Jun 152012
 

There’s an obscenely rich guy I’ve just met and he wants some kind of strange kinky sexual relationship, in which I don’t get a say in things.

That’s how Ana thinks of her relationship, and it completely misreads the situation. It continues this book’s systematic erasure of Ana’s knowledge, dignity, intelligence, agency and responsibility. It’s what she thinks of saying to her mother, but doesn’t. She doesn’t even mention she’s met someone.

More emails. Christian sends her the dictionary definition of “submissive”. (Even if Ana doesn’t own a computer, wouldn’t an English Lit major have access to a dictionary?) Ana responds with the definition of “compromise”. They then argue over the logistics of their dinner date, such as whether Ana drives her own car. She thinks, “I need a means of escape.” Not a good thing to think when you’re meeting someone for dinner.

Ana approaches her negotiation with Christian from a conservative position, in the political sense. She’s a lone individual, negotiating with Christian, who is so much more powerful than her that he might as well be a state, and whose natural tendency is towards tyranny. She is trying to retain as much personal liberty as possible while avoiding punishment (i.e. Christian withdrawing his affections.) There is no other person she can turn to for support. She does not take the liberal view that this political process of defining laws can secure both personal security and liberty, or that mutually beneficial collaborative action is possible.

This analogy breaks down somewhat in Ana is not an autonomous individual, but is completely dependent on Christian (the state) for sexual pleasure and emotional validation. (She’s a little like Ron Swanson in Parks and Recreation, a city government employee whose extreme libertarian beliefs demand that he do as little as possible in his job.) Since the possibilities of getting her physical and emotional needs met through some other relationship or of negotiating on her terms never occur to her, all she can do is fight a defensive battle on her enemy’s territory.

“Enemy” may be a strong term for what is supposed to be a love story, but Ana does regard Christian with as much wariness as desire, though desire ultimately wins. In her mind, the source of her happiness and the obstacle to getting it are the same person.

Once they actually meet at the restaurant, Ana brings up the point that the contract is legally unenforceable. Christian agrees, then equivocates that it doesn’t matter.

“Anastasia, it doesn’t matter if it’s legal or not. It represents an arrangement that I would like to make with you – what I would like from you and what you can expect from me. If you don’t like it, then don’t sign. If you do sign, and then decide you don’t like it, there are enough get-out clauses so you can walk away. Even if it were legally binding, do you think I’d drag you through the courts if you did decide to run?”

[…]

“Relationships like this are built on honesty and trust,” he continues. “If you don’t trust me – trust me to know how I’m affecting you, how far I can go with you, how far I can take you – if you can’t be honest with me, then we really can’t do this.”

This is one of those frustrating moments when Christian (and by extension, this book) says the right thing. It’s frustrating because it has to be weighed against all the other times when Christian pushes too hard and too fast, when he acts without establishing trust, when he demonstrates that his wealth and privilege give him real power that Ana can’t just walk away from. It’s frightening because you never know when he’s playing by the rules and when he isn’t.

Ana brings up previous negotiations with “the fifteen”. (They were people, you know.)

“…they were all established submissives. They knew what they wanted out of a relationship with me and generally what I expected. With them, it was just a question of fine-tuning the soft limits, details like that.”

Christian then brings it back around to whether she trusts him.

I swallow. Do I trust him?  Is that what this all comes down to – trust? Surely that should be a two-way thing. I remember his snit when I phoned José.

But she doesn’t actually bring any of that up. I really wish she would just say, “No”, at this point, and explain why. That would  cut off the book when they’re not even half way through.

Instead, Christian’s hangups about food kick in and they shift to a private dining room, despite Ana’s preference to stay in public.

Back to the negotiation. Christian’s statement that he’s drug and disease free and regularly tested are good, though Ana has to trust his say-so instead of seeing proof.

“Your next point I mentioned earlier. You can walk away any time, Anastasia. I won’t stop you. If you go, however – that’s it. Just so you know.”

“Okay,” I answer softly. If I go, that’s it. The thought is surprisingly painful.

This is the nuke in Christian’s arsenal of bad faith negotiation tactics: all or nothing. Ana can leave him, but she can’t stop and renegotiate the terms of the relationship. This shifts the power balance even further away from her and towards him.

Ana brings up a previous incident in which Christian mentioned he harmed someone in a scene.

“Yes, I have. It was a long time ago.”
“How did you hurt them?”

“I suspended them from my playroom ceiling. In fact, that’s one of your questions. Suspension – that’s what the karabiners are for in the playroom. Rope play. One of the ropes was tied too tightly.”
I hold my hand up begging him to stop.

“I don’t need to know any more. So you won’t suspend me then?”

“Not if you really don’t want to. You can make that a hard limit.”

“Okay.”

In itself, this is not troubling. People make mistakes, and with 15 former partners and lots of heavy play it’s likely that some problem would occur. It’s possible that this was an honest accident that didn’t result in any serious injury, and that Christian behaved as a good dominant would.

If Ana wants suspension to be a hard limit, that’s fine too. She doesn’t need to justify it to him.

What’s troubling is that Ana stops him from telling her anymore about this incident. This is precisely the kind of detail she should investigate, and learn as much as possible. But she doesn’t. Oh, Ana….

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