- The books: I read about 50 pages of the first one, felt sick to my stomach, and gave up.
- The movie: I have no intention of seeing it.
- I am not in favor of censorship—if you can get through it, go ahead and read it.
- I know it is fiction.
- I know that many good people enjoy a BDSM lifestyle and that is their right.
- I know that many people who read the books and who will go to see the movie got very hot and horny over them. I have no problem with that.
Here is what I have a problem with—romanticizing abuse.
The movie is opening on Valentine's Day, a holiday designed (largely by florists and chocolate manufacturers) to celebrate love. What happens over and over and over in the 50 Shades books is not love, it is emotional manipulation and abuse. I am not offended by the sex. I am not offended by the physical stuff—whatever you want to call it. What disturbs me is the way Christian Grey treats Ana—especially in the beginning. He is a rude, controlling, abusive stalker and what scares the living crap out of me is that so many women make excuses for him and view his behavior as being motivated by love.
Confession time: I have never been in a relationship as dramatic as the one in those books but I have had a couple of experiences with men who scared me with their controlling behavior. I was lucky—I saw what was happening early in the relationships and got out but it wasn't easy. It wasn't easy in no small part because my female friends told me I was crazy to let those men go!!!
The first one: When I was in college I met him at a party. Right from the beginning he was incredibly passionate and romantic. He wanted to spend every spare minute together. He frequently urged me to dress differently. I, like most college students in the 70s, lived in jeans and t-shirts. He wanted me to wear dresses and “girly” things. He sent flowers with notes that were embarrassingly graphic. He had no boundaries when it came to appropriate behavior and, after a few months of this, I was exhausted and fed-up. When I told my girlfriends about it several of them thought I was crazy. “He's so handsome!” He was. “He's so crazy about you!” Crazy being the operative word. Finally, I got up the courage, called him and told him I thought we needed to cool it for awhile. He argued passionately at first but then his whole attitude changed and he started screaming at me, calling me every filthy name he could think of—a tirade unlike any I have heard before or since. I finally hung up on him. I was lucky that time—he went from adoring me to complete indifference. I never saw him again.
The second one: Ten years later when I lived in Texas. I met a man in a pub where my friends and I hung out. He was a big, tough, ex-military south Texas petroleum engineer who went to Texas A&M on a football scholarship. Within months he was spending more time at my house than at his and finally he moved in with me. The first sign of trouble was when he stopped wanting us to do things with my friends. I worked for a big company—Enron, actually—and had a lot of friends who hung out together, went to happy hours, concerts, clubbing, to the beaches in Galveston on the weekend. In the beginning he joined us and seemed to have fun but before long he started complaining that he never got any alone time with me. We lived together—we had plenty of time alone.
My friends stopped calling me and inviting us places. At least I thought they did until the day I walked into the house and caught him erasing a message by one of them asking us to meet for happy hour. He also would make comments about things that happened in my past that I was sure I never told him. When I said that he'd say, “sure you told me that—you probably had too much to drink.” Then one day I noticed one of my dresser drawers was messy and, as I folded stuff, I realized there were several old journals—journals I kept through college and for years after—in that drawer. He had obviously been reading them because all the strange things he mentioned were in those books. When I told one of my friends she said, “Oh, that's so romantic—he wants to know everything about you!” I didn't find that romantic at all.
Then the physical intimidation started. I am a big woman—5'8” and have always been pretty muscular. But he was 6'4” with a 48” chest. He would back me into corners, and behave in a menacing manner. He would say, “Don't worry, I'd never hit you” in a tone of voice that implied the opposite. Luckily for me, I'm pretty good at not taking crap. It's strange when I think about it but when I'd look him in the eyes and say, “You better not try it” he'd back down. Like I said, I was lucky.
Whenever we had a fight and I was absolutely furious he would try to calm me down by saying, "Maybe we should get married. I think it would be good to start planning a wedding." In his mind that was what every woman wanted. I was so mad I wanted to clobber him and that would be his response.
I asked him to move out and he did but wouldn't give back my key. He called several times a day and would turn up on my doorstep any time he pleased. I was going through other changes in my life and I decided to move. I packed up and, within a week, was living in Camden, Maine. But he always got my new number wherever I was and kept calling. I found out one of my girlfriends was keeping him informed. When I moved to Marblehead I didn't tell him or her and the calls stopped.
Conclusion: Over the years, when I have talked about those relationships to other women there have always been a few who would say, “He must have loved you so much—I wish someone was that wild about me.” Unbelievable.
My stories are nothing like the 50 Shades story. I only tell them to illustrate my point—crazy, possessive, controlling, stalker-like behavior is not about love, it is about mental illness. It is abuse and it is NOT romantic. End of story.
Thanks for reading.