Black, White, and Many Shades of Gray

For me, it first started with the “happily ever after” fantasy world portrayed in Disney books. Then, in high school, I hungrily consumed the works of Judy Blume and Danielle Steel. In college, The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss and Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H.Lawrence were proudly displayed on my bookshelf. From chaste princely kisses to unbridled lust and passion, the sexual liaisons I learned from covered an interesting range of messages and lessons. But today, after a long break from these types of “romance novels,” I succumbed to reading the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.

Can you blame me? Everyone’s been talking about the series for months. My twenty-year-old daughter read the books. My thirty-something-year-old rabbi’s wife got him to read and talk about them by raising $1,000 in donations for a program that provides services to deal with the effects of domestic violence. And, believe it or not, even my husband is reading them (searching for new ideas!). I simply had to learn what all the fuss was about.

So, what’s the big deal? Very simply, the first book – Fifty Shades of Grey – is a fantasy about a taboo sexual relationship and sets the stage for its evolution. It’s the proverbial train-wreck that we can’t tear our eyes from. On the one hand, we are introduced to the twenty-two-year-old, virginal Anastasia who lacks self-confidence, is sexually inexperienced, and has never been in relationship. Immediately upon her deflowering, however, Ana becomes confused, overwhelmed, and conflicted by her easily aroused, multi-orgasmic, and sexually curious self. On the other hand, we meet Christian Grey. Talk about an unrealistically impossible fantasy! He’s twenty-seven, seemingly confident, is drop-dead-gorgeous, is filthy rich, exercises regularly, plays the piano, knows wines, flies planes, has a boat, has multiple homes, has an insatiable sexual appetite, and can “get it up” instantly – and repeatedly. (Sorry, but no Jewish guy I know can compete with this!) So, what’s the problem? I guess I left out one small part… Christian has one MAJOR vice; his “playroom” is a type of sexual torture chamber, thanks to a physically abusive start in life and an S&M centered relationship with a married woman when he was a teenager. He wants and needs to dominate willingly submissive women. The undeniable chemistry and resulting conflicts between Ana and Christian awaken readers’ curiosity on multiple levels and rope them (pun intended!) into rapid page turning to find out what happens next.

In discussing the books with my regular sounding boards, looking for a theme about which to write, I formulated three thoughts. Firstly, if someone chooses to read the book, a commitment should be made to reading the complete trilogy. Only then will the reader see the characters and themes evolve and develop. Though far from great literature and not terribly thought provoking, it’s the only way to understand the story. Secondly, the writing is pitifully bad, the main characters are totally unbelievable, and the plot quickly becomes boringly predictable. Just be prepared and don’t try to look for deep meanings. Lastly, I leave you with a few things to consider…

    • There’s nothing wrong with indulging in guilty reading pleasures once in a while – especially while on vacation. I’m now determined to reread Lady Chatterley’s Lover. A hot book with important messages.


    • While a Christian Grey is as unreal as Prince Charming, it’s perfectly okay to dream about him taking you to places you’ve never been :-).


    • In today’s day and age, girls and women must pursue and take advantage of education, tools, and resources that will enable them to develop their own intelligence, independence (financial, emotional, and physical), and high self-esteem. The combination of these factors WILL contribute to a sense of empowerment and self-confidence. Being in a relationship should enhance – not diminish – these attributes, abilities, and feelings.


    • The exploration of sexual fantasies and techniques are acceptable in a relationship between consenting adults who can communicate openly and honestly with each other.


    • Every woman should have one “bad boy” in her life who pushes her to challenge her boundaries and limits. The results can offer tremendous life-lessons and a deeper self-awareness.


    • Every “good boy” should try being a “bad boy” once in a while. The change of pace can positively alter perspectives.


  • Remember that life involves striving for balance – especially between pursuits of the mind, body, and soul. Going to major extremes or indulging to excess in any of these pursuits can cause serious problems to one’s health, livelihood, or life. 

As we all know, there’s black; there’s white; but there are a lot of shades of gray in between…

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