your life complete' is dangerous indeed. As is the notion that you must be married to him to achieve the fullest expression of yourself. I don't buy any of that.
Still, all that education, all that tough-girl thinking, wasn't enough to blunt the potent and swoon-worthy sexual impact of watching Christian Bale dive out a window to save Maggie Gyllenhaal and land breathless on the roof of a car. Because who wouldn’t want that to happen to them?
Of course, women are always falling in these movies. Flailing and death-bound, from a great height—a skyscraper, an aircraft, hurtling through space. The feminist in you may repudiate at this, but the romantic in you will yield—after all, what do women want more than to fall for a guy? And then, to be caught. Lois Lane doesn't "need" anyone—she's a Pulitzer-prize winning reporter, a brave, ballsy woman who takes more than a few risks of her own. She doesn't need Superman to complete her, to make her life worth living. But she could use a hand when she's catapulting toward earth. And when he swoops in to catch her in her moment of vulnerability, she's pretty much sold on him.
It has taken me a while to come around to the idea that I can be a strong, independent, self-actualized woman and still want the comfort of being taken care of, of being saved in some ways. Saved from what? Whatever I need saving from. Intruders. Bullies. My own occasional dip towards self-loathing and doubt. And even more than that—to enjoy the saving. I spent so many years fighting off this urge, standing guard instead against anyone who would even try. And there's nothing more confusing to a man than saying you want him but doing everything you can to prove you don't need him.
It wasn't until I allowed myself to be open, to be vulnerable, that I found I could enjoy the very thing a man wants to be—strong, masculine, confident. My hero. That to allow a man be what he strives to be doesn't take away from who I am or what I can do.
On a first date a while back, my date and I were talking about the recent rash of NYC subway accidents. People being struck left and right. He told me how, a few weeks prior, he'd seen a man fall, drunk, onto the tracks. Without a thought, he dropped his bag and jumped down there with him. He and a few other brave souls helped haul the man, and him, out in time. I already thought he was adorable. And I knew that was a dangerous and foolish thing to do. But now I wanted to kiss him full on the mouth.
Granted, it was great story to tell on a first date (and part of me thought, "Well played, sir"). But six months into dating him now, I believe it. This is a man who's willing to help other people, including me. One night, we were lying together quietly and he said, "How do you feel when you're with me?" And I said I felt good, and calm and happy. "Do you feel safe?" Yes, I said. I do.
A younger, more defensive me might have possibly made a joke about this. Safe from what, the boogey man? What do I need you to keep me safe from? I can take care of myself, thank you very much. But I don't feel that way anymore. I realize now that it takes a strong man to want to be a hero for someone. And it takes a strong woman to let him.
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