Truth is, Fifty Shades is a horrible book about sex.But it’s a great book about dating, and the way that early-stage romance turns you into a self-conscious, self-doubting internal Greek chorus.After Christian and Ana, the two most significant characters are Ana’s anthropomorphized superego and id.

Over the past month, Fifty Shades of Grey has gone from a passé novel described as the “eighth-grade gurglings” of a horny housewife to a movie production anticipated mostly by dread and boredom and preceded by a self-undermining press tour to an actual movie that actual people are seeing in historic droves—the biggest February movie in American history.

And it’s even getting applauded, in part because the move to screen excised most of E L James’s excruciating prose.

The entire 500-page book takes place within Anastasia Steele’s internal monologue—it’s sort of the Ulysses of lovestruck virgins—but the movie has no narration.

But Ana’s neurotic stream-of-consciousness was the only thing I liked about the books—to the point that I skipped most of the sex scenes.

The id, referred to as “my inner goddess,” cheers every time Christian unbuttons his pants. ” And since everyone has their own line, each relationship is a new negotiation.

(Fifty Shades hate-bloggers often mistake “inner goddess” for a euphemism for “vagina,” owing to the inner goddess’s tendency to “do the merengue” at moments of arousal.) Even assuming you can get over the bad prose, a task like acclimating to a bad smell, the book is a slog, because every plot point comes packaged with surreal fights between Anastasia and her psychic apparatuses. Go through that ridiculous contract line by line and say what is acceptable and what isn’t. When I asked people about the “shades of grey” negotiations in their relationships, they cited spending habits, sleeping habits, texting speed, privacy, talking during movies, relative need for attention, and relative tolerance for children and pets.

And yet, as a portrayal of the hesitations and anxieties of dating, Fifty Shades is genuinely engrossing. Is her pain threshold compatible with Christian’s desires? When a friend realized her fiancé’s family was racist, she was fine with it—as long as she never had to spend more than 24 hours with them. When another friend’s boyfriend couldn’t afford his half of the rent, she thought she was fine paying more—until he pointed out she was using this disparity as a trump card in fights. “For me, it’s tidiness,” a real-life friend named Christian said at a recent dinner in Chinatown.

If dating’s endgame is the procurement of a single suitable mate, then its central task is measuring both the desirability and the practicality of a suitor. ” This exact negotiation drives Fifty Shades: Anastasia loves Christian, but does she love him enough to endure pain? Since relationship demands this sexy are relatively rare, imagine, for a moment, that the secret hiding in Christian’s apartment is not a sex dungeon but that he lives with his mother. ’—until you either break up or move in together.” Or, as Ana frets after reading Christian’s BDSM contract, “What am I going to do? How many shades of messiness could he endure if his boyfriend, Brian, moved in permanently?

You place yourself in someone else’s context, then ask, “Do I like this? Anastasia’s dilemma remains roughly the same: Does she like his mom? Does she love Christian enough to put up with his mom? What is Ana’s hard limit for mom involvement, and is it compatible with Christian’s need for her? “Or maybe your boyfriend walks really slowly, and if he goes any slower you’ll break up with him,” Brian retorted.

“All of dating is just, ‘How much of a freak is this guy, and am I okay with it? “Or he picks fights about nostalgia,” Christian snapped back. “And you and I will know, once and for all, if I can do this.” Maybe after dinner, I suggest, real-life Christian should walk as slowly as possible while Brian ridicules his nostalgia.

At the end of Fifty Shades of Grey, I inform them, Anastasia asks (fictional) Christian to inflict the worst pain he can. If they make it home without breaking up, they’ll know their love is real.