What we Learn from 50 Shades of Grey
There are some big life lessons we can learn from 50 shades of Grey. On the surface, it may seem there is little to learn about anything at all. A seemingly pointless tale about nothing. Its plot is less complex than eating a banana and its heroine is shallower than a toddler-friendly paddling pool. Being kind you could describe the writing style as elementary.
Understandably, many look down on the book. However, its wild popularity and the undertones of what it signifies is both depressing and scary in this modern age of individualism and empowerment.
Many of us formed an opinion without even reading the book, which is a little bonkers. Consider this scenario:
If I haven’t tasted a type of cheese before, can I tell you if it’s good or not?
Furthermore, lots of people who have eaten this cheese love it. Yet lots of people who have never tasted the cheese tell you it’s awful.
It seems like the people who ate this cheese have some more evidence to make a claim. I guess just eat the cheese and find out.
(Interestingly, I could say the same thing for heroin. People who try it do love it. Maybe the 50 shades haters just worry that they will guiltily love 50 shades and never turn back from simple erotic fiction. If I always listen to those with experience then perhaps it’s time I tried heroin… I’ll just finish this blog post for now.
[Talk about going off on a tangent. “Sorry mum, I was writing a deep essay about 50 shades of grey and what it says about society, by the third paragraph it was imperative to try heroin and not be a hypocrite…” ] )
Anyway, when a massive amount of people do something and there is an even more massive wave of opinion on that thing. It is only natural to be intrigued by what humanity is tying itself in knots about. Thus, I read the book and came to my own conclusions. Besides the awful writing style and this wierd inner goddess person who I wanted to shoot, it was fascinating. With a scientific perspective from evolutionary psychology and anthropology, it demonstrates brilliant lessons on humanity.
Essentially 50 Shades of Grey present’s two profound problems with human nature.
Problem 1 – Confusion of Desires
Evolution dictates that women want rich, tall, powerful and good looking men. They will provide the best chances of success for their genes to survive.
The Simple Plot
The story agrees with evolution tendancies and seems to show that women want a tall, handsome, well dressed and mysterious guy. It helps to be wildly rich from self-made genius business pursuits. Also, the personality and depth of a man’s character seem completely irrelevant.
This guy doesn’t talk much at all and when he does, it is to make very personal demands far outside of any professional relationship. It definitely breaks all HR guidelines that ever existed. He sends expensive and unrequested gifts to her address (invasion of privacy and illegal use of personal data?). He controls who she can and can’t hang out with. Furthermore, he demands she undertakes a rigorous exercise training schedule to be in peak performance for his freakish sex desires.
The lady (our heroine) does not very much at all. She consistently makes the odd inept mistake or gets a bit scared about something or other. She blunders her way into having all her fantasies fulfilled without her really doing anything with some guy she doesn’t even know.
This is the most popular romantic love story of this century.
Hypothetical Plot Twist
Now imagine the same story if the guy was fat instead of fit, short instead of tall, sweaty instead of sharp and haggardly repulsive and evil looking. Also, he is swimming in credit card debt.
Now he still sends her the strange mysterious gifts that she doesn’t ask for. He still doesn’t say very much at all and does a lot of staring. Again he randomly comes out with painful sex demands and requires a contract for the whole thing. He enforces a rigorous training exercise to keep her performance up.
This mans actions, intentions and personality are all the same. Just some guy putting resources into making some woman do weird sex with him (probably less helicopters).
This Mr Grey is the same consciousness inside a different body.
Reading this exact same story (or watching this movie) but with these minor amendments would be on par with the most mentally disturbing horror films of our time. We would have to endure watching this psychologically retarded woman continually submit to this creeps demands. I mean holy crap, you would read the entire book wanting to vomit, everything inside you would scream at her to run away from this vile human being.
Let’s just say people would be wetting their pants for wildly different reasons.
Our Quick Judgements
This hypothetical scenario exposes that we are interested in our initial short term wants. If something fits our initial criteria we think it’s a great choice. As we find out more about this thing we don’t call a time-out. We don’t stop and re-classifying our initial opinion, we find arguments for why our first quick assessment was correct.
“Oh maybe I do like BDSM, Perhaps I’m excited, not anxious. Yea not talking to my friends is cool. Oooh, a new laptop he’s perfect. A contract for how to have Sex, amazing, probably where I was going wrong my whole life, silly me. No more contractless sex ever!“
How it Manifest in Young Minds
This is simply a fundamental problem in human psychology, in my early 20’s it influenced a few of my own dating escapades. ‘The Game’ is a book about how to basically catch a woman’s attention. Keep her interested long enough and quickly keep takings things to a higher level. It equips a man with enough to sleep around and hopefully find love through experience. Spending time actually on dates and with women rather than sitting around not ‘scoring’. But then we have men and women coming at the dating experience with wildly different views. Guys that work out how to tell women what they think they want.
As it turns out I was with women who were expecting some quiet, rich guy to give them gifts and weird sex. Whereas after initially catching their attention and getting them interested I was trying to transition into serious dating. I’m trying to have a deep conversation about life, human idiocies and business etc… I’m certainly not going out of my way at all to impress them with gifts or shit. I was hoping they’d like my personality, not my wallet. And yes, I just had no clue at all about dominating sex…
Needless to say, I had a string of relationships with pretty girls that started seemingly fine. After a few weeks, it became apparent that they had nothing to talk about and my questions about deep topics were frustrating. The lack of ridiculous expensive gifts must have been quite shocking for them. In the bedroom, these girls are just lying there doing nothing like a dead fish. They are expecting to be dominated and I haven’t got a clue what’s going on. Sex requires two people to do stuff right?
As they aren’t talking at all I don’t really have much of a gauge on what was going on in their head. Sometimes, I wondered if there was anything going on in their heads at all, which is never a good thing to think (and not true, humans are always thinking). It’s also not a particularly useful thing to be contemplating about in the middle of having sex either…
“Sexasperated” (exasperated of being unsure what to do in the bedroom). The second lady this happened with, I tentatively suggested maybe she could do something along the lines of “co-operation”. A few days later during the act, I observe her hands in slow motion move to my neck. She has a strange look in her eye like she isn’t really sure what she’s doing. I’m quite sure I was giving a very strong look of ‘What are you doing? No, don’t do that’.
Her hands start to squeeze around my windpipe and I realise I’m being choked. We both stare into the eyes of each other with a big WTF going on. She doesn’t let go. In my surprise, I just carry on thrusting and hope that maybe she stops soon. I can hold my breath for 2 minutes so I’m not too worried. I certainly didn’t enjoy it and the confused looking into each other’s eyes was not sexy.
I’m not sure what people think about when they are doing BDSM but my own brain started to think about how stupid it would be if I just died thrusting away. For all my internal complaints about her behaving like a dead fish, I was then imagining myself flopping about on the floor like a dying fish / human sex robot thing. It was weird.
There was no prior warning, no sensitive discussion about inner feelings of her adventurous desires wanting to be unleashed. Absolutely zero talks about an all-important safety word. (a fairly critical component for this sort of behaviour). Just confused, scared and embarrassed choking. Let’s just say this quickly put out the very damp fire of sexual desire (fire could be better described as a candle [and by candle I mean one of those small tea-lights])
So there we were ‘What The Fucking’ hard, instead of hard fucking. Eventually we just sort of stopped without even pretending to orgasm.
Unlike the heroine of 50 shades, I wisely decided to run away to think about the situation. 10 years later I’ve finally worked it out.
Superficial vs Fundamental Wants
We desire superficial things that we think will correlate with deeper things that we fundamentally need.
I would say my ideal person is doing lots of yoga or sports in general, doesn’t smoke, vegetarian, not bothered about alcohol, perhaps they sing and they are definitely Spanish. (I’m okay at speaking Spanish and want to be fluent). They are certainly not french (anytime I speak French it makes me forget my Spanish).
Yet some of my best relationships were with alcoholic, smoking, french women who don’t exercise at all and were perhaps a little mental. The conversation was always interesting and my opinions got challenged and life was fun. I’ve never even had a relationship with a Spanish lady so it seems odd that it’s so high on my list…
So apparently what I think I want, is not what I actually want.
And for the aforementioned ladies in the weird phase of my late teens. For them, I seemed to fit the entire description of something they were looking for. Actually, those attributes that ticked their boxes are just a few things but don’t speak much about my personality at all. Or at least not in the way they expected.
(side note for guys or girls looking for rich self-made young other halves. Most anyone who is successful in business early in life has no understanding of work-life balance or priorities. They will likely be rather obsessed with working out how to get richer and 10x their current state. They won’t be focussed on spending it on someone else…)
So issue number one that breaking down 50 Shades highlights, our initial judgements under-appreciate personality and over-appreciate all other traits. We can give the benefit of the doubt to a weirdo if it fits enough of our other wants. This is a very destructive and time-wasting behaviour. We fool ourselves into thinking someone could be the one and can waste months of our lives in a relationship destined to fail. We blindly carry on down the path rather than re-assessing and asking awkard questions. We make assumptions of what the person is like. Instead of using conversation to just find out we let time show us that eventually, we are wrong. We can miss out on the chance to be with someone that is perfect whilst we are tied up going nowhere.
Our Terrible Personality Judgements
Personality is very different to a person’s situation, so it is quite unfair that some people have all the opportunities and others don’t. It is a fact that attractive people are thought of as more likeable. And a sad fact that what other people think of you actually affects how you behave.
One of my favourite studies in psychology is one on attractiveness. They tested a really interesting hypothesis. Believing someone is attractive actually makes that person become more attractive.
They told men they would receive a call from a woman and told them how attractive they were beforehand. They recorded this conversation. Afterwards, they played just the women’s side of the tape to a new set of men who judged how attractive she sounded.
The women who had been labelled as attractive were just so. Those labelled as unattractive sounded dull.
I find it mental, that the power of our own thoughts affect other people so strongly
So it’s impossible to make the world less judgmental of people by appearance. But I would say it’s worth trying. I sat next to a guy in science class at college who looked crazy and was generally pretty slobbish in appearance. He was sweaty, greasy, had food on his clothes and was generally repulsive. So I didn’t speak to him for the first two months of class. Eventually, I actually spoke to him about something and turned out he was pretty funny. I still feel guilty about how quickly I concluded he wasn’t worth my time. How I instantly labelled him as a weirdo.
As well as being sexually awkward, younger me was also an arsehole. By the end of the year, this guy was one of my best mates. So much for that sharp ability to quickly judge people. A useful lesson for me to question any expectations my brain throws at me about people.
Just telling people things they can agree with isn’t that useful. And telling you not to judge people is very easy, hopefully, you agree with me. The problem is actually doing it. The very act of judging someone does the nice job of labelling them, so we don’t need to always make a new opinion or contradict our old ones. Humans are judging machines quickly explaining the world around us. We do this on autopilot.
That person you judged as nice and friendly when they picked up your keys. Why would you question that? Well because they might be a rapist.
That catastrophic twat that cut you up in traffic. Why would you question the assumption they are a dick? Because maybe their wife is pregnant and they are racing to a hospital. Perhaps they just sneezed. Maybe the boiler at home has sprung a leak and is about to cause the floor to collapse.
Lesson One Conclusion
Humans quickly judge people using poor indicators. Instead of seeking the truth they just argue themselves deeper into a hole of their own making. We should try and be less judgemental and actually seek the truth as quickly as possible. Thanks 50 shades for demonstrating.
Problem 2 – Decision Paralysis and Chronic Laziness
The second problem with humans that becomes obvious is our fundamental inability to make decisions or do anything difficult.
Essentially 50 shades is the ultimate fantasy of not having to express yourself or do anything slightly difficult at all. Yet somehow you are understood at every moment. Each time she makes a mistake, it works out and she gets a nice new gadget or awesome present. Pretty much the whole book she does nothing and something amazing happens as a result of her not doing anything.
We can all relate to making bad mistakes and being nervous. We can all relate to being unsure of what decision to make. We all have times where we didn’t really take control of things in the hope they would get better. In the world of 50 Shades, by just being average, suddenly all your dreams can come true as a result. Who doesn’t want that?
This relates to the reader more than other heroin lead novels like “The Hunger Games” or “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”. Great heroes, but they go through rather a lot and make a lot of decisions that perhaps realistically we can’t relate to. They go through a lot of work just for the goal of staying alive. We already have that covered anyway.
What does this all mean?
So what does this lazy predisposition mean for humans and why was I getting choked in bed?
(no, I swear it’s not because I was annoying. You may choose to believe otherwise, but I’ll try and make a logical argument for it. Who knows, maybe my brain is just coming up with an elaborate explanation to get away from dealing with my own inadequacies. Either way, as I highlighted earlier, we tell ourselves stories and ignore conflicting evidence so something in this blog is correct regardless.)
The human condition to do the easy thing. Evolution makes us optimise for the efficient option with the least physical or mental difficulty. We are engineered to be as lazy as possible and conserve energy for high priority things. But when it comes to long timelines our priorities aren’t obvious and it all get’s confusing.
Essentially we don’t like making decisions or doing anything hard if we don’t have to. We just want to be understood and have everything done for us. Most of all we don’t like being wrong.
This is odd, as we happily make very quick decisions without thinking too much and take the easy option. But then as we go down that path we chose, when proven wrong, we work very hard to try and prove ourselves right. Taking responsibility for our bad idea is the last thing we want to do.
Weird Shit that our Brain Does
“It is the result of being misunderstood and someone you love not reading your mind. The more you love someone the bigger the sulk because it hurts when they can’t read your mind and do this thing you have failed to explain that you want. Once started it is easier to just lock down and blame the other person and not talk about it than to express your frustrations in a way that the other person can understand, by being silent we are correct because our view can’t by challenged, by expressing our true feelings we open ourselves up to being wrong and our mistakes being identified so we just shut up and get annoyed.”Allain de Botton
Fantasize about Rape
40% of people actually fantasize about being raped, and not the type of rape where anything really bad happens. Being dominated into having sex without any difficulties such as getting to know someone, messaging, commuting etc… Rape of convenience.
I have my own rape story relating to this, but maybe for another time…
Insane Concepts of Statistics
Millions of people throw money away on the lottery when they have a higher chance of being struck by lightning. But they don’t regularly put money in their savings or do something like entrepreneurship. It’s a simple fantasy to solve all their problems without doing anything difficult so they choose to believe it’s a good strategy.
Fear of Mild Discomfort
We are more scared to approach an attractive person at a bar than we are of living a life without a soulmate.
Taking the Easy Option
My issues were a result of painting a picture of myself to these girls. Giving someone the easy option of not really doing anything difficult themselves. Just walking down the relationship path hoping that something good happens.
“Sure maybe this guy seems to be into philosophy and talking about changing the world and things but he’s rich and maybe next week he buys me diamonds. If I pretend to be interested in what he’s talking about maybe he will change soon.“
It’s a pretty easy decision. It doesn’t involve contemplating the fact that every sign tells you that you made the wrong decision.
On my side, I get false feedback that they interested. They keep listening and agreeing. When someone has sex with you that’s traditionally a sign you’re doing something right.
Neither of us attempts challenging our brains judgements or our partner.
Just walk down the path your on and hope it ends up being the path you wanted to be. It doesn’t involve having a difficult conversation about the fact that you aren’t right for each other.
The further you go the more obvious it becomes wrong, but the more invested you are in it and the harder it is to turn back, so just going with the next thing seems fine. You can stay on that path until it becomes so blindingly obvious that without even saying anything you can both look at each other and know that you want to break up, or just not bother texting each other… such an easy modern solution to an age-old problem.
Note – This gets much worse in long-term relationships or marriages and is why messy break-ups happen. Clarifying what you want up-front and being a candid communicator as things change is the recipe to avoid disaster. Doing something you haven’t been asked to do in the hope that they do something you haven’t asked them to do, is a recipe to get pissed off.
Why is 50 Shades so popular and at the same time so hated?
Essentially 50 shades is just the ultimate fantasy of not having to express yourself or do anything slightly difficult at all. You do nothing difficult at all and then amazing things happen. Your initial judgements don’t get challenged. Your indecision gets rewarded. And your fear of confrontation is an asset.
All your dreams come true by sitting around being a lemon.
Who doesn’t want that? People that like intellectually difficult reading and challenges. People that feel you need to earn things and not be given them. This book pisses us off for painting a false picture of the world and rewarding people for being useless instead of learning from their problems.
To be honest, I kind of enjoyed reading it but I wouldn’t want someone else to read it and feel they can be that way. Thus it is the ultimate guilty secret that sold so many copies it kind of became public.
- Top Strategies For Better Decisions – Make the best decision upfront to avoid future problems
- The Perfect Business Partner Manifesto – How to have great business relationships
- When To Quit – Sometimes you need to carry on and persevere, sometimes you need to pack it in
- Mental Health and Love – Enlightening podcast interview with a mental health coach Petra Velzeboer
5Dion, K., Berscheid, E., & Walster, E. (1972). What is beautiful is good. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24(3), 285-290. doi:10.1037/h0033731
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