One of the most unsettling, non-fatal narratives to emerge from the Aurora, Colorado, shooting tragedy was that of 25-year-old Jamie Rohrs, live-in boyfriend and father of two young children. He left them all (the girlfriend, the kids) behind when James Holmes opened fire. His girlfriend, Patricia Legarreta, also 25, and their 4-year-old daughter and infant son were eventually rescued by 19-year-old Jarell Brooks. After fleeing the theater, taking the family car, and driving off without woman or child, Rohrs double-backed only after Legarreta called him and he was assured that the murders had ended. He then took to the talk show circuit with Legarreta, where they talked about how he proposed during the aftermath. She accepted.

News of Rohrs’ decision to leave his family spread like social media wildfire, with most commentators expressing incredulity that Legarreta could possibly accept the proposal of a man who left her and their children to die. Though the expectation is prevalent that men should stand aside to let women and children get to safety, a recent Swedish study of shipwrecks and survivors claims this behavioral expectation is built on a myth:

In examining 18 shipping disasters dating to the 1850s, the economists found little evidence that men were inclined to surrender their survival advantage. Overall, the survival rate was 61 percent for crew members, 44 percent for captains, 37 percent for male passengers, 27 percent for women, and 15 percent for children.

Rohrs’ reaction to a life-threatening incident is consistent with these results. Survival instinct kicked in and he went into every-man-for-himself mode. Certainly, this isn’t every man’s first instinct, as Legarreta’s rescuer Jarell Brooks proves. But Rohrs isn’t alone in putting himself first in a crisis. Another recent example of a man “abandoning ship” and leaving his partner behind occurred last month in Shelbyville, Michigan, when a pier collapsed during a just-wed couple’s photo shoot, sending the entire wedding party into Gun Lake. The groom, Eric Walber, swam to shore, leaving his bride, Maegan, to fend for herself. It’s telling when a man’s first thought is for himself when you’re standing right beside him and both of you are in danger. If he leaves you once, should he ever have the opportunity to do it again? Even in a less perilous situation, like the Walbers’, wouldn’t thinking first of your own safety be indicative of likely future behavior? What do you think? Have you ever been left behind in a crisis? Could you forgive and eventually marry someone who abandoned you in a life-threatening crisis?
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