By Ruth Meyer
There's been a lot of talk lately about this whole 50 Shades of Grey thing, now that the trailer is out for the upcoming Valentine’s Day movie release. I haven't read the book, nor do I ever intend to do so. I will not see the movie when it comes out, either. I've seen reviews and critiques, though, and have read the arguments both for and against it. Some women claim it's a great storyline about a man with a troubled past and a woman who loves him enough to stick with him. Yet I've also read enough to know it's very erotic. If it earned the nickname "Mommy Porn," after all, doesn't that say something? And this isn't depicting a wholesome love between a man and his wife. Oh, no. This is an unmarried man who wants a very young woman to enter into a contract with him for certain types of sexual acts. To put it quite simply, it’s not something I should be reading.
When it comes down to it, though, are the romance books that I do read really any different from 50 Shades of Grey? Now don't get me wrong. I find it appalling that women gobble up this type of "literature." I've read enough reviews to know it's poorly written from a composition standpoint, and I find it disgusting that a poorly written erotic novel can be a best seller while good writers with wholesome ideas struggle to find someone to publish their books. It says a lot about our society. But I digress.
Ah, romance. Women are drawn to it naturally. We crave the feeling of being desired and pursued. We long to be swept off our feet. We love the courting phase when our sweethearts would do anything for us. And once we've been married and have a kid or two, we have a tendency to wonder where the romance of our early years has gone. So we read books or watch movies that make us swoon. You see, that's where a woman's sexual temptations usually lie-- in her mind. When she fantasizes about the perfect man, her own husband can never compete with the knight in shining armor she's just read about in the latest romance novel. Men, on the other hand, are much more physical. They are far more likely to be tempted by pornography or strip clubs than by the leading female character in a book. They may fawn over a female character in a movie if she has the right body shape, but that's usually fueled by physical appearance more than by her personality. A woman's struggle usually takes place in her heart and in her mind, and is driven by the idea of a man who makes her feel a certain way.
What does all this mean for us, as Christian women? Simply this: we need to be very careful what we read and watch, because we women are good at role-playing. We can easily imagine ourselves as a character in a book or movie, pursued by the charming lead. And that's dangerous. Where does that naturally lead? To dissatisfaction with our own spouse, of course. If I'm swooning over another man, even a fictional one, I am stating that my husband isn't good enough. Call it what you will, but it boils down to a nasty little word-- lust. I am lusting after someone other than my spouse. It's dangerous. No, more than just dangerous. It's wrong. It's a sin against the Sixth Commandment.
Honestly, I've found that Christian fiction can have much the same effect. Certainly the intentions of Christian writers are far different than the intentions of E.L. James, but the results can be scarily similar. Some time ago I read the "Last Light" series by Terri Blackstock, a Christian novelist. The books had a great plot, and each one was a page turner. But a curious thing happened. As the books progressed I found myself falling in love with one of the main characters. Mark could do anything. Chop wood, dig wells, come up with amazing inventions, and all this with a charming personality and striking good looks and some serious muscles from all that well digging. He was sweet and thoughtful and deeply spiritual. Compared to him, the woman of his affections was shallow and fickle from the start. I never could understand what he saw in her. This is a curious way to portray the two, isn't it? And of course it's deliberate, because the author wants me to be rooting for Mark and to enjoy spending time with him. He's a great guy, and I don't know any real life men who could live up to those impossible standards. Time with Mark does not help me to appreciate reality.
As much as I hate to say it, even some of the classics can be dangerous if we let them be. Who among us can honestly say we weren't swooning over Mr. Darcy by the end of Pride and Prejudice? Look, I'm not telling you not to read Jane Austen anymore. She’s an excellent novelist and I dearly love her writing. Just be careful. Be honest with yourself on how various storylines tempt or affect you. Are you comparing your husband to near-perfect fictional characters? Are you filling your head with unrealistic notions of what romance should look like when you meet "The One?" If you find yourself fantasizing about a character from a book or a movie, you really shouldn't be reading or watching it. And that's tough, because Hollywood caters to women's desire for romance. You'd be hard pressed to find a movie without it. Scriptwriters even added a romance between Caspian and Susan to the movie version of C. S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian from The Chronicles of Narnia, which is most certainly not in the book, nor in the spirit of the book. Romance sells, and Hollywood knows it. Ladies, there are plenty of novels and works of literature out there with compelling storylines that don’t center on a desirable man’s pursuit of a woman, or any other kind of romance. Try reading those books instead.
If you find yourself reading romance novels because your own marriage is dissatisfying, there are more serious issues at stake than simply a desire to swoon, and perhaps my earlier post Did You Marry the Wrong Man? would be helpful to read. Continue to pray for your spouse and for your own attitude, that God would grant you strength to remain faithful to your marriage vows regardless of outward circumstances.
If, on the other hand, you read romance novels just for “fun” and find yourself turning to such novels or chick flicks to fantasize about the “perfect” man, try something else instead. Pull out your wedding album and snuggle up next to your husband with a glass of wine. Read old love letters to each other again, and who knows? You might just find yourself swooning over your very own husband all over again.
Ruth Meyer is living out her vocation as a Lutheran woman in the roles of sister, daughter, mother, and wife. Her greatest joy in life is living as a redeemed child of God, who has blessed her in her many vocations. Besides her human relationships, Ruth's other interests include music and writing. She is a church musician and has a special love for Lutheran hymnody. She also loves to write, and has a children's book set to be published through CPH this fall. Ruth keeps her own blog at truthnotes.net. Her hope is that through her writing you are encouraged and perhaps even challenged in your God-given vocations.
Title Image: "Tristan and Isolde" by Edmund Leighton, 1902