I’m sure that it wouldn’t take much for you to figure out what this post is about. I mean, everyone and their brother has written about it; their brother, their brother’s friend, the friend’s cousin, the cousin’s sister, the sister’s mom – you get the picture.
In the interest of full disclosure I need to preface this by saying that I didn’t do any sort of in-depth research on the subject. I have watched interviews with the author and cast of the movie. I’ve read excerpts from the book and clips from the movie. I’ve read articles for and against the books and movie(s). I’ve talked to friends who both like and dislike the series.
What I see a lot of is people saying that it’s a love story. A tale of two people who meet and fall so madly in love that it hurts to be apart. How romantic it is to have these consensual relations that gratify a person (yes, that was meant to be singular). An instance of a woman allowing this man to have a relationship in his brokenness – how brave, how courageous of her.
While that’s an interesting perspective, I see something different. I see a young, naïve and innocent (I don’t pretend to know how innocent she is of mind, but my understanding is that she is pretty darn innocent in body) woman coming upon some pretty big milestones (standing on a precipice, if you will) both professionally and personally. I also see a man who is damaged and broken (how could you not be broken with all the things that happened to him?), a man who chose to adapt in response to the hurt and the void by becoming consumed with control and emotional recklessness.
The woman becomes enraptured with this damaged man – engrossed in everything he does and says. He, on the other hand, becomes enamored with her innocence, this phenomenon entirely foreign to him. This is a man who has lived his life a certain way for so many years, so much so that he has closed himself off entirely to those caring and compassionate emotions.
Once he becomes abusive sexually (I understand that it is called erotica, but she was not comfortable with it and he was so it was done) she ends it. After a while she comes back to him saying that the pain of being with him was better than the pain of being away from him. This biggest problem I have with that statement (besides the obvious) is that the first part of that is meant physically. She’s saying that although he caused her physical pain that was uncomfortable enough to leave him over, she was willing to endure it because she wanted him overall. Guys, that is not romance. That is abuse.
It’s also addiction. She was addicted to him and everything he stood for and vice versa. That sort of thing is what a heroin (or any other drug) addict says. Of course not verbally, what the addict is saying is that the drug is more important than life. That they would rather die than go without.
I don’t see this story as a story of romance and love. I see it as a story of addiction. A story of a broken and damaged man being allowed to stay in that dark place for the sake of the idea of love. I think the author was trying to show that everyone is lovable, that everyone deserves love and is made better by it. The thing, though, is that he’s not made better by it and neither is she. I have read detailed synopsis’ of each book (I understand that it’s not the same as actually reading them, but it was a more detailed cliff notes version of the books) and even in the last one he has not really changed. Yes, he loves her (at least in the end), of that I have no doubt. But if she loves him as he is and allows him to stay in that place, is that really love? And if he loves her but not enough to deal with the issues that are slowly breaking her and their relationship, is that really love?
Love is supposed to make us better, carry us through. Love is hard, yes. Love does not keep a record of wrongs, yes. But love is also a light. In a true and real loving relationship, that love will transform a person and pull them from the wrong and dark places. I am not saying that in order for it to be real love she has to change him. She shouldn’t have to change him at all – that has to be all him. But those things he harbored and held onto – all that pain and hurt – needed to be dealt with. I get coming as you are, but I also get that with that is supposed to come a transformation. Not because it’s required but because that’s what love does. Love heals hurts. Love corrects wrongs. Love changes our view and even sometimes how we are and how we react.
If this was a story about how she helped him (notice that I didn’t say that she did the work) come up out of the pit to overcome those monsters and demons, I’d be more willing to say this is a love story.
As it is, I see this as a story about addiction and pain and never being able to be rid of your past. I see the lesson of it as never being free of your past but just accepting it and living with it. That’s not a plot I can get behind. Mostly because they dress it up as love and romance, but it’s not. It’s something darker and murkier. It’s pain and it’s misery with the face of cheer. Putting a band-aid over a gaping wound doesn’t make it go away. It needs to be treated and dealt with. Sometimes it needs to be babied and watched over. After that is supposed to come healing. Where is the healing here? In the last book he still has the same issues. While he may be more capable of other emotions in the end and he may have made more room for her and her needs, he hasn’t gotten rid of all the other crap. This story is sad. It’s sad because it parades as something good and pure and true – it’s upheld as the ideal relationship. That, to me, is horrifying.
The other reason I can’t get behind it is because we aren’t cursed to live life consumed by our mistakes and our past. We have been given a way to move on from our past and our hurts and our demons to live a life filled with light and joy. We are not our mistakes and we don’t need to let them define us. There is grace and there is mercy and there is forgiveness. That, that is what love does. Our loving Savior died on the cross in the purest and most sacrificial love displayed to be sure that we had that. To be sure that we could overcome. To be sure the light was able to shine in the darkness and pull us out. Our mistakes and our hurts and our brokenness become our testimonies, not our shadows.
We all have the availability of a future free from our past where our brokenness can be restored and our chains can be broken. We can be made new. Real love; real, honest and true love gives us that. That should be the popular lesson in the world.