With only four Sundays to go until Valentine's Day, the cards are already out in the shops and magazines are preparing their "relationship special" editions.
Being terminally single, Valentine's Day is one of those "holidays" that tends to pass me by (despite the horrific tendency of half the loved-up people I know insisting on posting photos of their cards and presents on Facebook - trust me, there's a special place in Hell for those people). This year, however, something connected to the date appeared online and I shuddered like I'd wet my pants. And not in a good way.
Male bloggers were being asked on Twitter to share an article entitled "How To Be Like Christian Grey," just in time for Valentine's Day. The idea being that women want a man like that and that being like Christian Grey is a romantic and good thing.
Can I get a collective "HELL NO"?!
Thank you, ladies.
Here's the thing. Imagine the distance from the Earth to the sun. Then double it. Then triple it. That's how far away from being the perfect man Christian Grey is. If we want men to treat women with any modicum of respect, then the very last thing we need is to be releasing "How To..." guides, educating them on how to behave more like a psychopath.
I had already been thinking it would be fun to write a "How To..." guide on my personal favourite topic: "How Not To Become Annoying When In A Relationship." Because trust me, from a single person's perspective, a whole heap of people don't know how to avoid becoming the infuriating one who pats us on the head and tells us "you'll find someone..." despite us having never once mentioned our single status. That's more irritating than sandpaper underwear. But I digress...
Then, I read about these "How To Be Like Christian Grey" guides, being prepared in time for a day that celebrates love (and tacky marketing of heart-shaped chocolates and teddy bears, but we won't go into that...). I'll be honest with you, dear reader, it made me so angry, I wanted to punch a wall. But I bruise like a peach, so I decided to write my own guide as to how to be nothing like Christian Grey, instead. And next Sunday, I'll be releasing "How To Spot Warning Signs In Your Relationship," because God knows, if we still have people touting Christian Grey as the perfect man, then we definitely still need articles like that, too.
Fear not, I'm still also going to write How Not To Become Annoying When In A Relationship the following Sunday and I'll finish my "How To..." series with How To Be Happy Being Single, which I'll release on Valentine's Day itself. Aren't you lucky?!
"I'll read what she's reading."
So, let's start off with this week's "How To..." guide. How To Be Nothing Like Christian Grey.
1. Give A Woman Space If She Asks For It.
It's annoying when we fall for someone and we want to see them all the time, but they have pesky things like a job and friends and family, isn't it? Still, if someone you've recently started seeing tells you that they need a bit of time and space to think things through, especially if your fledgling relationship has been very intense and has moved fast, respect that person enough to grant them that space.
Besides which, space in a relationship is a good thing. Giving your partner time to spend with their friends, indulging in hobbies you don't share, means that you're still allowing them to be the person they were before you met them, rather than trying to take over their whole life. Christian Grey tells Ana that he wants her world to begin and end with him and frankly, that's possessive, obsessive and utterly creepy. Also, it's entirely unrealistic.
So, if you're seeing someone, no matter how much you miss them when they're away from you, give them the right to spend time by themselves or with other people. They shouldn't even have to ask you for that, because spending time without you is their right.
Do NOT track their mobile phone.
Do NOT insist that they're in constant touch with you.
Do NOT stalk them thousands of miles away.
Those things are to romance what Patrick Stewart is to hair care products.
I know, Sir Patrick. And I'm sorry.
2. Listen To What Your Partner Actually Wants
So, in Fifty Shades, Ana frequently tells Christian that she's, you know, not mad keen on all the hitting and being controlled against her will stuff that he wants to do. Christian's response is to tell her he'll "try" to change for her, which is basically a huge steaming pile of bull, because he never actually does. Instead, he just keeps on telling her he'll hit her if she doesn't do what he says and he keeps on controlling her life long after she's asked him over and over to stop it. That doesn't make him a super-sexy stallion. It makes him a massive arsehole. If your partner says "hey, I would prefer it if you didn't try to run my career, thank you," then you know what? Don't buy the company she works for. And on a more realistic level, just listen to what your partner is trying to tell you and respect it. Respecting someone and treating them as though their opinions are important to you is way sexier than railroading them into doing whatever you want.
And listening to your partner, rather than controlling them against their will is also much less likely to get you dumped. Or kicked in the balls.
3. Make Sure Your Partner Feels Able To Talk To You.
In Fifty Shades, Ana is terrified of telling Christian that she's pregnant. Okay, so it's a big deal to drop a sprog on someone, but at one point, she literally fears that he might murder her. That's not okay, guys. She also decides it's best not to tell him when she's going out with one of her friends, because Christian had told her to stay in and again, she's genuinely scared he might harm her as a result of his anger. Being the sort of person whose anger means that your partner is genuinely too afraid to tell you things is definitely not something any "How To..." guide should be advising. So, I'm telling you here and now: DO NOT BE THAT GUY.
Instead, be someone your partner feels safe with. Be supportive. Even if what they're telling you makes you angry, never ever threaten to "beat the shit out of" them, as Christian Grey does. Learn to talk problems through. Sure, you might argue - that's absolutely normal in relationships - but you should never overreact so strongly to things that your partner is afraid of being open and honest with you. Honestly is crucial in relationships and if you don't have it in yours, then you have big problems.
So, provide a safe pair of shoulders to cry on and be there to listen, if your partner needs to talk. Learn to take your partner's views on board and find a way to compromise when you disagree on things.
In case it's not already obvious by this point, do not do anything Christian Grey does.
So, STOP with the "How To Be Like Christian Grey" articles!!!
4. Actually Give A Damn About Consent!!!
Consent is pretty major, guys. In fact, this should have been number one, because if you don't have full, informed consent, given freely, you should be doing precisely NOTHING with your partner.
Manipulating someone into a sexual relationship is a no-no.
Giving them alcohol, in order to sway them into saying "yes" is a no-no.
Ignoring them when they say they don't want to do something and saying you're going to do it anyway is a no-no.
Not giving someone the chance to fully understand what they're getting into is a big no-no.
Do you see a pattern emerging, here?! By the way, these are all things Christian Grey does. And seriously, that makes him lower than genital warts in the list of "things women want."
Sure, it's pretty irritating when you really want to do something sexual and your partner's not up for it at all. But prison is probably way more irritating and that's where you'll eventually end up if you manipulate or force people into sexual activity, rather than gaining their free, full, informed and enthusiastic consent.
And you know, nobody gives a toss if you have a helicopter and billions of dollars, in prison.
5. Take Responsibility For Your Own Actions.
Throughout Fifty Shades, Christian blames literally anyone and anything for his own actions, rather than take any responsibility for himself. His behaviour is all down to his childhood. He doesn't know any better.
I mean, never mind the fact that he was adopted at a young age by a wealthy, loving family. Never mind the fact that he sees his family members in happy, healthy relationships. Never mind that he runs a hugely successful business and deals with people at a high level on a daily basis. HE JUST CAN'T HELP BEING A THREATENING, CONTROLLING, MANIPULATIVE STALKER, OKAY??!!
Except of course he can. Abuse is always a choice. In almost all instances, we have a genuine choice as to how we treat the people in our lives. So, if you do something lousy and your partner gets upset, don't be like "oh, my childhood dog ate my best jumper when I was five and now I can't help but cheat on you with your best friend, because her hair was just like a poodle's." Accept that you choose how you treat the people in your life and own up to it when you're behaving like an ass. Better still, just don't behave like an ass in the first place. If you're treating your partner with respect and affection, giving them space and not trying to control their life, whilst only ever doing anything sexual with their full consent, then it's unlikely you're going to do anything majorly wrong, anyway. But if you do, take responsibility.
We're all humans and we all make mistakes, so if you do upset your partner unintentionally, just apologise, listen to why they were hurt by whatever it was you did and move on from it. Don't wallow in self-pity, looking for ways to make your partner feel guilty for something you did.
In other words, don't be like Christian Grey.
There is so much more I could write, but I think I summed it up rather neatly in that last line.
Basically, be nothing like Christian Grey and you'll be doing okay.
Join me next week, for the second "How To..." blog, in which I'll be talking about spotting red flags in your relationship.
Oh and guys, my ex was just like Christian Grey, so I promise, I really do know what I'm talking about, here. I wrote a semi-autobiographical novel about it all and it's getting 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon. Give it a look!