Lessons I Learned from 50 Shades of Grey

Recently, I got a lot of mileage about two articles I wrote for www.yourtango.com about the 50 Shades Trilogy. It all started when Your Tango posted story ideas and one of them had to do with why women are so attracted to the Trilogy, with the supposition being that women are sexually repressed.  That didn’t sit right with me. I didn’t think the attraction to the books was about sex, although some aspects of the “kinky” sex were definitely attractive. I wanted to help men understand what it was women were so attracted to in Christian Grey so they wouldn’t chalk it all up to being a billionaire, and take themselves out of the running. I then wrote an article for women about how if they want more satisfying intimacy with their partner, then they must stop comparing real people to fictional characters in books, movies and television shows.

I was very surprised by the negative feedback from men regarding the articles and the lack of response from the women. I’ll briefly summarize the points in the article, the feedback received and then my observations of the issues. If you’d like to see for yourself, here they are: For Men and For Women.

The things women liked about Christian Grey were the foreplay to drive Anastasia wild, how knowledgeable he was about sex, the way he made her the center of his universe, how he was possessive in order to protect her, and how he learned and modeled the fine art of negotiation. What I told women they needed to remember is that no “real” man will ever measure up to a fictitious character in a book; the love a good woman does not turn the “bad” boy into a prince; a woman needs to know her own body; be direct – men can’t read between the lines; and a woman needs to first know herself and then, communicate that honestly to her man instead of trying to be the woman she thinks he wants.

The complaints I got, all from the men, were centered around putting all the responsibility for sex on the man. Men said women don’t initiate sex or get creative with locations, positions or moves. They say women hold all the cards in relationships and if the women doesn’t like what the man is offering, then he’s done. They also thought expecting a man to be like Christian Grey is totally unrealistic. (I agree.) The men were also angry that my suggestions to women didn’t include advising them how they could be more sexual in their relationships. I was even accused of writing the articles totally from a woman’s point of view. That one made me chuckle since I don’t know how to do it any other way. I am a woman. That is not to say I don’t work very hard to understand the male point of view but I cannot be what I am not.

My goal is always to help men and women understand each other better and to help people get along better with the important people in their lives. I thought helping men understand why women are so attracted to Christian Grey might help them think of things they could do to deepen their relationship with their partner. On the other hand, for women, I wrote about the things, if practiced, would definitely create a desire for more sex with their partner. For a woman, sex is a mental experience. In order to get her body doing what she wants, her mind has to be properly aligned.

What really stuck me about all this dialog is the amount of pain and hurt that’s out there regarding relationships. One man even said he has given up on relationships completely and plans to remain single. Why is there so much pain? It’s because men and women don’t “get” each other and when they don’t, their minds have to fill in that void. When things don’t make sense to us, our brains strive to find explanations. And often the explanations and motives we assign for behavior of the opposite sex are extremely unkind and largely untrue.

Some examples I heard is one man who complained women use sex as a weapon. They will use it to entice a man and lure him in but once she has him, she loses interest in sex. There was also a woman commenting who accused men of only being interested in sex and not a woman’s well-being. While I am sure we can all find examples of people who resemble those remarks, I know it is not true for the majority of men and women out there. Most people have genuine motives but are misunderstood. Once those negative motives are assigned, it is extremely difficult to come back from that and see or hear the truth.

Yes, almost all of us have been hurt by someone who trampled our feelings, our trust or our wallets but that doesn’t make those experiences the norm. It also doesn’t mean the motivations you assigned to those people who hurt you were even true. It was likely your brain attempting to make sense of a situation you couldn’t understand because the opposite sex operates in mysterious ways.

One prime example, albeit an over generalization, is what happens in communication between men and women. Women are more likely to try to anticipate their man’s needs. If he asks her a direct question such as, “What do you want to do tonight,” many women will respond with an “I don’t know.” This may truly mean, “I don’t know” or it may mean “I’m waiting to see what you have on your mind,” or it could even mean, “I really want to go to dinner and the movies but I’m waiting for you to figure that out!” Why do women do this? It’s because they are nurturers who are willing to put their desires on the back burner for other people in their life. It also means that many women believe that because they are blessed with the ability to read others fairly accurately, that her male counterpart can do that too. And if he lacks that ability, she assigns him the motive of being selfish or worse, of not loving her. So a woman might be thinking, he doesn’t love or understand me and the man might be thinking, she can’t even make up her mind or worse, she is completely dishonest and setting me up.

Men, on the other hand, are fairly direct in their communication. They typically mean exactly what they say but women are always trying to read between their lines when they don’t actually  have any.

A man might conclude that his woman isn’t interested in sex, when the reality is she is dying for closer intimacy but needs the romance first to know she is truly cared  for. Women are taught from an early age to only be sexual with people who genuinely care about her. Sex for sex’s sake is not usually the pursuit of women, although that isn’t always true. However, a man whose woman seems uninterested will assign all sorts of negative motivations to this behavior because he doesn’t understand what’s beneath it.

I say all this to say that if men and women in relationships would stop judging each other and filling in the blanks and instead, approach each other with an objective curiosity about what is behind a particular behavior, then greater understanding and improved relationships will be the result. Try listening for understanding instead of blaming and criticizing. Just doing that will put many relationship counselors and coaches out of business. The next step will be learning the fine art of negotiation, which will be the subject of a future article.

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