When my daughter came home with the first book in the four-part Twilight saga by Stephenie Meyer, it was a week before the first movie in the series came out and she wanted us to read it — together! Well, what mom of a teen wouldn’t jump at such an invitation? (Spoiler Alert) Not having ever been an avid reader, I have to thank Stephenie for encouraging my daughter to tackle a 400-page book. With her leaving it for me during the day while she read till the wee hours of the morning at night, I revisited my love for romance and we both finished it by the time the movie came out. I was able to be transported back through that magical portal, which allows me to lose myself in a story and I did find myself sighing at the cute little first love moments between the lead characters. We celebrated by hitting the theaters at midnight, the day before the official release, to catch the movie. Die-hard Twilight fans joined us, giggling and sighing in turns over Bella and Edward, Romeo and Juliet with a horrible twist.
You see, Bella (Isabella) Swan and Edward Cullen are endearing, it’s true, but there are some serious problems with their characteristics. Bella is 17 and a more co-dependent person I have never read about. Edward is a vampire, dead as a doornail but has been walking the earth for 108 years. He lives with his vampire family who have sworn off feeding on humans. They pretend to be human, though and he, being physically perpetually stuck at the age of 17, attends Forks High where he meets shy, awkward, plain Bella. And yes, this man who, for all intents and purposes, is 108 years old falls in love with 17-year-old, very naive and very immature, vapid, uninteresting, simple Bella. It gets worse.
The story is written in the first person and very quickly we learn that Bella’s mother is the kind of flighty, absentee parent that creates a reversal of the parent/child relationship. In short, Bella takes care of her mother. When Mom marries a minor league baseball player who, you guessed it, is younger than she is, Bella feels like an outsider and decides to stay with her Dad to give her mother time to travel and enjoy her new husband. Maybe she was feeling a little lost with no one to take care of. Yet Dad is just as absentee as Mom, in that he is emotionally withdrawn, which is perfect, as Bella gets to take care of him, too, just as she’s been doing all her life. Bella’s father is few with words and even less with emotion and Bella acts like a pseudo-mate, cooking his meals and doing his laundry while he spends most of his time at work.
So we have the back drop of a co-dependent, adolescent girl looking desperately for love and approval, for someone to finally take care of her. Into this scene walks Edward. Because the story is written in the first person, we don’t really get to understand the attraction between Bella and Edward. She sees him as perfection itself, a person who she cannot fathom would ever be interested in her. In Twilight, Meyer uses the most superficial adjectives to describe Bella’s attraction to Edward, none of which has anything to do with his personality. Bella finds Edward: hard, soft, white, perfect, cool, pale, beautiful, flawless, and godlike.
Why does Edward like Bella? Bella describes herself as awkward, plain and boring. She spends the whole entire first book marveling at the fact that perfect Edward could actually be interested in her and she never quite believes it — for a large part of the story, neither did I. I didn’t understand why he wanted her either!
The truth is, Bella’s perception of Edward is warped. In reality, he is far from perfect. Initially, he treats her with barely concealed hatred and then swings over to interest. Bella is confused and so am I. Reading about his borderline abusive behavior, I know I wondered just why Bella thought he was perfect. Meyer goes on and on about how sweet his breath smells, how perfect his cool skin is but why wasn’t Bella turned off by his on again/off again, one minute I like you the other I hate you, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde treatment of her? Didn’t Meyer understand that in real life, a person who treats you like that is abusive?
We learn in the first book that although Edward’s been living like a vampire member of A.A. (drinking only animal blood), Bella’s blood is just his type. He describes the scent of her blood as causing a burning, yearning sensation in his throat, a thirst that must be satisfied. Bella, he says, is his special brand of heroin and he lusts after her blood like an addict after a hit. This, it turns out is not that far from the truth.
Bella is completely dependent on Edward’s love of her, a love that she can never quite convince herself that she deserves. She worries about it, she wonders if it’s real; she tells herself it can’t be but she wants it. I think it’s pretty clear that part of her desire for him is because he is unattainable, at least in her mind. Edward presents the opportunity to get the love that Bella has always wanted from her parents but never received. Finally, someone is paying her attention. Finally, someone wants her. Bella is insecure and lacking in self-esteem. She confesses to being unable to be without Edward and when he’s gone, she wonders what to do with herself until he gets back. Edward is Bella’s drug.
Meanwhile, Edward is trying to keep himself from murdering Bella, even as his attraction to her builds. Unable to fight his fascination, he begins, unbeknownst to her, watching Bella sleep at night; he climbs in through her window like a common criminal. Like a stalker, he follows her around, as far as to another city and watches her house from the woods. He takes her engine out of her car so she can’t leave the house! He describes himself in Midnight Sun, (Stephanie’s Meyer’s unfinished manuscript of Edward’s perspective of Twilight) as no better than a peeping tom but he confesses, he can’t help it. Bella is Edward’s drug. They are addicted to each other. They have a dysfunctional, obsessive, unhealthy relationship.
Not surprisingly, we learn in reading Midnight Sun that Edward hates himself. He thinks of himself as a monster and can’t believe that Bella would ever want him. He tells himself that he follows Bella to make sure she’s safe but the truth is, like Bella, Edward cannot bear the thought of losing her; of losing his drug. In the manuscript, Edward is truly tormented because even as he longs for her love, he tortures himself mentally with chastising guilt, perceiving himself to be the biggest danger to her well-being. He wants her but he hates himself for wanting her.
Bella sees Edward as perfect and unattainable; Edward sees Bella as perfect and unattainable. Edward doesn’t want to let Bella out of his sight and Bella doesn’t ever want to be without Edward. They are both incredible shallow and superficial, and unable to see each other clearly, as the imperfect, flawed human beings that we all are. Is it no wonder in the beginning of New Moon, after a mishap involving blood and Edward’s brother (take a good guess), when Edward and his family disappear for “Bella’s” own good, Bella becomes virtually catatonic and suicidal?
Why wasn’t I surprised when we learn at the end of New Moon, that Edward, believing that Bella did end her life, seeks to end his own?
Bella through out the series has no outside interests or friends – she has made Edward her life. In fact, towards the end of Twilight she even begs him to end her life and make her a vampire too, something Edward refuses to do – for a while.
Wait a minute. I forget to mention the worst part of the series. It isn’t fair to say Bella didn’t actually have any friends. In Twilight, she befriends Jacob Black, for the sole purpose of finding out Edward’s secret, that he is a vampire. Her exploitation of him doesn’t end there, though. Bella depends on Jake in New Moon to help her cope with her loss of Edward, shamelessly admitting that she cannot function on her own. Tragically, he predictably falls in love with her and though she knows she should free him to find happiness elsewhere, she says she cannot; that is until Edward returns, then she dumps him unceremoniously, without a second thought.
The third book, Eclipse, explores a toxic relationship between the three, as Jake holds on for dear life and Bella attempts to have her cake and eat it, too; her friend, whom she says she loves, and the love of her life, who is her friend’s sworn enemy. Towards the end of the book she confesses she is in love with both of them but that’s not the truth. Bella has no idea what love is. The three of them create a triangular, usurious relationship that has no boundaries and where not one person takes good care of themselves.
Now all of this would have been wonderful if we could have seen the characters grow but they don’t. The series ends, with no surprise: Edward and Bella end up together, vowing undying love for each other but sadly, this is not reality. I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a blog borrowing the characters and projecting them into the future, in let’s say five years – when Bella gets tired of being treated like a child and finally wants the freedom to grow up and Edward’s self-loathing and jealousy starts to corrode the relationship – because that’s how dysfunctional relationships end.
I think it is quite depressing that Stephenie Meyer has written this story, geared towards teenage and adolescent girls, with such a weak heroine and such a toxic hero, but if I am honest, I must admit that the popularity of the books points to a sickness within society itself. All over we glorify and aggrandize dysfunctional, unhealthy love in our books and movies, on television, in our songs and in our lives. The type of love that we celebrate creates longing, wanting, despair, betrayal, hurt and often abandonment. We’d all like to believe that we can hate ourselves, hate our bodies, bemoan our weight, bombard ourselves with criticism and then lie and deny our faults, cover them up with euphemisms, excuses and denial and still find true love and completion in another person. We actually tell ourselves that what we find when we are so toxic and insecure is love. It isn’t true. It’s not real love. The relationship a person creates when they are that dysfunctional is always painful and unfulfilling with a firm foundation in usury and infatuation. When you’re that insecure you’re like a bucket with a hole in it. You cannot receive nor retain love and you cannot give what you don’t have.
Edward and Bella are mirror images of each other. They both suffer from unyieldingly low self-image and they are both extremely immature and unsure of themselves. Edward has been alive for 108 years and not once, in the four books, does Bella ask him what he’s seen or learned, about his life experiences. She has no idea who he is. Edward has made Bella up in his head. He projects his fantasy of the perfect girl onto her and assumes, based on this projection, who she is. So strangely enough, what the book does illustrate clearly is that what we always find when we are dysfunctional is ourselves. I would have been happy with this turn of events if I thought for one minute that Stephenie Meyer did that on purpose, to teach her readers something, but that is so apparently untrue.
Instead, what Stephenie would have us believe is that you can dislike yourself and never put an ounce of effort into creating a life for yourself but still find true love with a wonderful person; she’d like us to believe that you can focus on the external and create a healthy, strong, “perfect” relationship based on physical attraction; she wants us to believe that you can use people to make yourself feel better and not suffer the horrible repercussions that always result from such selfish behavior; she’d like us to believe that you can be that insensitive and everything will turn out great in the end; she’d like young girls to think a man who follows them around or creeps into their bedroom at night does so because he loves them and wants them to be safe; she wants us to accept that a woman having no goals and no desires outside of wanting to be with a man is actually okay and an indication of a strong personality.
Does Stephenie Meyer realize how dangerous it is to present this highly toxic relationship as an example of the functional, perfect, romantic relationship that we should all long for? Is there some reason why I left a theater showing thirteen sold-out screens of the midnight pre-showing of New Moon, and actually heard grown women fawning over this story?
Because I don’t get it. The best books I think presents us with characters that remind us of ourselves and then rise above our faults. The Twilight series fails in that task in my opinion. Completely.
AUTHORS NOTE: In response to this article, I have received some comments that accuse me of condemning people who struggle with emotional disorders/mental disabilities to a life without love and labeling them as unlovable. I do not at all hold these sentiments/ideas or beliefs. The end of my piece speaks to the unaddressed dysfunctional co-dependency I see in society, and in our literature and film/television mediums and the presentation of them as healthy, enviable relationships. This piece is not a veiled attacked on a group of people and was not meant to speak to anything but the undeveloped characters which Meyer’s describes in her book, the perfect love which she irresponsibly claims that they have and the ways in which America has bought into this fantasy.