Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series not only brought us sparkly vampires and sexy werewolves but it also romanticised, what is in reality, an abusive relationship. Edward, Bella, and Jacob are all a part of a love triangle which pits vampire Edward against werewolf Jacob with the winner getting the quiet, stuttering, human Bella. There are many instances in the book that shows Edward controlling what Bella does under the guise of wanting to keep her safe. Breaking her truck so she can not go see her friend Jacob is one example. But we defend Edward because, he loves her and comes from a different era. Even with his condescending attitude towards Bella, his belittling comments about her fragility, his family having to babysit her, even the lullaby he writes her doesn’t make a dent in our love for him. Throughout the book Edward demands, threatens, and eventually forces Bella to do things she does not want to do and we all quietly sigh and exclaim, "Now THIS is love.”
Eventually, the books morph and we see Bella covering up injuries that she sustains from Edward and from their relationship. Still, Edward is considered da bomb and most readers think Bella is a klutz. Jacob isn’t a much better hero with his constant threats and trying to force himself on Bella, convinced if they just share one kiss, she will dump Edward and come to him.
There is a fine line between being a confident male and being a controlling male. The dangerous, sexy, bad boy has always been a delish protagonist that appeals to many readers. It appeals to me, but what happens when our “hero” crosses the line and goes from delish to abusive? What does it say about us when we defend our hero, giving numerous excuses, as acceptable reasons for flying fists and cruel words? More recent YA romances seem to follow the same objective: Our heroine will do anything, give up everything, to be with their hero. Even their lives sometimes.
In Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, the hero Jace is an ass. He hates humans and treats them like dirt beneath his feet, but our human heroine, Clary, cannot stay away. She defies everyone to be with him. Even when they are thought to be brother and sister. Rather than be disgusted, most readers were fascinated and some of them STILL wanted Clary and Jace to be together.
In Clare’s Clockwork series, a companion series to the Mortal Instruments series, we have Will, a gorgeous albeit rude young man, who pushes his love interest away by insulting her repeatedly. At the end of Clockwork Angel, he propositions her, insinuating she is nothing more then a prostitute and not worth having an actual relationship with.
Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush series centers around the relationship of Patch, a fallen angel, and Nora, a human. Throughout the series, Patch both pushes away and stalks Nora, even reminding her at one point that he could kill her anytime he wants. Then he kisses her and our hearts melt. The series continues with one of my least favorite situations. The ’I do things to hurt you because I love you’ and while telling you why I’m acting this way would certainly make things easier, it wouldn’t sell more books.
This is not a new trope. Tragedy and romance have always gone hand in hand—Wuthering Heights and Romeo and Juliet are prime examples. Both portray obsession, abuse, and eventually death. It’s only recently that the stories went from the intended adult audience to a teen audience. All the above examples shows a romanticism of violence. Our heroines love our heroes not in spite of their violent, stalker tendencies but because of them. It’s as if volatility of the heroes love proves to the heroine that she is indeed worthy of him. It also helps that said hero is a hottie.
The Urban Dictionary sums it up in a nut shell.
A hot girl who follows you around and shows up at your door is a friend. An ugly girl who follows you around and shows up at your door is a stalker. A hot guy who gives you flowers is a romantic. An ugly guy who gives you flowers is a stalker.
— Urban Dictionary on stalkers
So, if you’re hot...it’s romantic, but if you’re not...it’s creepy.
What I find interesting is the common denominator for these popular teen books is the supernatural theme. Our hero is already considered a “monster” in his own mind and the storyline. Does that make it easier for us to accept their abusive nature because they aren’t human? Does this essentially give us an excuse to “forgive” the hero, knowing that it will never touch our real lives?
That is not to say there are not plenty of teen romances that feature abuse, stalker themes with human protagonists. In Deb Caletti’s Stay, our heroine Clara embarks on a relationship with the sexy, quiet Christian only to realize that his declarations of love are really attempts to manipulate and control her. Sarah Dressen’s Dreamland shows how an abusive relationship starts and why. Jennifer Brown’s Bitter End has a more realistic look at teen relationship abuse: Alex is a fairly stable teen who meets new boy Cole and the sparks fly. When he begins to abuse her, we see how her feelings of love for him and shame at being considered a domestic abuse victim color her perceptions and actions. Yet, in each of those above books, the hero is just as sexy and domineering as their supernatural counterparts, but we are not as an enamored of them. They aren’t on our top ten book boyfriend lists. We aren’t writing serenades to them or trying to explain our preoccupation with them. We don’t want a Christian or Cole in our lives. And that begs the question, why? Are we more forgiving because of the supernatural aspect?
What do you think?