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Fifty Shades of unrealistic expectations

The Fifty Shades trilogy sends an unhealthy message and creates unrealistic expectations about the nature of intimate relationships, writes Rhiannon Taylor.

I’m going to put this out there – I actually enjoyed the Fifty Shades trilogy.

Fifty Shades Trilogy Source: Eren Belle Asentista via Flickr

Despite the abhorrent first-person structure, inner-dialogue and less than sophisticated writing style, I was hopelessly sucked into the books.

At first I wasn’t completely sure why I was so hooked. I am familiar with erotic literature and have always enjoyed it, but never have I managed to read an entire series in less than five days. By the time I closed the final book, I think I understood why. The books were a way for me to escape and presented fantasy-like elements.

Fantasy is something out of one’s reach in their normal day-to-day reality, which is what the entire plot to Fifty Shades is – complete, unashamed fantasy.

I soon developed a love-hate relationship with the main character Ana, her incoherent ramblings of true love and her dabbling in BDSM – which in itself is ridiculous. Nobody just ‘dabbles’ in BDSM.

Yet the fantasy, to which I refer, is not Bondage, Discipline, Dominance, Submission, Sadism or Masochism – it is the next to perfect, intimate relationship she forms with the hero of the story: Christian Grey.

The character of Christian Grey is initially depicted as an unrelenting, powerful, control-hungry dominant. He’s so wealthy it’s sickening, and described as being so attractive that film producers are going to have to take the best features from the most aesthetically pleasing actors when it comes to casting his role (talks of a movie have been in succession for months now).

Grey also has quite a few demons; he is not only a control-freak, but we can safely say he is a complete freak, which in itself isn’t that unbelievable. No, what I find most unbelievable throughout the entirety of the series is how quickly Grey becomes Ana’s ‘perfect’ lover.

Still, I also like how much Christian Grey seemed to love Ana, but I was also very skeptical about their relationship. I didn’t fall head-over-heels in love with this piece of fictional man-candy like the rest of the fandom did, in fact, I pitied the guy.  The affection I developed for this character was directly influenced of my own compassion and empathy. Was I glad he was able to overcome the horrible issues he had? Sure. Did I think it was realistic? Not so much.

As much as I appreciated the relationship between Ana and Grey, I just couldn’t comprehend it as an actual reality. Keep in mind the entire trilogy spans over only a matter of months. Healing takes time, not just with matters of intimacy, but with many other issues.

If Grey were actually as screwed up as he claimed to be, it wouldn’t take a measly couple of months to ‘cure’ him. It would take years – perhaps he would never completely heal.

Sure, he could probably live his new life whilst still battling these so-called ‘inner demons’, because healing is a process and a slow one at that. But I don’t think it is realistic that he healed completely, which is the impression that James gives us in the end. So effectively, James insists that it only takes a  few months to undo years of psychological damage.

It is also not so unrealistic to think that Ana fell for Grey, despite his extreme baggage. After all, when we fall for someone, usually, we have found someone that is almost perfect.

Yet there’s often that one thing that deems the relationship imperfect, the one thing which will either make or break the bond. Love isn’t perfect and neither are we. We can’t mold someone to be our ideal of perfection.

Emma Markezic, a columnist at Cosmopolitan Magazine, says that: ‘The relationship between the lead characters is beyond unhealthy – it’s the bad-boy relationship we all have at some point […] But women need to remember that being pushed up against a wall in the heat of passion and being pushed into changing their eating, working and sexual habits are two very different types of acquiescence.’

Generally speaking, I think most people believe (before they learn otherwise) that they are able to change one another. In Fifty Shades, Ana tries to mould Grey into her perfect lover, and in return is often emotionally bullied into Grey’s will. In the beginning Grey tells her that he cannot give her ‘hearts and flowers’, but by the end, he’s practically giving her heart-shaped chocolates and bouquets of roses.

According to Markezic, intimacy is also about having an equal relationship with your partner.

‘Intimacy usually requires some manner of compromise between two people, but it’s not a power play; it should never be about one person monopolising the other – or in the case of Christian and Ana, using emotional blackmail to get what you want,’ she says.

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed these books – but purely in the context of fantasy. I love the trilogy because it isn’t real, that the love between Ana and Grey doesn’t exist beyond the last page of Fifty Shades Freed, let alone in reality.

Rhiannon Taylor is a third-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University.

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