In the wake of my Fifty Shades reading marathon (it was like a train wreck to me; I couldn’t look away) I ended up watching the movie Secretary, which I felt was a better-written romance that involves kinks. Midway through the film—in which a secretary played by Maggie Gyllenhaal embarks in a sadomasochistic affair with her boss, a lawyer played by James Spader—I felt a sudden revulsion towards the characters. It’s not about the spanking. It’s because, if you really think about it, that entire relationship was effectively based on sexual harassment at work.
Sure, Lee (Gyllenhaal) liked it; and to be fair to E. Edward (Spader), he felt a whole lot of guilt over the entire off-kilter affair — but it was still ridiculously inappropriate. And the frightening part is that I—and many other women—think that the boss-employee thing is VERY romantic. We think it’s so romantic that many of us end up having affairs with the boss.
The Prince Charming Effect
In retrospect, this isn’t all that surprising considering what the media fed us while growing up as girls. For example, I had Barbies and Disney princesses. Overall, I was made to feel like I could only be happy if I were pretty and had the perfect man — Prince Charming. Sure, there were other messages about being independent and girl power. But most of the girls’ stories we were told always involved a love interest whose role was to basically BE the Prince Charming. Then we all grew up and discovered that there are no princes nearby (except, of course, people like Kate Middleton).
The closest thing to a prince we have is a powerful man, specifically, a boss or a businessman. We don’t like admitting the subconscious comparison, of course. More often than not, we try to cover it up by telling ourselves that we’re better than people who still fantasize about romancing a prince because we have more realistic goals. Even in fiction, where romance novels with “tycoon” leads outnumber the ones with “prince” leads, you can see this.
But in the end, it all boils down to us unconsciously thinking that a man in power will give us a happily ever after.
Not Exactly a Fairytale
I’m sure that some boss-employee romances actually worked out, even if most of the relationship was conducted using a business phone number and a work email address. But the majority of these romances don’t work — either because one party or both parties are already married, or because the disparity of power between the two people involved is massive enough to strain the relationship. Add to this the complicated rules about sexual harassment and the overall need to keep the affair a secret, and you have a perfect recipe for a professional and personal disaster.
The worst part is that it’s the woman’s reputation that suffers when the relationship is outed. Even if she doesn’t lose her job over this, she’ll still have to deal with accusations of trying to sleep her way to the top. And that doesn’t even include the very real possibility that her boss will drop her like the proverbial hot potato when the relationship goes public. The chances of that man standing by you throughout this ordeal are slimmer than you think.
Most real princes are barely charming to begin with; now imagine applying that fantasy to a normal human being under pressure.
A Little Bit of Perspective
We all want a perfect life, one where we are perfectly happy. The thing that many of us have trouble grasping, however, is the idea that a romance with Prince Charming doesn’t need to be part of it. Okay, maybe he can sneak into one or two fantasies and he can basically be the hero of all your favorite romance novels; but he doesn’t need to be a real person in your life. All you need to make your life perfect in your eyes is you and your willingness to work on your goals for happiness. Anything else on top of that is just gravy — tasty, but useless if you already have perfection in your hands.
I’m not saying that you’re not allowed to be attracted to those tycoon types or your boss. Sometimes it really can’t be helped, especially if they look fantastic in a suit and are extremely good at their job. What I AM saying is that we should know better than to give in to an attraction that is especially risky to your reputation and career. I’m all for the power of love—I’m a happily married mother of two—but even love needs some temperance if your own personhood is on the line.
Ultimately, we can all be our own Prince Charming. And we can start by saving ourselves from our own runaway fantasies.