Literature has long provided psychologists and therapists with metaphors for examining bad relationship choices.
From the “Cinderella complex” (women who fear independence and subconsciously long to be taken care of) to the “Peter Pan syndrome” (men who refuse to grow up and face adult responsibilities), well-known characters stand in for all of us as we attempt to make our way in the world.
It might behoove the current generation of shrinks to cast an eye on the exceedingly popular “Twilight” series of films and books, since they’re being read by a generation of impressionable young people.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with fictional characters making mistakes and paying the consequences — if they were all sane and stable, how exceedingly boring would that be? But the fictional inhabitants of Forks, Wash., all bring some heavy-duty neuroses to the table.
What can we learn from the central love triangle of “Twilight”? Here’s how the experts might map it out for us.
The Jacob Quandary
We’ve all known the nice guy who always gets his heart broken by the woman he loves — he’s the devoted best pal who focuses all of his attentions and affections on the girl who’s made it clear time after time that she’s completely in love with someone else. And sure, maybe that other guy will leave her in the forest and she’ll temporarily pay attention to the nice guy and make him think he’s got a chance, but ultimately, it won't work out.
So let us pity poor Jacob, who’s always doomed to be Bella’s lapdog (or lapwolf), but is never gonna close the deal. Jacob listens to her blather on about Edward, teaches her how to ride a motorcycle, and rounds up a werewolf army to protect her, sure, but he’s an also-ran.
The Edward Entanglement
The name “Jake” spiked in popularity when 1980s girls who grew up loving “Sixteen Candles” began naming their own children after Jake Ryan, the dreamy senior who sweeps in on a white horse (red Porsche, whatever) to scoop up Molly Ringwald.
One suspects that Edward Cullen will give his name not just to infants but to a whole new branch of couples therapy. He’s an entrancing and engaging character, but let’s take a look at the arrows in his romantic quiver:
- When he first meets Bella, he tells her she smells terrible.
- Throughout the relationship, he takes complete control over how physical things will get.
- At a key moment of crisis, he abandons the love of his life in the middle of a forest.
- When he finally does get her pregnant, his first suggestion is that she get an abortion and then get her best friend (and vanquished romantic rival) to impregnate her instead.
OK, yes, yes: “He’s a vampire.” I get it. But you know who isn’t a vampire, “Twilight” fans? EVERY MAN YOU WILL MEET IN REAL LIFE. And as such, if he pulls any of the above on you, run, don’t walk. No matter how much he sparkles.
Even Edward’s creator acknowledged that he’s anything but husband material: “Maybe Edward would not be the best boyfriend, because he’s such a tortured soul,” noted author Stephenie Meyer in a 2008 interview. “But you also couldn’t just be his friend because he’s terribly sexy and charismatic.”
Ah yes, the hunky bad boy — what woman can resist? Certainly not the heroine of the “Twilight” saga, which of course brings us to ...
The Bella Conundrum
What’s a girl to do? Her parents are divorced (but amicably, and they both adore her). She’s uprooted in the middle of her high-school years to a new school (except that it’s her idea to make the move). She has to make friends with a new group of peers (who adore her within seconds of her arrival). And she has to grapple with adolescent crushes (on two supernatural creatures who become completely obsessed with her).
Poor Bella. Given everything she’s had to endure, who can blame her for a few arguably misguided choices? Like the part where she pines for an outsider for whom the descriptive “dangerous” is an understatement? Or how she leads on her best friend before dumping him for her unreliable ex?
Does anyone else find it odd, incidentally, that the century-old Edward is so smitten with the just-got-her-drivers-license Bella? Would “Twilight” fans feel as heart-fluttery if, say, Hugh Hefner started dating Dakota Fanning's little sister, Elle Fanning?
Besides her iffy choices of the heart, the Bella behavior that’s most potentially toxic to girls is how much the character allows herself to be defined by the other people in her life. If readers like the abstinence message of “Twilight,” fine, but it’s never Bella who gets to steer her own ship and make her own choices. As British newspaper the Independent observed in reviewing “Breaking Dawn,” the fourth novel in the series, “Bella Swan lives to serve men and suffer.”
Alonso Duralde is the author of “Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas,” out this fall from Limelight Editions.