As I sit here, I’m thinking of all the ways I could rewrite this so that it would have been better. It’s always some small scene or comment, something where Stephenie Meyer messed up somehow and just a few subtle changes would have fixed how problematic this is. He could have met up with her in the lunch line and asked her to sit with him rather than beckoning her over like she was some kind of property or not worth standing up for. He could have asked for her okay for him to “not give her back” to, again, not treat her like an object and show that he actually cares about her autonomy. He could have apologized instead of laughing when he noticed she “looked worried.”
It took me until page 104; and I’ve hit it, the first real sign where it gets truly uncomfortable. Edward has refused to let Bella drive herself home after almost fainting from the sight of blood. He literally drags her to his car even as she’s shouting for him to let go. And then, when she pauses to consider going back to her car, he says, “I’ll just drag you back,” removing any chance of her consent and making her own decisions. And ironically, he fights her on the driving again later, implying she is drunk off him and therefore not in an adequate mental state to drive. But, ironically, this is far more acceptable than his refusing to allow her the choice to allow him to drive her home and even threatening physical force if she does not comply.
I think it’s funny how much I didn’t notice some of these pieces the first time I ever read this book. And I think I can attribute that to the fact that I simply had never really experienced a healthy relationship, let alone an unhealthy one. And, I’ll admit, Edward Cullen is not outwardly obvious as an abusive person. In fact, there are times when his behavior does somewhat make sense. For example, the ways in which he tries to warn Bella away from him. But, the problem here is that while this behavior could make sense for a vampire, those sort of actions do not transfer over well to real people.
I’m fairly certain that there aren’t really people with uncontrollable conditions that are near fatal for other people and therefore makes them justified in warding their potential love interests away from them. And so, certain aspects of the story I can accept. I can accept Edward saying he’d hurt himself to keep from hurting Bella, though again that one thought in general is deeply hazardous when applied in real life. I can accept his initial hostility toward her.
What I cannot accept, however, are all the moments when Edward takes away Bella’s ability to consent. I cannot accept the stalker-ish behavior he exhibits toward her, the fact that he has on numerous occasions snuck into her room to watch her sleep or the time he followed her in Seattle. I cannot accept both of their ideologies that, should they be without the other, the only option will naturally be to die. I cannot accept both of them making their lives about the other.
And throughout this book there are several cringey moments, but I think the real problem it presents is for readers who don’t know any better to see this sort of relationship situation as one that they can compare to real life. And that can be dangerous in a lot of ways because they portray unrealistic and even unhealthy relationships. This happens so often in film and books that it’s kind of hard to get away from, but these young girls reading and watching them don’t know any better.
I can say, unquestionably, that this idea of relying solely on your significant other for everything put me in some seriously unhealthy relationships in the past and it took me a long time to get over that, but this was an idea consistently pushed by Disney. And then Twilight continued the portrayal of unhealthy relationships but upped the ante by removing consent and adding stalking behavior. And, I’ll shamefully admit that a part of me still found this reading enjoyable, but at the same time…good pieces of a book do not make the bad pieces okay. And we need to stop romanticizing harmful behavior.