On the Romanticizing of Abusive Relationships

I love books. I’m a book person. I like reading them, I like rearranging them on my shelf, I like recommending them without provocation to strangers. I buy them like other women buy shoes, and for many of the same reasons. I like other people who read them. I write them, for God’s sake, and I like people who do the same.

Books. Can’t get enough. Bibliophile. There’s merit in every book, even if I didn’t like it. Et cetera.

That being said: fuckin’ cool it with the “If You Liked FIFTY SHADES OF GREY” thing, book providers.

Right. I read the first two books in this trilogy–the first of which I reviewed here–and I’m the first to admit that its rampant, insane, literally unfathomable popularity has brought us to the reluctant, pearl-clutching conclusion that WOMEN LIKE SMUT TOO. But, if you’re a woman, or a man with a brain who’s ever met a woman, you probably knew that already. Even if you don’t, you probably have a friend who trolls fleshbot or whatever.

But the problem isn’t that it’s smut. Please. I love smut, and I love people who love smut. I don’t care what you do in your free time, as long as everyone’s of age and saying yes. I really, really don’t.

And that is the problem: not everyone is saying yes. This new sub-genre of romance–of erotica, really, and you’re ruining it for the rest of us–I’ve started calling BPD romance. It takes the Allison Brennan/Mary Burton stalker romance to a whole new level of squick: Borderline Personality Disorder* Romance. Because if you’re not seeing that the men in these books require psychiatric treatment, you’re just… well, adorable. Or not paying attention. Or something.

Let’s take the first corporate recommendation for If You Liked FSoG: Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy, written under the nom de plume A. N. Rocquelaire. Having read, admittedly, only the first of the trilogy, I can go ahead and tell you that there’s no purple in that Venn diagram. I’m the most okay with this recommendation, even though I didn’t particularly care for it–the writing was too baroque for me–because this is very clearly a fantasy world where the standards of human interaction are different. It’s the literary equivalent of “I didn’t order a pizza!” Plus, Beauty ends up being pretty into it. Everyone who’s there, in the dungeon (or whatever it was), seems to be pretty into it.

Interlude about BDSM sexual/lifestyle choices: if you’re into it, it’s FINE. It doesn’t matter if other people think it’s weird; as long as everyone involved is fine with it, it’s fine. Get a safeword and have a nice time.

Problem with FSoG and the following recommendations? They’re less about sexual kink, less about BDSM as a sexual practice, and more about… well… abuse. And that is, as you might imagine, NOT FUCKING OKAY.

Other recommendations from the good folks at Corporate Books, Inc.: BARED TO YOU, by Sylvia Day, and BEAUTIFUL DISASTER, by Jamie McGuire. Goodreads and Amazon reviews have scenes pulled from these books about the male romantic leads doing insanely violent things, beating the shit out of other guys for looking sideways at his girl–or, even better, starting to assume that the girlfriend is asking for it–and freaking out when she leaves his apartment in the morning without saying goodbye and proceeding to wreck the place. And at one point, a replica of a bedroom is built in someone’s apartment. Not pointing any fingers, but…

If these books were about the cycle of abuse, that’s one thing. But they’re not: they’re romances. They’re romanticizing men who, frankly, have psychological issues that need to be addressed. You may think that the I love you forever crowd is sweet and romantic, but until you have a friend or a cousin or a sister–or a you–get involved in a manipulative and abusive relationship, you’ll probably change your mind. You may think it would be nice for a man who loves you to tell you that he’ll find you, but it’s not. It’s fucking terrifying.

Stalking is not okay. It is not sexy. It does not show his dedication to you. It shows his inability to control himself, and his need to control you and everything else around him. It shows his inability to separate fantasy from reality and to deal with disappointment. It is also, as it happens, a criminal offense. It is never fucking okay.

Anyone who tries to control what you eat, when you sleep, who you see, or where you go is not someone who is concerned for your well-being. It is someone who wants to control you. That’s not love. It never has been, and it never will be.

Now, for the flip side: there are men–and women–who are genuinely concerned about their SO’s well-being. They may remind them to take their vitamins or eat their vegetables or brush their teeth, or not to go into downtown Miami by themselves on a Saturday night, or not get drunk at a party with a bunch of dudes they don’t know. Difference? These are all health and safety issues.

I am, frankly, really fucking pissed at the world for confusing concern and control. And the hawking of these books isn’t helping anyone. Because do you know who’s reading these things? TWILIGHT fans. And do you know who makes up the majority of that demographic? Young women. Impressionable women. Women who just want someone to love them. And when they see this shit, and it’s presented as everlasting soul-matey love, they’re going to think that it’s fucking okay.

It is not fucking okay.

Booksellers, you’ve got to find your moral line in the sand. You’re not going to sell books that glorify rape**, are you? Because that’s just the physical manifestation of this emotional message.

Moral of the story? If my friend or cousin or coworker told me she was dating her very own Christian Grey, I’d stage a formal intervention.


Author’s notes:
*There’s nothing wrong with having BPD, or any other psychological problem. But if you have a problem, you should see a therapist, and if they recommend and prescribe a medication, you should take it. Because if mental diseases are no more reason for discrimination than physical ones, then treat them that way on all fronts, and take your fucking medicine. You wouldn’t skip your insulin or hypertension meds, would you? No. Carry on.
**Actual rape, not rape fantasy. Again, things you need to be able to tell the difference between. My views on whom should be allowed to see porn? People who can figure out what’s real and what’s fucking not.
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4 Responses to On the Romanticizing of Abusive Relationships

  1. Monica says:

    You make some very valid comments Sarah, but the one that I like the most is that people need to understand the difference between fiction and reality. Its all fun and games until someone gets abused. This was a good read!

  2. Lindsay Allison says:

    Well said, my dear, well said.

  3. Paula says:

    Ha! A woman could get raped in the middle of a crowded room, and some people would think she wanted it or asked for it. I’m convinced people prefer fantasy over solving the world’s real problem: people themselves! Until it happens directly to them or someone they love, most people will remain convinced that they’re too smart to be a victim of this kind of abuse. I effing hate how people are embracing this stupid trilogy as if it’s the answer to a woman’s problem. It’s the answer, alright, to finding her worst nightmare. Thanks for the great post.

  4. Jessica says:

    This is a very late reply to your blog, but you took the words right out of my mouth. I am a psych major and I’m doing my capstone research on justifying Jealous behaviors in relationships, and I happened to stumble upon this. It’s really refreshing to know that people see this is a problem. I never read twilight but i remember it being pushed really hard in high school [posters in the library] , kind of creepy to think that this book was being pushed for its “christian morals”…hmmm.

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