When 50 Shades of Grey came out, I was not as impressed as most of the world. While I was willing to put aside the fact that it was tragically written for all the lurid stuff my girlfriends were snickering about, a few chapters into the book, I completely lost interest. The taboo nature of the subject matter will make you blush, no doubt, but is it really all the dirty details that are turning women on, or is it actually the premise of the story itself? Personally, I couldn't care less about some meek girl's "inner goddess" or some pre-meditated "red room of pain." The part of the book I liked the most? Right in the beginning, when Christian Grey and whatsherface are in an elevator, and with no notice, he pins her arms above her head, pushes her up against a wall, and kisses her hard. It wasn't the BDSM foreshadowing I was into, either. It was the passion.

So I speed-read through a few chapters until I wanted to claw my eyes out, and then admittedly Wikipedia'd the plot summary so I knew how it ended. I was annoyed. I couldn't believe it was revelatory stuff, because I have been saying it for many years - way before Christian Grey was 50 Shades of Twilight fan fiction in some basement - all women just want to be pushed up against a wall. 

In my life, oftentimes a bigger man has come along just in time to highlight the inferiority of another one. A guy friend in college said it well: "I thought I loved my ex-girlfriend. Then, I met my wife." So thank you, Christian Grey, for  being a zenith of the point I've been making for years, but I'll pass on your mediocrity. I prefer the classics. I prefer a man with a quieter appeal. I prefer Don Draper, and you make him look all the better.

Ah, Don. Now there's a man who can push me up against a wall any day. At the pith, he and Christian Grey share some appeal: very dominant, very masculine, some obscure but permanent air of melancholy... inherently dark, but not impossible to unearth, and most importantly: never completely impervious to the charm of just the right kind of feminine wile. It's worth noting, though that Don has infinitely better taste in women - the gal in 50 Shades I doubt had much dignity and seemingly no ambition, while Don's wife Megan is threatening every episode of season five to become cooler than he is.

While Christian Grey makes us act on emotion, Don Draper makes us act on instinct. That is the key difference. One might say they are both primal characters, but instinct requires thought. Being primal is all about sex, but instinct is about that and a deeper sense of being a woman altogether; Don Draper makes us feel safe. He is steadfast, he is sure. He has made something of himself. It isn't up to us to fix him - he knows his role as a man and he is who he is. Don Draper is the thinking girl's fantasy - with the broad shoulders and killer suits to match. He can remind a woman that she is a woman simply by putting his hand on the small of her back. That's the Don Draper every woman wants.

Don's swanky arrogance is only his though. He is a character that needs the vessel of John Hamm to be believable, because no man could ever get away with Don Draper's behavior (and still have us transfixed) unless he looked exactly like John Hamm - tall, dark, masculine, intensely brooding, possessive of style without flair, all chest hair and tawdry eyes, with a deep voice and a smile you feel elated to earn.

But of course we know Don can also be kind of a cad. His eyes are always wandering for fresh intrigue, a new roll in the hay. Monogamy isn't his area of expertise. Again, maybe why Don's for the thinking girl: because he always presents a challenge. Boredom and complacency are off the table. Still, there is naturally a fine moral line to walk - men with a need for the ego petting that sexual novelty provides really just marks them as inherently insecure, and the root of Mr. Draper's sex appeal is his confidence, after all. We all know the unhappy ending awaiting those men - the sort who run out on their families for the taste of a secretary's affection. I especially would know. My own father is one of them. Draper surmises that craving well: 

So is it confidence that makes Don tick, or is it swagger? Smug self-satisfaction or well-concealed insecurity? It's the question we're asked season after season, as his character slowly unfolds. Do women want to marry Don Draper? I don't know about that. But his sex appeal casts that thought aside until well after he's bedded them - a misguided trait many men my own age would love to possess. What we have not seen yet is the fate that ultimately befalls him - falling, indeed just as the opening credits of the show foreshadow. 

I look at my own father's life - a man who was as handsome, promising, and smart as they come, now sad and alone, and it reminds me that it's worth growing up. That even old tomcats like Don die by themselves, and there is no triumph in that. I think my crush on Don Draper is a testament to the time I've come up in. It is easy to have affection for a man like him, because you know he will never truly be yours, or you his. He exists as a wisp of smoke, a bedtime story - something you can have and cannot hold. He is pain and pleasure but he is also, at his core, a promise that we never have to keep. It's the perfect love story for a generation of narcissists - myself included. 


Gabrielle | Savvy Home said...

Couldn't have said it better myself. Excellent post Jess!

Elizabeth said...

You nailed it Jess!

Anonymous said...

So on point.

Rita TOMORROWtoday said...

i am really enjoying your essays lately - thank you!

Amy said...

Such a great post!

Mrs.K loves pink and green said...

Excellent essay..My father is also a "Don Draper",on his third marriage.He has been married to this one for over 8years now,and is miserable,again....LOVE your blog..

Erin Depew said...

Amazing, you took the words right out of my mouth.


Unknown said...

Wow Jess---You really are extremely honest and that is a wonderful trait. Good for some, bad for some---but all that matters is you.

By being honest about you---you reach people. Been reading your blog for a while and this is my very first comment.

You are wonderful.

Dayka said...

Ooh...this was good. Women love (and love to hate) that kinda man.


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