From the moment Fifty Shades of Grey hit the shelves, every girl at school, their mother and their grandmother had their eyes glued to its pages, morning, noon and night. Amidst the character's violent intimacy there is "apparently" an adequate love story which makes this novel a true page turner.
And who doesn't love to read about romance and love?
Unfortunately, I've gathered enough information from friends who have read the book to be able to question the authenticity of Ana and Christian Grey's so called "romance." I have not read the book and honestly do not wish to spend my time writing on all that I think is wrong with erotic romance novels such as Fifty Shades ... that could take a while.
What I mean to do instead is simply to present the fans of Fifty Shades of Grey with a radically different concept of love and lovemaking. I am aware that there are those who could defend and justify their beloved Ana and Christian all day. It seems the war between lovers and haters of Fifty Shades will never be exhausted. But please bear with me and read this post; this is not a roast of your favorite novel, but a discussion of what I believe love is and what a true lover looks like.
The best rebuttal I have for books like Fifty Shades of Grey is the experience of true, authentic, real love.
"In every human being who has ever experienced a real love, limited and imperfect as it may be, it is the great dynamic human experience in his life." (1)
So here is mine and Dietrich von Hildebrand's presentation of what authentic love looks like. My only hope is that by the end of this post, the romantic ideals I present you with will seem more enchanting than the pages of Fifty Shades of Grey.
Ladies and gents, let me begin with something I think we can all agree upon: what this world is in need of is lovers. Real lovers. Lovers who meet your needs on your deathbed as well as in the bedroom. I'm talking about the lover who will be there to hold your hand and sing to you when you're 83 and can hardly remember his name.
Granted, I'm no Shakespeare and I only have a hundred more words left before I lose your attention, so please hear my sincerity and bear with my lack of eloquence.
To start, real lovers are not perfect. They may not meet that list of requirements you wrote down at age 15 after hearing your first chastity talk. You know, the man who will never forget your anniversary, is still a virgin and has never loved anyone but you, and he's already on his way to sainthood.
These ideals are fine and dandy, but at the end of the day the question you must ask yourself is: "Would he die for me?"
Then ask yourself the same question: "Would I die for him?"
Every morning, when you crawl out of bed, will you die to yourselves: your wants, your desires, your pride, resolving to better yourself, offering your entire existence to your beloved and vowing to become a better lover?
A lover worthy of the name understands that love means more than just sexual attraction. Anyone who has ever fallen in love has experienced something which goes beyond mere sexual desire. Being-in-love is more than just sex appeal. The charm of the beloved discloses itself to us in a unique manner. The beguiling mystery of their individuality enamors us. Words can't describe the allure of their laughter, their smile, their voice.
"In this state, the beloved stands before us as something immeasurably precious; his beauty awakens reverence in us." (2)
The lover is drawn into an unparalleled dimension of depth. He becomes a more sensitive and reverent being as he beholds his beloved, in their entirety, in their mystery.
Basically, he could be stubborn or have an annoying habit of incessantly cracking his knuckles, but if he beholds you reverently, as if you are "an enclosed garden, a hidden treasure, a fountain sealed," he is gold.
The true lover is not absorbed with satisfying his own sexual impulses; rather, he is consumed with a deep reverence for the beautiful mystery which is his beloved. The sexual desires of the Lover are not shameful, dirty, or self-centered. Rather, they are selfless, noble, deep, mysterious, and pure. As the lover recognizes the great gift before him, chills run down his spine; he shudders at the thought of his unworthiness. The motive for his love:
"the preciousness, the beauty, the goodness which the other possesses, the value of their unique personality in its entire beauty."
In love, nothing must be seen as a mere means to an end. To focus solely on seeking sexual pleasure in a relationship is shallow; it is the opposite of authentic love. In love, we must immerse ourselves in the beauty of the beloved so much so that we forget ourselves. Lovers do not isolate sexual desires from the ecstatic ardor and splendor of the sexual union. Sexual union is the climax in which we wish to achieve complete and total oneness with our beloved.
The true mark of a lover which sets him apart from the Christian Greys of the world is the intentio unionis contained in his love, the longing to participate in the life of the beloved:
"a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall join to his wife: and they shall be one flesh."
It fascinates me that all the great and powerful mysteries: sex, beauty, music and art, all instill a strong sense of longing within us. When we fall in love, we intensely yearn and long to become closer with our beloved, to such a degree where our whole being - body, souls and lives wish to literally become one with theirs. Even the great St. Ambrose has a few words to say about conjugal love:
"Those who kiss one another are not content with the donation of their lips, but want to breathe their very souls into each other."
Observe the perfect example of Bob and Kim who have been married for 56 years. Click here to watch the two minute video. They were asked to describe their feelings without using the word love, Bob immediately responded: "Well, they say that two become one. We've really done that, and that just says it all."
Bob's response is an appropriate description of the ultimate human desire - to become one. Where there is no companionship, no love, humankind despairs. We despair because we feel empty, hollow, and unfulfilled. Constantly longing for what is but a dim memory of an ideal existence which we have never known, but somehow instinctively remember. We yearn to be one, whole, a wholeness which can only be vaguely experienced and never fully achieved in this life. However, there are those select few who do receive a faint taste of this unfathomable, unearthly communion: the lovers.
If you still do not see how Christian Grey does not measure up to Hildebrand's or Bob's description of a lover, or how his and Ana's love could be significantly refined, consider this source:
"Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous. Love is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury. It does not rejoice over wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails." (3)
(1) Dietrich von Hildebrand, The Encyclical Humanae Vitae: A Sign of Contradiction, 4.
(2) Hildebrand, 4.
(3) Corinthians 13: 4-7