Fifty Shades of Relationships

In my writing, the subject of human interaction – dysfunctional or otherwise – tends to be a central theme.  I admit that putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) provides an outlet for me to work through my own past and present experiences or to explore the different aspects of the interpersonal relationships that I observe.

I’ve read a lot through the years and my taste in books runs the gamut from hard science fiction to romance.  The books I love the most are the ones that actually dig into the motivations behind people fall for one another.  In other blogs, I have stated my preference for a good anti-hero or heroine over the obvious “knight in shining armor” or perfect woman.  I find perfect people boring.  Give me a tortured soul who overcomes the pain and imperfection of their life to find acceptance and love from an equally imperfect person any day.  That said, the “pretty woman” stereotype or the “reformed by love bad boy” types of tales don’t really resonate with me either.  I’m not sure if it’s the suspension of disbelief that trips me up or that I’ve seen too many good people burned by these sorts of people to truly believe it works out in real life.  The part that I find most difficult to accept in that type of story is the nice neat “and they lived happily ever after.”

Relationships are messy and there are so many factors that come into play as to why they do or don’t work out. No two relationships are the same, no matter what the negative tapes in our heads may say to us at times. I’ve come to realize that making sense of someone else’s relationship is pointless, especially when often times the people actually in the relationship have trouble figuring it out themselves.

Lately, there has been a lot of press about the Fifty Shades of Grey books and movie.  I’ve seen the movie and am trying very hard to read the books.  It’s not the subject matter that is causing me difficulty in getting through the novels, it’s her writing style.  Simply put, I can only assume she landed her book contracts based on the story and topic rather than her skill as an author.  There are at least four authors in the Second Wind Publishing stable that I can think of off the top of my head that could write circles around E.L. James and for the record – I don’t think I am one of them, so save your tomatoes and rotten fruit to throw elsewhere.

Some of my friends find the Christian Grey/Anastasia Steele relationship to be abusive and it offends them.  Some find it incredibly romantic and erotic.  Some, like me, fall somewhere between those two viewpoints.  Weird as I am, I find the choice in character names rather intriguing and wonder if E.L. James did it deliberately (in which case my opinion of her as a writer stepped up a notch) or if it was a complete coincidence.  That observation aside, I think the relationship between these two characters could tip in either direction.  It becomes a question of perspective, choices, and personal filters.  What is abuse to me may be normal for you.  What is romantic to you may be false sentiment to me.

As an example, I dated a guy who somewhere around the three months mark showed up for one of our dates with a grocery bag over flowing with fresh grown vegetables from his garden with the words, “I love you” written in black marker on the outside of the bag. He was working two jobs at the time, one as a waiter at night, the other was trying to get his general contractor company off the ground, also while working on his business degree.  In his spare time, what little there was, he saw me and gardened. Most of my friends (male and female) found this gesture to be rather lame.  In their minds, a bouquet of flowers would have been more appropriate.  To me, it was an incredibly romantic gesture.  Any guy can walk into a flower shop or grocery store and buy a bunch of flowers.  My interpretation was that it was a true from the heart gift.  He was the type that grew his vegetables from seeds, so each one of those vegetables represented time, effort, and care that he wished to share with me.  The simple words, “I love you” written on the outside of a brown grocery bag said more to me than any Hallmark card ever could.

To further illustrate, I also dated a guy who was full of the big gestures: flowery romantic cards, expensive bouquets of flowers delivered to my office, clothing, jewelry, expensive dinners, and weekend get-aways.  The problem was a lack of depth to the relationship.  He was never really interested in getting to know me on anything but a superficial level.  I felt like an accessory.  If I needed him, there was always an excuse for why he couldn’t be there for me and was usually followed up by a bunch of roses sent to my office.  When I left him, my friends and certain family members didn’t understand why I was okay with losing him.  Explaining that you “can’t lose what you never had” fell on deaf ears and got nothing but blank stares.

I was recently talking to a close friend about their relationship woes and shared my observation that the two of them spend more time talking about their relationship and the problems (perceived and actual) they have than they do just simply being in the relationship. It’s constantly either really good or really bad, it’s never just there. There is another couple I know that, individually, are wonderful people.  Together, the word that comes to mind to describe their relationship is apathetic.  They have little in common aside from their children and they seem to barely tolerate one another’s presence.  There’s no real fighting or roller coaster of emotions there, as I said, apathy is the primary emotion you get from them sprinkled with a hint of contempt from time to time.  Will either couple make it long term?  I don’t know and truly my opinion really doesn’t count.  Again, it comes down to perspective.  If this is what the two of them see as a normal functional relationship, perhaps they will.  To me, both situations border on the mentally and/or verbally abusive end of the spectrum.  I’m sure if one asked either couple if they saw their relationship as abusive at least one or both of the partners would disagree.  Again, it’s all about the perspective and personal filters.

When I write about relationships, I struggle with the happily ever after at times.  The more complex the character, the harder I have to try to bring out the little things between the couples that provide clues to a reader on how they came to be together in the first place and what holds them together as they go through whatever conflicts or obstacles my Muse decides to toss at them.  Knowing that the reader has their own perspective and filters that are applied to the story can make it a challenge to give two flawed diamonds a happy ending that doesn’t come across as forced. Writing a happily ever after for a couple of perfect rhinestones is easy.

As I stated earlier, I am still struggling to finish the first book in the Fifty Shades series.  I really hope the first book and the movie have the same endpoint because whatever criticisms I have of E.L. James’ writing in general, I have to say the movie ended the only way my filters could accept based on the character development.

Mairead Walpole is the pen name for a somewhat introverted project and contract manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her belt. In her spare time, Mairead writes paranormal romance among other genres. Her first novel, “A Love Out of Time” is available through Second Wind Publishing ( or


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2 responses to “Fifty Shades of Relationships

  1. Great post. Relationships are messy, but fiction somehow has turn clashing notes into memorable music.

  2. Well said! This is why I like using older characters, who have some rich relational experience under their belts. The complexity of their relationships is even deeper and richer given their inevitable histories.

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