Lessons Learned From <i>Fifty Shades of Grey</i>

I approached reading the books as more of a research project. I was trying to figure out the psychology behind the characters. And more importantly, the psychology behind every woman who fell madly in love with Christian Grey -- and the whole story in general.
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Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably heard of a book called Fifty Shades of Grey. Now, I am not here to praise it as a work of literary art, nor am I here to bash it for its explicit S&M sexual messages.

I want to talk about something deeper (no pun intended!)

Let me just tell you that I hardly ever read fiction. I did have a phase right after college when I read a lot of Danielle Steele books, but then I got bored with them when I realized that it was the same story over and over with the names, dates and places changed (no offense to Ms. Steele because she is laughing all the way to the bank!) But I tell you this to say that I did read the Fifty Shades of Grey books -- all three of them. But probably not for the same reason as everyone else.

You see, pretty much every woman I knew said to me, "OMG, Carol! You HAVE to read these books!" Usually when someone says I need to read something (or do something), I politely say "Okay, thank you for the information," and then ignore it -- unless it's something that I really think I would want to do. But the sheer number of people who insisted I read this book was overwhelming.

So that make me endlessly curious.

What was the fuss all about? And...

Why was every woman in love with the main character, Christian Grey?

I just had to know.

I approached reading the books as more of a research project. I was trying to figure out the psychology behind the characters. And more importantly, the psychology behind every woman who fell madly in love with Christian Grey -- and the whole story in general.

Before I tell you what I learned, let me just give those of you who are not familiar with the story a very brief synopsis of the books.

Christian Grey is a self-made, gorgeous, hot, handsome, 27-year-old billionaire (think Mark Zuckerberg but with unbelievable good looks.) He is psychologically and emotionally closed off to people because he had a very rough childhood. Anastasia Steele is a virgin, college student who becomes sexually and romantically involved with him. And oh yeah, and there's one more small little detail... he has a slight preference for S&M activities. Just sayin!

Not only does Anastasia manage to soften his heart, but they apparently fall "madly in love" with each other. I think you have the main idea.

So here are some general conclusions that I came to after reading these books and trying to put the mysterious pieces together about what the fuss is all about.

#1 -- Is this what most people think REAL LOVE is?

Christian Grey is highly controlling. He is highly possessive of Ana. He is jealous. He has a temper. He is moody. He is unpredictable. Is this what most people (or women) think is true love -- and/or the perfect man? Does love equal control, jealousy and possessiveness? Well, not in my world. But maybe I'm the weird one. To me, real love is kind. It is freeing. It is gentle. It is pretty much the opposite of what Christian Grey does. Emotions like needing to control, possessiveness and jealousy are all rooted in fear -- NOT love. If you are jealous or possessive, you fear you will lose that person. But our culture teaches us that these emotions equal love. And this book/movie totally affirms it.

#2 -- Some stereotypes hold true.

We all say stereotypes are bad. And some are, but some aren't. I am not your stereotypical woman, but there are a lot of women who are (that's not necessarily a bad thing). And I am a professor who teaches about gender communication, so I am quite familiar with the gender stereotypes that we all have. But here are some stereotypes that do hold up in the movie: (1) women like strong, powerful, rich men; (2) women like to be taken care of; (3) women want to be adored by their man -- basically for him to be obsessed with her.

#3 -- Some stereotypes do NOT hold true.

Stereotypically, women "don't like sex." Or if they do, then they shouldn't admit it. And they certainly shouldn't pursue a lot of sex because then that makes them sluts. But if you ask me, the overwhelming fanbase for Fifty Shades tells another story. Not only do women like sex, they like excitement! They don't always like the boring traditional routines of taking care of the house, the kids, cooking for her man, and being the perfect little woman (think June Clever of Leave It to Beaver). And apparently, they don't like boring sex either.

#4 -- Couples really need to put a lot more effort into working on their relationships and their sex lives.

I heard a statistic the other day (I think it was on the Today Show) that said 50 percent of the women would rather read books like Fifty Shades than have sex with their own partner/spouse. And I thought to myself, "OMG... really?" I mean, the books are pretty "exciting," but I think it's sad that most women would like to replace their real world with a fantasy world (not that we all don't like a little escapism from time to time.) So that got me thinking that perhaps more couples should work on their relationships and sex lives a little more. I'm not suggesting that they go out and buy handcuffs, rope, whips and blindfolds, but maybe putting a little more effort into their romantic life (in all aspects), would be beneficial. And that goes for both partners -- they have to put in equal effort. Either that, or women will escape into romantic novels like Fifty Shades (or the TV show The Bachelor) and men will escape into porn (I know I'm stereotyping here -- but you get the point.) Or maybe either/both of them will find an online affair to get the excitement they need. Sadly, that seems to happen all too often these days.

#5 -- Your dream can come true by simply doing what you love.

This insight has nothing to do with men, women, sex, relationships or anything like that. This refers to the author herself, E.L. James. Apparently, E.L. James started writing Fifty Shades as online Twilight fan fiction. I think she was simply having fun in the beginning, and somehow it turned into this worldwide phenomenon. Whoa. Who wouldn't like THAT to happen to them, right? So what does that say to me? You can follow your passions and it can eventually turn into your career. Unfortunately, I don't think most people believe that.

I have more insights I could share, but then this blog would turn into a novel (don't worry, I'm not going to turn into a novelist any time soon -- I am definitely not a fiction writer.) But with that said, I do have a date with a couple of my girlfriends to go see the movie this weekend when it comes out. I promise you I will refrain from further analysis... at least until after the movie is over. ;-)

Until then...

Laters, Baby.

(Fans of the book will catch the humor in this line!)

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