Women, generally speaking, love romance. After years of reading fairytales and watching romantic comedies, we have come to revere a good love story. And the male lead? Who is he? He can vary, of course, based on the story. But the male characters we seem to be most drawn to are the ones with an air of mystery, or the ones who, despite their sordid past, fall in love with “that one special woman”—the leading lady.
So how does the success of “Fifty Shades of Grey” relate to this fairytale view of men and romance? At first consideration, it might be hard to see the connection. Many people would like to believe that it’s the erotic nature of the story that has made it such a success. And maybe that’s part of it. I tend to believe that the popularity of these books—and now the movie—has a great deal to do with the fact that the leading man is an enigma. The leading man, at his core, fits the mold of what has intrigued us women since girlhood. He is mysterious. He is handsome. He is powerful. And he is untouchable emotionally. I believe that this is what makes Mr. Grey so intriguing to women—that only a very special woman can break through his walls and win his heart. In the case of this story, that woman is Anastasia (“Ana”).
If, in real life, we were to manage to win the heart of such a man, what would this do for us? For one, it could do wonders for our self-esteem—at least at first. Imagine being able to say that this man, that was completely anti-romance and anti-falling in love, fell in love with YOU. That MUST mean that you are special. That MUST mean that you had something that all the other women did not have. That MUST mean that you had that special je ne sais quoi that enabled you, and only you, to unlock the key to this special man’s heart, right?
And what else would winning the heart of such a man do for us? It would also help many of us feel more alive and powerful than we would have felt before he came around. How exciting would it be to be on this sort of emotional treasure hunt, all the while being able to take advantage of the lavish life that goes along with “dating” a rich man, right? If our lives were once boring, we would suddenly be living an extremely exciting life. And how much do we despise monotony as human beings, correct?
But, here is the problem. It is one thing to imagine this sort of life in our daydreams, being able to differentiate reality from fiction and a healthy connection from an unhealthy one. But when this is the sort of “love” we seek in reality, we are setting ourselves up for failure. We are setting ourselves up for potential abuse, loneliness and neglect, and deep disappointment and despair. And by “this life”, I am not necessarily referring to find a man with all of the exact characteristics of Christian Grey, of course. Instead, I am referring to the constant pursuit of “the bad boy”, “the commitment-phobe”, “the challenge”, “the heartbreaker”, “the emotionally unavailable”, “the enigma”…
As women, we are very diverse and have very differing needs. However, there are some essential things that we, as healthy women, need at our core. One of the main things we need is to feel safe and secure. Many women and girls have the misconception that a safe, caring, reliable, emotionally available man is boring. There is something to be said for a man that does what he means and means what he says, however. There is something to be said for a man that reveals his heart to you at a healthy and appropriate pace and welcomes you to do the same. There is something to be said for a man that places no demands on you and accepts you as you are. The journey of reaching deep emotional intimacy with a man is, in itself, an exciting adventure. If done well, it will reveal to you sides of yourself that you did not know existed. This journey will also reveal sides of him and aspects of human nature that you may be fascinated to learn. And the natural twists and turns of life, in themselves, make life exciting if you chose to look at life from this perspective—as an adventure.
When you find yourself being drawn to men who are exciting in all the right ways—men with diverse interests, who are great conversationalists, and have exciting life goals—you will be pleased to watch your life settle down and many of your erratic emotions settle down along with it. It will feel wonderful to not be on an emotional roller coaster ride.
Some women have a deeply embedded habit of choosing the emotionally unavailable, controlling, or emotionally abusive male. While some may be able to logically recognize that this is not an ideal man to be with, they may still find themselves constantly falling back into the habit of choosing and/or being chosen by this type of man. This is a very real and very common issue. In a case such as this, it is highly recommended that these women seek counseling. It is important to fully recognize the origins of such patterns so that new, healthy patterns may be established. A qualified therapist can help you uncover the origin, and can partner with you in making appropriate changes toward overall growth in this area.
Here is an exercise to help you in making healthier relationship choices: Consider writing a description of what an ideal relationship looks like to you. How do you want to feel about yourself as a result of being in this relationship? What character traits do you value in a man? Which traits in yourself do you hope to further develop or change? And what aspects of yourself do you like and hope that your partner will also admire in you? Once you are able to clarify what your needs and desires are, ask yourself whether or not each potential partner you meet falls in line with these desires. Pay attention to you instincts. What does your still, small voice say about this man? Does he feel like someone who will keep you on track with emotional growth? Or does he feel like someone who will pull you down or keep you from being the best you possible?
As for Christian Grey… there is nothing wrong with being intrigued with enigmatic characters. When the movie is over, however, I challenge you to reflect on the message and how it relates to your own life. I only hope that you are willing to focus more on Anastasia’s pain than on her pleasure. Then ask yourself whether or not, in your life, this level of anguish and loss of power is really worth it, especially when the excitement of healthy love is very possible.