This weekend millions of moviegoers will be celebrating Valentine’s Day with Fifty Shades of Grey in 50 different forms (film, book, magazines, interviews, and apparently even BDSM-themed merchandise at Target). Every trailer seems to tease us with the possibility that we might not be daring enough, adventurous enough, to partake in the forbidden pleasures that Fifty Shades of Grey has to offer. “Mr. Grey will see you now,” this well-crafted tagline informs you that your long wait is over, your deepest desires can now be satisfied.
But will these dangerous appetites and new tricks really satisfy our deepest desires?
This was the question asked by a room full of 50 wide-eyed young women and 50 heart-shaped sugar cookies. I had been invited to speak at an event titled “Real Love: More Than a Valentine” hosted by a girls’ dorm at the local college. They wanted to ask me about dating, love, and marriage, and I was assured that the only preparation I needed was my own life experience with romantic relationships. The questions were submitted anonymously and were asked in a steady stream for nearly two hours. I began to detect a common theme which shot through the hearts of the women around me like Odysseus’s arrow through the axe shafts (I spied Homer’s epic peeking out of several backpacks): They all desired deep and lasting intimacy along with directions for how to find it.
I shared one personal anecdote after another, laughing and wincing as I recalled all the dating years of struggling to find a place for both sexual desire and love. While dating, my husband and I had a year and a half to get to know one another in person—smiling and staring and flirting and being super attracted to one another; and since we were “waiting,” as they say, this was the hardest thing ever. Then we had two years of long distance—sharing and sighing and fighting and forgiving. We were carving new facets of our relationship with each intentional encounter, and this was how our intimacy formed, much like the diamond that he gave me when he proposed that we keep going on like this forever.
That multifaceted jewel inspired me to have faith and hope in our love while we were so long apart. And when the first ring was finally met by a second, my husband and I embarked on a new world of ever-deepening intimacy. After several years of wedded bliss/insanity, we’ve discovered sex to be the point of the diamond buried discreetly in the ring. It completes the form, supporting the hard-won facets.
Even the trenches of married life’s many challenges teach what has been confirmed by history, tradition, literature, and contemporary art (ahem, Mad Men): The heart’s desire is answered by investing in one person—real intimacy rather than sexual adventuring. As long as we’re both pouring our hearts out into the other, we both remain filled and thus fulfilled. We find new ways of giving ourselves to one another by sharing the burdens of family life and keeping up with our date nights. We strive not to take advantage of one another in the realms of shared house, car, kids, food, joys, and sufferings; and these habits of intimacy make it ever easier to show the same respect and deference in the area of life that our culture more narrowly considers “intimate.” By continually discovering one another outside the bedroom, we find new and enlivening delights throughout our marriage.
What little I know of Fifty Shades of Grey’s Christian and Anna makes me want to compare the two characters not to a diamond but to flint and steel. Together, they can make a fire by being violently banged together. But with each ignition, the flint wears down and the steel flakes off. Pieces of each of them are destroyed. This is like Don and Megan’s relationship in Mad Men. It is highly dependent on sex—often semi-violent sex that morphs either into or out of their fights. In the midst of one of these sexually charged arguments, Megan says, “Every time we fight, it diminishes us a little bit.” I would submit that, counterintuitively, their sex has the same effect. It is not focused on the other—it is not a gift of self, therefore it consumes rather than purifies.
This Valentine’s Day, try to look beyond the clamor for sexual novelty—the push to look towards new experiences, new lingerie, new partners—and discover the fulfillment and excitement found in an ever-deepening intimacy with the man you promised to love for life.