In 2012 the world went temporarily crazy for Fifty Shades of Grey, which sold 100 million copies. It seemed every woman in America was reading E. L. James’ 3-volume erotic romance. We discussed the book at length on these pages, in articles such as “When Should a Sex Therapist Recommend Fifty Shades of Grey to Couples?,” “Why Fifty Shades Leaves Women Wanting More,” and “Fifty Shades for Men.”
After a few months, though, no one wanted to talk Fifty Shades anymore. Like a new dance craze, it lasted a single summer and then was gone. I felt a little embarrassed to have written about the book at all. But now the movie is coming out on Valentine’s Day 2015, and Grey fever is back. My twitter feed has been lighting up with fan sites discussing the movie trailer’s release on Thurs July 24 as if it were the Second Coming.
Most of the interest in the movie seems focused on who’s playing the main characters. For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, Don Johnson’s daughter Dakota plays Anna Steele. And Calvin Klein model Jamie Dornan is Christian Grey.
These casting decisions have been parsed with an intensity greater than the World Cup Final. I had trouble at first understanding all the excitement about something as mundane as casting. But now that the trailer is coming out soon, I’m starting to get a feel for it.
Heart of Many Rooms
This week I was interviewed on a FiftyShades fan site, and I learned a new word: “book boyfriend.”
A book boyfriend is a fictional character with whom you fantasize having a relationship. The advantages of a book boyfriend over the regular kind seem pretty clear. Book boyfriends do whatever you want. You can have more than one at a time, and whenever you get tired of them—you can just close the book.
I understand that Twilight’s Edward Cullen was an exceptional book boyfriend. Kaitlin Flanagan wrote a wonderful essay, “What Girls Want,” in the Atlantic about a 12 year old girl who posted on her bedroom door, “My Heart Belongs to Edward,” and wouldn’t allow anyone in unless they knew the secret Edward password. A fellow sex therapist, a mature woman with an impressive professional resume, over lunch one day turned to me and pouted, “I want an Edward.”
As Edith Wharton wrote a century ago in “The Fullness of Life,” a woman’s soul is like a house with many rooms. Most men are content with sitting in the entrance room, never thinking to ask for the whole tour. A good book boyfriend like Edward Cullen or Christian Grey yearns to know a woman in every room of her heart.
Transitioning from book boyfriend to movie boyfriend can be tricky. I believe part of the fuss over Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey concerns whether he’s going to be good enough movie boyfriend material.
At first it seemed doubtful. But lately opinion seems to have turned in Dornan’s favor. As I wrote in“From Beatlemania to Fifty Shades of Grey,” women’s erotic decision-making is often a highly social affair. Once a critical mass of women decides a man is crush-worthy, the mantle of popularity is placed on his shoulders and his erotic power increases. A popular man is hotter than an unpopular one.
With men’s feelings about women, there’s no such deal. A man doesn’t particularly care whether other men find a woman appealing. Popularity doesn’t increase her sex appeal.
At this moment, though, thousands if not millions of American women are preparing their hearts to receive a visit from Christian Grey in the form of Jamie Dornan. It’s that time again. Next Thursday—and again on Valentine’s Day 2015—we’ll see if Hollywood manages to transform Dornan into something that fits enough women’s fantasies about Christian Grey.
As I wrote in “Where the Magic Gets Made,” it’s all magic anyway—whether it’s on the screen or in a person’s heart. Every once in awhile, someone sells 100 million books by making magic that’s as good as the magic we make everyday out of the ordinary stuff of life.
On Thursday July 24, we’ll get our first glimpse of the Fifty Shades trailer, and we’ll see if the magic is still there.