Confessions of a Grown 'Twihard'
What is it about the 'Twilight' saga that has women behaving like teenage girls?
En español | Although the hugely successful Twilight books were written for adolescent girls, grown women have fallen madly in love with the teenage vampire romance series, the fifth and final film of which, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part 2, is in theaters now.
When women — of many different ages — discover their shared Twilight obsession, they typically ask one another, "Are you Team Edward or Team Jacob?"
(Perplexed? Checkout "How to Talk to a Twilight Fan." For a quick plot summary read "The Twilight Saga in 20 Seconds," at right.)
My friend Erin is to blame for my addiction. She became my Twilight dealer by raving about and lending me all four books: Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn. Since then, Erin has been my steady opening weekend date for the films, which I've seen in theaters and on DVD more times than I can count.
In 2009, I attended the midnight premiere of New Moon with hordes of screaming teenage girls, young women and, well, older ladies. I've hosted mom's night out events for the openings of Eclipse (in 2010) and Breaking Dawn: Part 1 (in 2011). The same women and I are gathering again for an opening day sceening of Breaking Dawn: Part 2. Like other Twilight fans, I buy my movie tickets weeks in advance.
Once the books in the series have been read and re-read, Twilight devotees plow through author Stephenie Meyer's spinoff novels and Web-posted Twilight outtakes. Once the Twilight films have been watched and rewatched, we view fan-made Twilight trailers and films on YouTube. Seemingly mature women like myself join Twilight chat rooms and Facebook groups. We listen to the Twilight movie soundtracks.
When the DVD of the first film debuted, a half-dozen friends and I gathered for a living room screening. Among the seven women present, only Lyn and I had become consumed by the books. The others attended for the fun of getting together, and out of curiosity about the story and their own teenage daughters’ obsessions.
When I had suggested to Lyn that we recommend the series to our 15-member book group, she swiftly declined.
"I don't want that responsibility," said Lyn. "I don't want to be the reason someone becomes so consumed by the stories that all she wants to do is read the books, and read about the books, and think about Edward Cullen."
After that gathering, three of the five Twilight newbies started reading the books. One confessed that she was looking at her husband and trying to imagine him as Edward Cullen. Other friends have admitted to spending hours on the Internet, searching for more information about the stories and, in a couple of cases, looking into whatever happened to that long-ago high school boyfriend. My doctor (an age 40-something woman and Twilight fan) and I got sidetracked into an extended conversation about the series during an appointment.
When my Edward crush surfaces, my husband looks at me in disbelief.
"What’s wrong with you?" he asks. "It's like you're in love with a fictional character."
My response: "He's just such a good boyfriend."
Although Edward Cullen could easily be described as a control freak and obsessive lover, Bella doesn't feel that way about him. Edward is smart, thoughtful, well-mannered, devoted. He cooks for Bella and takes her to restaurants, even though he doesn't eat food. He cuddles her to sleep at night even though, as a vampire, he never sleeps. Edward doesn't care that Bella will age and he won't. He loves her for who she is, not what she looks like.
Why the obsession?
In many ways, author Stephenie Meyer created the fantasy boyfriend we'd wish for our daughters (e.g. Edward doesn't believe in premarital sex), and the cautious, responsible, gentlemanly son we'd be proud to call our own. Or, more directly, forgetting our age, she has created a youthful romance we wish could be our own. Much of the excitement about Breaking Dawn: Part 1 was that Bella and Edward wed — and went on a honeymoon. (Finally, some action!) Check out the now married-with-child couple in a Breaking Dawn: Part 2 movie trailer below.
In the films, Edward Cullen is played by British actor Robert Pattinson, 26. Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, 22, who plays Bella, are an on-again-off-again off-screen couple as well. Jacob Black, the third member of the film's love triangle, is portrayed by Taylor Lautner, 20. (In order to keep the role of Jacob, who between the first movie and the second matures from boyish teen to muscled vampire slayer, Lautner developed killer six-pack abs.)
While crushing on the young Taylor Lautner/Jacob Black may be age-inappropriate, older fans can justify a Robert Pattinson/Edward Cullen attraction by noting that their crush is on Edward the character, not Pattinson the actor. And since Edward is roughly 110 years old, he's an older man.
A connection the book makes for many women is that it takes them back to when — like Bella and Edward — they were 17, or whatever younger-than-now age they were when they had crushes, when the cute guy they watched from afar actually spoke to them (or didn't), when they first fell for someone who felt the same about them.
My friend Darlene has a theory about why some women are, as Bella declares about herself, "unconditionally and irrevocably in love with" Edward Cullen, and why others don't succumb to his charms.
The women who love Edward and Twilight are the ones who had a passionate love affair when they were younger, Darlene theorizes. Twilight takes grown women back to those feelings — of wanting someone so badly and being wanted by him, of feeling cared for and protected, and loved. According to Darlene, women who didn't have those experiences can't fully relate in the same way to Edward and Bella's story. "They don't miss what they didn't have," she concludes. "We miss what we had."
And therein lies an essential truth about Twilight's popularity with "older" ladies.
I was 19 when I met my husband; he was 20. So much of Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn reminds me of our courtship and early life together: the initial infatuation and hesitancy to get involved, the passion, the romance, the forced separations and the reunions, the anxiety and excitement about whether and how to have a future together. Years later, in the course of daily, grown-up life, it becomes hard for couples to remember a time before babies and bosses, bills and to-do lists, beer bellies and less-than-firm bustlines.
The arrival of Breaking Dawn: Part 2 is a bittersweet event for many a Twihard. This is the last film. We'll have no more to look forward to. Our Twilight addictions will subside, or we'll get our fix by continuing to connect through our shared obsession. I can count on my own intergenerational community of Twilight obsessives.
I can talk Twilight trivia with everyone from my prematurely mature 10-year-old daughter to my friends' tween, teen and college-aged daughters, to women my age and older. I can also take comfort in the kind words of my then 18-year-old neighbor, Lexi, who, when I mocked my own fascination with a book series written for teenage girls, said, "Oh, no, the books are for you. Stephenie Meyer is a mom and she wrote the stories for herself as much as she did for people my age."
Melissa Stanton is an editor at AARP.org and, obviously, a shameless member of "Team Edward."