The “Love, Honor, and…Obey?” article seems to have created a considerable amount of concern among readers. I’ve been quite surprised by this, despite the worldwide publishing phenomenon from a few years ago (aka “The Decline and Fall of Western Literature”) known as the Fifty Shades trilogy. First a statement about those ridiculous books. I’m truly sorry if you love them, but BDSM/S&M romance is nothing new–so if your sole exposure to it is these really terribly written books, you would benefit from a few Amazon searches. That criticism is solely on the basis of literary merit, by the way.
Judging by the types of messages I got following that article, I see that my comment (“The kinky crowd…”) resonated with a good many of you. And hey, more power to you. I was referring to an inappropriate or nonconsensual context, nothing more.
That said, Stephen King thinks of himself as the Big Mac of literature (paraphrasing here). But if that’s so, Anne Rice is a red snapper Ponchartrain with a lobster tail on the side (suitably spiced, of course). This would make EL James, the person responsible for the Fifty Shades books, the green-tinted French Fry in a packet of otherwise wonderful fries that were served beside the Big Mac. A distorted, nearly counterfeit, revolting item that tries to pass itself off as one of the other wonderful fries. But can’t quite pull it off. We know–“maybe with enough ketchup”. No, not even then. But then a skilled marketing person comes along and reframes the green tint as a positive thing, and soon enough, green fries are all the rage!
Why the brutal rant against these books? One, because the author can’t speak English properly. “I’m like” should never begin a sentence in a book. Further, the lead character, if she shows no growth at all, is not a character, but a cardboard cutout.
Second, and this is why we didn’t just let badly written books go, we should not get messages asking us what’s wrong with “obedience” in a wife! This is not the 1950’s, and there’s no reason to pretend it’s made a comeback.
For the record, if you and your partner have a consensual relationship that is not so common, a bit left-of-center, we are no prudes. More power to you, seriously! Our criticism in that article had nothing to do with serious, committed BDSM-oriented, CONSENSUAL relationships. We believe strongly that if you are both truly happy and fulfilled, embrace what makes it so! You’ve found one of the paths to romantic bliss, and we applaud you! None of this is related in any way to justifying badly written prose.
Humankind has never flourished and advanced in fascist societies. The brave, nay, fearless exchange of ideas and the ready challenge to the status quo has propelled human progress countless times throughout history. We each as individuals have strengths and weaknesses. Companies hire people for those unique strengths and our intimate relationships similarly benefit from the individual strengths we each bring to that relationship. Therefore both people deserve respect and should be valued for what he or she brings to the relationship.
The key here, and the actual point of this article, is that you and your partner make up your own rules. We offer models of successful relationships, ideas that other couples have shared which they felt enabled their longevity and fulfillment. But ultimately what two consenting adults decide is right for them is well outside our right to comment upon or criticize. Perhaps the most significant thing we offer here, though models of success are arguably as important, is a framework. When you and your partner, in your own right minds, determine what form your relationship should take, how far, if at all, left-of-center you wish it to be, that is your decision alone. We can help with the practical, everyday stuff, but only you two can decide what form the relationship should take.
In fact, that is among the most fun, and at times perilous, aspects of a relationship: the negotiation. Anyone who thinks negotiation only belongs in business or politics has never had a serious romantic relationship. Each of us has needs, and for our romantic/intimate/companionship needs, we may seek out a partner. For many of us, though it’s not necessarily so, married life makes sense. We ourselves decided that marriage was ideal for us, so that was our choice. For you it may be different. What matters is that both of you are involved in this decision making process.
Badly-written though they are, the Fifty Shades books illustrate something relevant to this discussion. In the first book, the male lead compensates for his damaged psychology by controlling his environment to a pathological extent. This includes using BDSM in what we consider an unhealthy manner, as the female lead is young, impressionable, not fully aware of what she wants and what she can trust. This may be due to the author’s lack of skill, and the character coming across as two-dimensional, but the character as presented to the reader is clearly not self-aware to the degree necessary for this situation. We question whether the character consents, or if she had, whether she was capable of informed consent in the first place. This makes the relationship exploitative, not far removed from a grown man plying the affection and favors of an underage girl with wine coolers, attention, and assurances that she is special.
In order to have a relationship capable of fulfilling both parties, it must be consensual, and that includes both parties being capable of informed consent. Simply saying, “Yes–because you told me you love me!” is not sufficient.
The message is: If you and your partner both understand what you’re getting into, you both want it, you both continue to find it fulfilling, and you are both old enough, emotionally stable enough, sober enough, to make such decisions in the first place, then you two alone make the rules for your relationship. Please, borrow freely from the experience and successes of others. Those of us who have already tread the path you are embarking upon, already spotted the pitfalls, the potential challenges along the way, and insights that can make things work better, can offer advice that may save you a great deal of frustration and pain. So yes, borrow from that. But please always remember, the only thing any of us has a right to question is whether you or your partner really is informed enough to truly consent. Outside of that, you two decide.
Find happiness, depend on one another, and love each other with a passion and intensity such as there is no tomorrow.