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Friday, October 16, 2009

On a Serious Note, Take Two

I've been thinking about this for awhile. A long while. Every time I go into a bookstore, every time someone references the upcoming New Moon release, every time I see someone reading a "trigger book." I haven't done this post, though, for a lot of reasons, mainly because I wasn't sure how I'd go about it and a part of me didn't want to delve into this issue again. But Natalie, super-awesome Natalie, did a post about it, and if she can talk about it so openly, I can too.

Twilight started a dangerous trend. It's more of a cliche now really: the weak and socially awkward girl outcast falls for the outrageously attractive and mysteriously dark boy who is almost inhumanly perfect. I joke about it in my book reviews, yes. But it's one of those joke-about-it-so-you-don't-scream scenarios. Here, I will scream. Er, not scream-scream, but you get the idea.

I (surprise surprise) was a weak and socially awkward girl outcast who read and wrote about life where other people "really" lived. People used to laugh because most of my pieces of advice started with "I read it in a book once...". Books shaped every part of everything I did when I was a teenager, painfully shy and uncertain and so, so breakable. If I read a story about a girl like me who blossomed by doing XYZ, I DID XYZ in hope of blossoming too. And if I'd read a story about a girl who found "true love" by sticking in a relationship with someone who "only wanted the best" for her, someone who forced her to change who she was, someone who TOLD her what was wrong with her and refused to be with her unless she conformed to his demands, I would still be pining after my exes. Though other people may have told me that what my exes did was wrong, because a book told me first that it was right, I wouldn't have heard them.

Without naming titles, I've seen the Twilight-like glorification of emotional abuse coming up again and again and again in books. And it is sickening. Spinning the controlling, obsessive, cruel actions of an emotional abuser until they're something that makes girls swoon is an epidemic as far from the awesome kind as you can get. The authors don't do it intentionally, of course; but that doesn't make it okay. In most cases, the authors' intent was to show that the shy girl CAN find true love too. An admirable goal, yes. But the execution of said goal has become more detrimental than ever intended.

In the people I meet in my day-to-day happenings (school, work, home, etc), I run into a lot of people. A nice mixed variety, mostly of my age and below, and mostly female. Being female, the issue of boys will invariably come up. It used to be that these conversations were filled with All-boys-are-stupid, I-can't-wait-to-find-the-one-who-ISN'T. Now, though, they're filled with half-hearted smiles. Shrugs. "Yeah, I have a boyfriend. He's great. I love him," said with as much excitement as though she was talking about homework. The girls I meet now are falling into relationships that they WON'T get out of. Not that they can't. They simply won't. The glorification of "love" being a controlling, manipulative, toxic spiral has made girls believe that that is it. The dead-end relationship they're in is it. They're "in love." That's enough.

I know books alone aren't to blame for this. But I don't think the rise in popularity of Twilight-love-themed books and the corresponding rise of teenage girls thinking that that IS love is entirely coincedental. Now, I haven't done any kind of scientific study to see how many girls countrywide are in relationships of the emotionally abusive kind. I just know that the girls around me went from powerful, strongwilled young women who WANTED more of their lives to "Eh. My boyfriend loves me. He doesn't have a job. He's not going to college. But he loves me. That's enough."

One of the most frustrating things in all of this is not being able to argue with them. I try to tell them that that ISN'T love, but then they ask the obvious question. "Well then, what is?" I try to explain. I give examples -- but all my examples are at least two generations removed from theirs. I don't have one single example of a healthy, functional relationship in the 20-and-below category. When they realize that, the girls shrug, roll their eyes, and go back to their boyfriends. They give up.

Watching everyone around me find boyfriends and "happiness" while I sit off to the side, spouting promises that love is supposed to be better than that, has made me want to give up too. And then another book comes out saying "This is love. Look for THIS to make you happy." And I tell the book, "No, you're wrong! I had that, I had that THREE separate times, and it still kills me." But I'm running out of arguements. There are only a handful of girls I know who still believe love is supposed to be something more than an Edward-like spiral. The rest are smiling. It's a losing battle to tell someone who thinks they're happy that they aren't, especially when you yourself aren't happy and you're trying to convince them to be like you. And especially when another author writes another book about the weak, inept 16-year-old who falls in love because she stuck it out with the guy who berated her, changed her, and manipulated her.

I won't settle for an Edward. I've been down that road enough to know that Edwards are never really capable of loving anyone as much as they love themselves. But not settling has become the fight of my generation. Fighting for something you REALLY want is looked at with an eyeroll, a snort of derision. It's hard. It sucks. Most days leave me wanting to scream because everyone around me is "happy" while I'm still promising them that I'll someday be happier.

What makes it harder are books like Twilight. Books that glorify the insanity.

What makes it easier are the few books like Shiver. Books that say "This is how it should be. Warm. Safe. It should make you BEAUTIFUL. And it should be worth fighting for."


K. M. Walton said...

Your last paragraph really sums up love nicely.

When a man truly loves a woman, that man builds the woman up and makes her feel like she is the most beautiful, most intelligent, most wanted woman alive. How? With gentleness and honesty and intelligence and support and compliments and passion.

Real love, true love, the kind every girl dreams of never leaves the girl feeling less than or small.


Natalie Whipple said...

Sara, I promise it's out there. And Kiersten and Steph and all the GOOD relationships girls can back me up.

Don't stop looking. Don't settle. It's just really hard to find a guy to match your awesome, that's all;P

And I agree. I know this is accurate to life, these relationships in books. But the should not be glorified.

Mariah Irvin said...

You have a way with words, my friend.

I agree with you on every point you made. Why do you think that Jane Eyre is one of my favorite characters? When the love of her life tried to control her she had the strength to walk away.

I'm a total romantic, and books like Twilight put me ill at ease.

Unknown said...

Fantastic post, Sara!

Hayley Lovell said...

I'm glad you brought this up Sara, because it seems, a lot of the time, that the way society is going nowadays its encouraging this kind of sick relationship. And I have to agree with you, I've seen it too,and still being in high school thats got to account for something. But you're right girls like us, shy, timid etc., don't need to think in the Twilight mindset. I have no doubt that one day you and I will be able to find healthy relationships. Great post Sara as always inspiring!

Sara Raasch said...

KM -- That's the definition of love I know. Just wish everyone else knew it too...

Natalie -- Thanks :) It is horribly discouraging sometimes, but seeing relationships like what you and Kiersten and Steph have really helps. It's one thing to dream of it, another to see it.

Mariah -- Jane Eyre is an excellent example; I'd forgotten her story...I'll have to pick that book up again!

Daphne -- Thanks :)

Hayley -- Society does encourage this relationship type, and their encouragement is some of what makes it so frustrating/difficult. It's so hard to get away from.

Jade said...

Sara, yeah you shouldn't give up hope.

When I was a teenager, I wanted a boyfriend like some of my friends had--really jealous, possessive guys. The theory was that they obviously loved their gfs so much that the thought of them cheating on them drove them into a rage. How romantic.

Thankfully, I met my husband and realised that this is what love is. Where you feel safe and treasured and trusted no matter what. It may sound corny, but he's my best-friend.

No-one should ever have to settle for Edward when they could have Jacob!

lisa and laura said...

Oh Sara, I love those last couple of lines. Gorgeous. Don't give up! The good guys are out there, you'll find one.

DeAnna said...

I'm with you...as long as keeping kids away from the Twilight books isn't involved. Censorship almost always mean well.

Sara Raasch said...

Jade -- Jacob is SO much more desirable. I really don't see how people can be Team Edward.

L&L -- Thanks :)

DeAnna -- I wouldn't tell people not to read Twilight, I just wouldn't suggest it to certain people. For instance, I wouldn't tell my 14-year-old daughter to read it. I would suggest other books for her to read, like Shiver, that portray love in a more constructive way.

Najela said...

It seems like in this day and age that people equate love with just a physical thing and not the intimacy. With Twilight and other books like it, all I remember Bella going on about is how hot Edward is and how she wants to be a vampire to have sex with him. It's not about reality and some people don't recognize that. A man should enhance your life not bring it down.

Sara Raasch said...

Najela -- Exactly. If it isn't fun physically anymore, that must mean you've "fallen out of love," hence the high divorce rate. If I don't "feel" in love that, then it must mean I don't love that person anymore. It's so warped.

Karilynnlove said...

Agreed! Very good post!
PS I nominated you for an award on my blog!

Anonymous said...

Great post!

I'm with Natalie on this--I was always a shy girl too. I never had a boyfriend until college, when I was blessed enough to find my husband the first try. But they do exist!

Unfortunately society glorifies the physical relationships--the one-night stands, the "rebound" relationships, etc. Love is a lot more than just the physical; love isn't easy--it can be hard sometimes. Love also doesn't mean you take abuse either.

Too many girls--and some guys even (yes, I have known guys in equally emotionally abusive relationships)are afraid that they won't find someone else. But becoming a shadow of oneself is SO not worth being a relationship for, but it's hard to try and get that across.

Kate said...

I know too many people who think that this is romantic. A lot of people I know (18 and under) think that Edward is sweet and it's love. I'm also finding that a lot of people don't think of love as something magical anymore. It's a shame for people in my generation (16 year olds).

Donna Gambale said...

I also fell in love with Grace & Sam's love story in SHIVER. Yayyy healthy relationships!