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“Twilight”: Intense Love or Unhealthy Relationship?

June 29, 2011

Today’s youth are inundated with all sorts of messages on what to look for in a partner, and what constitutes a “normal” relationship; on TV, in pop songs, online, and even in books. But what messages about relationships are being sent to youth in those stories, and more importantly, what messages are being taken away by the reader?

Consider the “Twilight” series by Stephanie Meyer, which has become a major success with youth in both book and movie form. It tells the story of teenager Bella, who falls in love with Edward, a 100-something year-old vampire eternalized in the body of a 17-year old. At first, Edward acts repulsed by Bella and tells her to stay away from him, but after a few encounters, Edward and Bella cannot keep away from each other. He becomes controlling, and even comes around her house at night to watch her sleep, often without her knowledge. Despite this, Bella’s feelings continue to intensify. Edward regards anyone with disdain if they look at Bella, including Jacob, a half-werewolf who uses manipulation and aggression to seek Bella’s affection. Bella is so enamored with Edward, that she puts herself in harm’s way to seek his attention, including jumping off a cliff. What’s more is that the author doesn’t tell the reader much about why these two are so “in love”, besides an intense physical attraction, which manifests itself in the form of fixation and unrelenting obsession.

Several of the behaviors that Edward, and even Jacob display towards Bella fall well under the definitions of partner violence and stalking; with the exception that stalking would cause a reasonable person to experience fear as a result of those behaviors. Bella is not afraid of Edward. So what type of message does that send to young readers? Control, obsession, and violence; these behaviors are not something to be concerned about, but rather, they are desired behaviors; they are a sign of deep, burning love.

In reality, the behaviors portrayed in “Twilight” would be just cause for an Order for Protection. This is why it is crucial to connect with youth on their level, and talk about what respect in relationships actually looks like. Have a discussion with them about what they’re reading and watching, and most importantly, model healthy behaviors and relationships.

About 1 in 4 teens will become involved in an abusive relationship, and 1 in 5 teens will be sexually assaulted by the time they turn 18. Click here to find the facts!

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Hadley permalink
    July 6, 2011 4:08 pm

    The similar True Blood series takes this same idealized but disturbing relationship even further, to the realm of abuse and rape. Is part of what makes them so fascinating their forays into the more demonic aspects of love? Are these books so popular because it is a way for us to explore the darker sides of our own natures, apparently without repercussions?

  2. July 7, 2011 1:51 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Hadley! You raise an interesting idea – that there are no repercussions when self-exploration is done via books or movies. When these types of relationships are portrayed as normal, the repercussions become real. “If this is what love looks like, if this is how my partner should treat me, then this is okay”, rather than describing a relationship based on respect and equality. If you are interested, here is an adaptation of the Power and Control Wheel, http://www.csswashtenaw.org/ada/resources/Duluth_dating_wheel.pdf, and a version of the Equality Wheel (this version does not have gender-neutral language) http://theduluthmodel.org/pdf/NonVio.pdf

  3. July 19, 2011 1:28 pm

    Such an interesting page to read…post more! Roof damage minneapolis

  4. callum.s permalink
    July 8, 2012 5:34 pm

    It isnt a normal relationship they have, they are so deeply in love that whatever each does to the other is is seen as attactive.
    This is what teens like about it, the level of love that isnt often seen in reality, and in reality it would be seen as odd behaviour and cause trouble but people want a love deep and eternal, wich in reality is VERY RARE, in twilight it is portrayed.

  5. Deanne Adamson permalink
    January 24, 2013 11:30 pm

    Thank you so much! I am teaching a class on relationships to a group of 7th graders and the link to the Power and Control Wheel is awesome as we will discuss “red flags” in relationships. I do not understand how anyone can watch the Twilight movies and not say “What the heck?” The relationship is so unhealthy. I am embarrassed that some of my peers are avid Twilight fans and don’t see a problem sharing it with their daughters.

  6. deannem permalink
    February 25, 2013 11:07 pm

    Thank you for this article. I was looking for something for a class I am teaching to 7th graders and this was exactly what I needed. When I first saw this movie my reaction was “What the heck kind of message is this sending?” Complete trash. And I know so many adults that love these movies and they are “educated” women with teen daughters!! How are we ever going to change the culture?

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