Twilight: A Look Into the Abusive Relationships of Pop Culture

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In media, we are presented with several depictions of healthy and unhealthy relationships and we often use those stories as guides to understand our own connections. When thinking about modern relationships that spread like wildfire in entertainment media, there are few better examples than Twilight - the classic story of boy meets girl, boy is 100 years old, girl is completely helpless and has no character, and they fall in love in an unhealthy relationship. Charming. 

I was forced to read Twilight for the first time during my senior year of high school for an English class. Originally, I thought the book was simply boring and over dramatic, but after discussing it with my classmates, I came to realize the morals and lessons exhibited by Stephenie Meyer are completely misogynistic and the opposite of what young girls should be taught about relationships.

To refresh my memory, I sat down with a notebook (and a bucket for puking) and re-watched the entire series. I'll confess I only made it through the first three movies but, with my English class discussions and newly refreshed memory, I'm breaking down three reasons why Twilight contains a relationship more toxic than a poison apple. 

1. Edward Controls and Stalks Bella As a Way to "Protect" Her 

 From Bella and Edward’s first meeting, part of his romantic appeal is that he is dangerous. In their first encounter in biology class, Edward clearly has some sort of issue with Bella and tries to switch classes to avoid seeing her. His aversion jump starts her attraction to him, and is the first example of negative, unhappy thoughts equated with love, an issue that will be discussed later on. As their friendship blossoms into young(ish) love, Edward becomes increasingly protective and possessive of Bella.

The pattern of problematic behavior continues when Edward begins stalking Bella, including on an outing to another town. His presence is completely unbeknownst to her until he reveals himself only to save Bella. If she had not gotten herself into that potentially dangerous situation, it is safe to assume Edward would never make his presence known. The dangerous behavior here is discounted because Edward ends up saving Bella from some street thugs, but nevertheless, over-protectiveness is a sign of abuse.

The warning signs keep piling up throughout the series. At several points in the first movie, Bella wakes from a dream to find Edward standing over her bed, watching her sleep. In the second movie, Edward breaks Bella’s truck to prevent her from seeing her friend, Jacob, because he is jealous. When taking Bella for a walk in a forest, Edward demonstrates his extreme strength by jumping to great heights, pulling up trees and saying "You can't outrun me." Edward feels so protective and worried for Bella that he chastises her when she messes up, like tripping on a sidewalk. He also gaslights her and tells her she remembers things wrong when he saves her from the car crash. The National Domestic Violence Hotline outlines “extreme jealousy of your friends and time spent away, tells you that you can never do anything right”, and “controls who you see, where you go and what you do” all as warning signs of an abusive relationship. Edward refuses to let Bella have her own life, and tries to control her at every turn. This type of overprotective and dominating behavior Edward displays throughout the movies clearly sets up an unhealthy relationship dynamic.

2. Bella as Prey 

The second dangerous thing about the main relationship in Twilight is the connections with love, sex, and death. Perhaps undertones of death are expected in a series about vampires, but the analogy conveys bad messages along the way. For example, Edward says that when he first met Bella he wanted to kill her, and then realized that he felt romantic feelings instead. This insinuation that murder and love are linked gives off major red flags.

The next explanation requires a small leap of faith: the concept of ‘changing’ someone into a vampire by biting and sucking their blood can also be seen as allusions to sex. Edward’s explanations of how he can’t contain his physical desire when near someone he wants to bite references his uncontainable desire of Bella sexually. By enforcing the relationship as being, in Edward's words, how “the lion fell in love with the lamb,” the story pushes a false and dangerous narrative that women are something to obtain or a prize and men, the hunters, are unable to control their actions when they get close to their prey. In addition, Edward tells Bella multiple times throughout the first movie to stay away and not become friends with him lest she gets hurt, therefore implying that the uncontrollable desire that lead to dangerous actions are Bella's fault. The franchise reinforces the idea that men are predators stalking prey, women, and therefore can't be held accountable for their actions. 

3. Self Harm Threats as a Way to Control the Relationship

The third and final issue I’ll address with Twilight is the way that our two characters, Edward and Bella, manipulate each other. Barring a mental health issue, threatening a partner with suicide is an extremely manipulative and codependent way to control someone. Several times throughout the series, both Bella and Edward claim that they cannot live without each other. In the beginning of the second movie, Bella attempts to put her life in danger multiple times to get Edward’s attention and eventually his affection back. Later on, when Edward thinks that Bella is dead, he crafts a plan to kill himself, prompting her to fly halfway around the world and put herself in danger to stop him. The moral of this story seems to be that if a loved one threatens suicide as the only alternative to dating you, you should run away from home, cross the world without telling your parents, and get back together with them to stop it. In reality, threats of self-harm can be used as a way to control and emotionally manipulate someone into doing a task or containing to date them. Psychology Today asserts "your response should not be to cave into his or her demands, but to get compulsory help." Seeking professional help immediately if a partner expresses self harm intentions both safely removes you from the manipulation equation and also provides help if the person is truly suicidal. If you recognize a similar situation in your relationship, do not keep it a secret and continue to be manipulated Bella does, but get them help. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 24 hours a day or access the website by clicking on the number.

Now I don’t know about you, but I remember when Twilight hit the shelves in 2005, it also it hit the hands, hearts and minds of millions of preteens. Impressionable young girls were the key market for Twilight. For many girls, Twilight was a way to vision future and current relationships.

So go ahead and reminisce on your Twi-hard "Team Edward" or "Team Jacob" days, but also be informed of the ways that pop culture portrays romance and how we can encourage teaching young boys and girls healthy relationships that never involve manipulation and abuse.

(image credit: cover, 1, )