Tanya Younce, M.Ed., LPCC


Making the Ordinary Extraordinary – My Take On Fifty Shades

I fell victim to the curiosity of one of the most talked about book trilogies this past month – “Fifty Shades of Grey.”  From what I saw and read in the news, blogs, and various articles, these books were being touted as “mommy porn” but that they were also “spicing up marriages everywhere.”  So, being the ever-inquisitive therapist and relationship guru that I am, I decided to read them (for research purposes only!  LOL!) to see what all the buzz was about.
To give you a quick summary, this is a story of a relationship between a Seattle-based, 28 year old multimillionaire named Christian Grey and a virginal recent college graduate, 22 year old Anastasia (Ana) Steele.  He originally is attracted to her as a potential “submissive”, proposing an offer (which she later rejects) to be her “dominant” by way of co-creating a contract that specifies rules and limitations of the so-called “relationship.”  She is taken off-guard when she finds herself strangely attracted to his domineering personality, and he is equally taken off-guard when he not only learns that this would be her first sexual experience, but that she is the first to question and challenge his sense of authority.  The story unfolds to reveal many other firsts for Christian, as well as for Ana, which ultimately leads to one of the most intimate and beautiful love stories I’ve ever read.
Despite the surface of the story being built upon sensual escapades between Christian and Ana, I found six other deeper developments that take place that actually may be at the heart of why some marriages are benefiting so much from the story.
The feeling of being cared for
Throughout the trilogy, Christian and Ana demonstrate their desire to take care of each other.  Of course, Christian is wealthy enough to provide Ana with many material items — fine clothing, a laptop, a blackberry, a car (actually two!), and many other gifts.  But he also tends to her when she’s sick, hungry, lonely, cold, scared, or in need of his protection (who wouldn’t want that??).  He repeatedly tells her that it’s his desire TO take care of her.  Ana, in turn, takes care of Christian by providing repeated reassurance of his essential goodness, gentle touch, thoughtful gifts, and the safety and unconditional love he needed to finally trust her and become vulnerable.
The Dance of Anger
You learn very quickly that Christian is a controlling and often angry man when anyone causes harm to him or those for whom he cares; he likes to be in complete control.  At first, Ana is intimidated by this, but as their relationship develops, she learns that she, too, can express her anger toward him when he has crossed her boundaries and make him better understand her needs and the (often) inappropriateness of his demands.  It’s through these honest expressions of passionate emotions that they consequently bare their true Selves, learn the give-and-take of needs, and ultimately grow closer.
The Equality of Power and Limits
The original contract that Christian proposes to Ana explains general rules that he expects his submissives to follow, as he will be the one in Power.  But it does allow for identification of “soft” and “hard” limits – soft ones being ones the submissives can negotiate, hard ones being ones that are non-negotiable.  The relationship he ends up having with Ana shows Christian that all of his previous rules had to be taken off the table and, instead, become an evolving recognition of and respect for sharing power and identification of each others’ soft and hard limits. 
Open and Honest Communication
One of the best aspects of this relationship, in my opinion, is the constant communication that Christian and Ana have.  Whether it’s via email, text, phone, or face-to-face, the attentiveness they show each other is a paramount ingredient in demonstrating how important they are to each other.  If one is quiet, the other tunes into it and asks what’s going on, inviting them to share whatever might be bothering them.  Each of them create a safe environment that ultimately helps them open up and be honest about what they’re thinking or feeling, bringing them much closer together.
Sexual Intimacy and Creativity
OK, so not everyone will be comfortable with the limits that Christian and Anastasia take their sexual relationship to, but the fact is that they are willing to take some safe risks and, again, tune into each others’ needs.  Christian realizes Ana’s need for what he calls “vanilla” sex (i.e. making love), and Ana sees Christian’s need for what she calls “kinky fuckery.”  Both explore each end of the spectrum with enticement and curiosity, and they end up creating a happy medium — a private and intimate way of loving each other physically that is unique and mutually gratifying.  It’s a dirty-little-secret kind of lifestyle that keeps the fire of their relationship going throughout the trilogy.
Self Revelation and Acceptance
All of us have baggage that is brought into relationships, and many have serious demons that have destroyed them.  In this story, Christian is one of those people.  He has hardened himself into a power-hungry, over-protective, uber-controlling individual because of an emotionally and physically abusive childhood he endured early on.  This is where the title comes in, as he warns Ana that he’s “fifty shades of fucked up.”  When she hears this, she has immediate compassion for Christian but also realizes that he’s going to be a complicated and difficult man to get close to.  As the story develops, she helps him slowly and safely break down his defenses in order to better understand the roots of his personality and behavior.  It took a lot of patience, gentle prodding, consistent affirmation, and reassurance on her part to get him to do this, but it eventually allowed him to experience true love and happiness for the first time in his life.
I really think this is a good story to use as a springboard to some candid discussions together about the various qualities of your relationship.  What limits can be pushed in your relationship?  What risks are you willing to take?  Can you find a way to be more honest about your feelings and needs and express them openly with your partner?  Where can you provide more care and attention for each other?  Are you sharing power and control in a way that’s mutually agreeable?  Do you know what each others’ soft and hard limits are, and are you respecting them?
So despite the books being marketed as an erotica trilogy (that are actually inspired by the author’s obsession with the Twilight series, btw), I believe they also demonstrate how an intimate relationship can make the ordinary extraordinary, pushing one beyond their own limits in a safe and loving way, that draws in a richer and more emotionally, physically, intellectually, and spiritually stimulating interaction with another human being.  There is a HUGE amount of power in that kind of connection and it’s very rare.  If only we were ALL able to get that close!

As always, I welcome any reactions to or experiences from my perspective on this and other subjects. 


12 Comments to Making the Ordinary Extraordinary – My Take On Fifty Shades

  1. CC's Gravatar CC
    April 1, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    I have to say, I think I enjoyed YOUR BLOG more than I enjoyed the trilogy. I find it amazing that you picked out so many things RIGHT about the relationship while everyone else is picking out everything wrong with it (to begin with 🙂

  2. April 1, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Thanks so much, CC….I've always been good at finding a diamond in the rough. 😉

  3. April 14, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed your comments a lot Tanya and they gave me a lot to think about. I am in the middle of the second book now. It's so easy to dismiss "romance" novels as fluff but there is certainly more going on beneath the surface. Thank you for so clearly articulating what that is.

  4. Sue's Gravatar Sue
    April 14, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    Great post! I'm only 1/4 through the second book and I'm finding the character development and relationship dynamics the more interesting aspect of the series thus far. Unfortunately, in today's society, most people can't look beyond the surface – in this case, the erotica component – to see that this can actually be a beautiful love story.

  5. April 14, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    Thank you to both of you for your kind comments! Yes, I actually saw this as an incredibly romantic love story and illustrated the process a relationship sometimes has to go through to become a truly intimate one. I'm glad I'm not the only one who saw through the "mummy porn"!!! :)~

  6. Anonymous's Gravatar Anonymous
    April 15, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Such food thought. Talking points for couples and friends.

  7. April 15, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    I LOVE your review… I was overwhelmed by the depth of these books and absolutely felt that there were so many levels of "stuff", that it's impossible to sum them up in anything. I became more and more annoyed, as I went along, at the Erotic genre label because these books are not even about sex. In fact, by book three I simply saw their sexual scenes as something of a metaphor for what could be any coping mechanism… (his past)

    thank you for such an insightful post!

  8. April 17, 2012 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Thank you for writing this article, and how very refreshing to read an article touching on the actual romance and depth of the story. Very well thought out and I must agree on all points. I am revolted by the term "Mommy Porn" as I am a mother and have been reading romance and erotica of all kinds since I was a teenager and will continue to do so until I'm no longer able to hold a book. It's not new nor is the Dominant/Submissive roles in a relationship. They're there everyday in many ways, not just sexually and have the potential to fuel the fire in the bedroom no matter how long you've been with your partner.

  9. April 17, 2012 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for your comments! Talefeather, you cracked me up when you said you'd read them 'til the day you were no longer able to hold a book. 🙂 I've been reading them from an early age too, and it takes on different meanings at different stages of your life, since age, life events, new insights, will obviously shift one's perspective. And Misty, I felt exactly the same way…kept thinking "Wait…there's something deeper here. How in holy hell do I capture it?" 😉 Thank you so much for your compliments. ♥

  10. Anonymous's Gravatar Anonymous
    April 27, 2012 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    Hi Tanya, I so enjoyed your professional perspective of the Trilogy. I'm 1/3 into book 2. I relate to all you pointed to in this story. Many of the concepts mirror my own relationship with my husband. This is my second marriage, I left my first for him and we've been together for 17 years. My husband behaved very much like Christian w/o the contract and red room of pain. My husband kinda stalked me and posessed and worshipped me and I was swept away. We are as much in love now as we were 17 years ago. It's a wonderful, alive feeling that I wish everyone could experience. This trilogy is a wonderful thing because it provides the fantasy which is important to "juice up" ones sexuality, and it is connecting women from all walks to share 🙂 I don't have any of the profile accts, I commented on your blog on the FB Fifty Shades page. Jeanmarie

  11. Sara's Gravatar Sara
    May 4, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, thank you for this amazing, insightful and spot-on analysis of this trilogy that I literally cannot stop reading. Yes, the sex is exciting and beautiful and fun; however, it is the individual journeys of Ana and Christian and the narrative of their journey together that makes this such a powerful and moving story. It is so fulfilling to read how they evolve into two people who are so emotionally and physically attuned to each other as they learn about connecting and unconditional love. I intend to keep re-reading because it just makes me so happy!

  12. May 4, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    Thank you both (Anonymous and Sara) for your great feedback. I am SO GLAD that it resonated the same way to others as it did to me. I'm re-reading them now and almost finished with book 1. I'm picking up a little more than I did the first time (probably because I was so distracted by the sexual content – lol!). I'm hoping this launches more stories like this, as it's obviously had a HUGE impact on so many. 🙂 Thanks again. –Tanya

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