Tweens and teens will be flocking to the theater this weekend to see the movie New Moon. The Twilight Saga books, the movie is based on is the second, have become a national phenomenon making fans of preteen girls to women in their fifties. So, what is all the fuss about? Kristine Gasbarre, author and celebrity editor of LimeLife.com says, “The relationship between Bella and Edward is the epitome of young romance. They ignore all obstacles in their way because their longing for each other is so overpowering.” Add Edward’s masculine strength and his desire to protect Bella and you have the formula for a thrilling romance.
Many girls fantasize about being completely desired and adored in a romantic relationship. One of the most compelling aspects of Twilight is that Edward cannot fight his urge to be with Bella even though he knows that as a vampire everything about their relationship is unnatural and fraught with risk. According to Sari Cooper, a New York City Sex Therapist, this type of fantasy is normal. “The experience of being desired is a huge turn on for women and Edward can’t get enough of Bella.”
However, understanding the difference between fantasy and reality is key. Sari points out that the wonderful thing about daydreaming is that the person fantasizing is in control, which makes it safe. “No one is going to get hurt.” In Twilight, Edward saves Bella from a gang of men about to attack her. He is so furious that it takes all of his will power not to avenge Bella by killing them. In a book this may seem romantic, but in real life it would be terrifying. Sari recommends that parents not only read the books or see the movies, but also ask their daughters how they would feel if the situations described happened in reality. “It’s exciting to watch someone get rescued in a movie, but we would not necessarily want to experience it in real life.”
Critics of the Twilight series have raised concerns about girls confusing the fantasies of romantic love in the books with the realities of abusive relationships. Gina R. Dalfonzo writes in her essay for National Review:
He [Edward] spies on Bella while she sleeps, eavesdrops on her conversations, reads her classmates’ minds, forges her signature, tries to dictate her choice of friends, encourages her to deceive her father, disables her truck, has his family hold her at his house against her will, and enters her house when no one’s there — all because, he explains, he wants her to be safe. He warns Bella how dangerous he is, but gets “furious” at anyone else who tries to warn or protect her. He even drags her to the prom against her expressed wishes. He is, in short, one of modern fiction’s best candidates for a restraining order.
By romanticizing Edward and Bella’s relationship, girls run the risk of not recognizing signs of abuse in boyfriends once they start dating. The Twilight Saga offers an important opportunity for parents to have an ongoing dialogue about the series with their daughters. In an age-appropriate way, parents can discuss the positive and negative attributes in different types of romantic relationships.
So, what can parents do to help their daughter’s develop healthy relationships? Rachel Simmons, author of The Curse of the Good Girl, says that girls first need to focus on establishing positive relationships with each other. “Girls first learn how to be emotionally intimate with their friends. Through their experience of love between best friends, girls can experience profoundly attached intimacy. Other than the lack of physical attraction, the mechanics are no different.”
Friendships give girls the opportunity to develop positive communication skills, have respectful disagreements, be interdependent, and share mutual empathy. Girls need to gain an understanding of themselves, their feelings and their boundaries in order to achieve these skills. To have a positive sense of self, girls need both self-respect and the respect of their friends. They need believe that their needs and interests are integral to the friendship. This involves the ability to be simultaneously proactive about their wishes while also respecting their friends’ boundaries.
Inevitably, girls will “break up” with some of their friends. Rachel Simmons points out, “Heartbreak happens in all friendships. When a girl looses her best friend she is entitled to be devastated, write bad poetry, listen to sad music, and eat ice cream. After awhile it is important for her to get back into the world and “friend-date” again.” By realizing that they have the resilience to get through the ups and downs of these early relationships, girls gain the confidence they need to expect appropriate boundaries in their romantic lives. By asserting their needs in both friendship and love, girls are more likely to find someone who fulfills their inner desire to be adored for their true selves.