Read Between the Lines: Let’s Stop Romanticizing Abuse


This article contains spoilers to the Fifty Shades of Grey and After series.

It’s 2018, so why are we still romanticizing abusive relationships?

Abuse in relationships can be blatantly obvious or very subtle. However, it is usually more apparent to witnesses outside of the relationship because love can blind the victim. Commonly, the abuse is shown through controlling, vicious, repentant or manipulative mannerisms.

It’s common to come across a toxic relationship in a movie or television show, but they are quite often found in books as well. Even classics such as Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights” and Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre” contain unhealthy relationships. In fact, one of the most popular book series of our time portrays an abusive relationship. This trilogy has seen the top of bestseller lists around the world and has been translated into 52 languages. In the United Kingdom, it set the record for fastest-selling paperback of all time. Statista reported as of February 2014, that the first book alone had sold 100 million copies worldwide.

If you haven’t guessed it by now, this bestselling series is the Fifty Shades series.


Fifty Shades of Grey

“Fifty Shades of Grey” is the first novel in the erotic romance series published in 2011 by British author E.L. James. If you haven’t heard of the book  by now, you may be living under a rock, but here it is anyway. The book follows college graduate Anastasia Steele and young businessman Christian Grey who enter a strictly dominant and submissive sexual relationship involving BDSM. BDSM is the practice of bondage, discipline, dominance and submission and sadomasochism during sex. Individuals in BDSM relationships consent to aggressive behaviours in the bedroom.

The book was originally a fanfiction —  a story written by a fan of an original fictional work with characters and/or a setting based on the original work  — with characters based on Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series.

Yes, Anastasia was originally Bella and Christian was originally Edward.

The trilogy was completed in 2012 with the publishing of “Fifty Shades Darker” and “Fifty Shades Freed.” In 2015, James published “Grey,” a rewrite of “Fifty Shades of Grey” from Christian’s perspective.

Some readers may be fooled into thinking Christian’s behavior towards Anastasia is acceptable due to the nature of their relationship; however, his abusive behavior should not be dismissed as typical. Christian is abusive towards Anastasia throughout all three books.

In the first book, Ana and Christian communicate through email about their relationship. In an email in chapter 17, Ana jokingly expresses that if she wanted out of the contract, she would have just run off to Alaska by now. Christian’s reply wasn’t as jocular:

“Alaska is very cold and no place to run. I would find you. I can track your cell phone – remember.”

And the creepiness doesn’t end there.

In chapter 21 of “Fifty Shades Freed,” Christian verbalizes his discontent with Ana after finding out she forgot her birth control shot and is pregnant. His comments and actions are abusive and should not be acceptable in any relationship.

“Christ, Ana!” He bangs his fist on the table, making me jump, and stands so abruptly he almost knocks the dining chair over. “You have one thing, one thing to remember. Shit! I don’t fucking believe it. How could you be so stupid?”

This erotic “romance” book series glamorizing abuse has made it to the big screen. And hilariously, each film adaptation was released around Valentine’s Day.

However, when one romantic abuse series ends, another begins!

The After Series by Anna Todd tells the story of on-and-off couple, Tessa and Hardin. With the toxic behaviors represented, their relationship is far from “goals.” Photo by Kaylee Adams.


Fairly comparable to the Fifty Shades series is the After series by Anna Todd.

“After” was originally posted on Wattpad, a social platform for readers and writers to discover and publish stories. Alike “Fifty Shade of Grey,” the series got its start as a fanfiction, originally including former One Direction member, Harry Styles, as the main character’s love interest.

Since being published in 2014, there’s been over 15 million copies of the book in circulation and over 30 translations. The book was a #1 bestseller in Italy, Germany, France and Spain. A movie is supposedly in the works to be released in 2019.

The novel follows a young and naive Tessa into her new experiences as a college freshman — including cheating on her boyfriend of two years with her roommate’s discourteous punk friend, Hardin, and subsequently falling for him.

The unusual relationship has its ups and downs, backs and forths and abusive behaviors.

In chapter 22, Tessa expresses her fear of physical abuse from Hardin that goes beyond his rough grabbing. These worries should not come up in a relationship.

“ … he removes one hand from my wrists, but the other is large enough to hold both. For a second, I think he might slap me.”

There are many other quotes that express the abusive behaviors between Tessa and Hardin. Here are just a few more:

“Don’t say that. Don’t you dare try and leave me.” – Hardin to Tessa

“Hardin screams and his fist connects with the wall, cracking and crumbling the drywall.”

“I don’t know what to say because I can’t tell if he is telling the truth. He has played so many mind games with me since the beginning that I can’t tell what is real.” – Tessa on Hardin

And lastly, a quote that sounds eerily similar to that of Christian Grey:

“‘I can easily find out where you are,’ he [Hardin] threatens.”

The threats, violence and mind games are all common characteristics of abusive relationships. Modern day romances tend to normalize these toxic behaviors. The After series is marketed towards teenage girls and young women, so the message the story is giving is not a great one.

It is not bad to read books such as “Fifty Shades of Grey” or “After.” As readers, we need to realize that the relationships depicted in these books should not be considered normal and should not be idolized. Abuse is not a prerequisite for love.

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