Tonight I watched the last installment of the Twilight films. Over the past four years this has become a tradition with the young woman I've been mentoring. She introduced me to the first Twilight film -- which I found surprisingly good -- and then I encouraged her to read the books. These were the first books she really enjoyed and I read them with her. She was a young teenager when we first began and now she's a lovely, mature young woman contemplating marriage.
Whatever its flaws, Twilight exerts a mesmerizing pull over its fans. The dreamily misted landscape, the sensual thrall, the fantasy of a blissful merging with a flawless beloved...What adolescent girl could resist such a compelling fantasy? (During the second film, when "Jacob" removes his shirt, my friend’s body was pulled forward toward the screen.)
But how can the reality of teenage boys (most of them mortal) and the disappointments of young love not disappoint? Bella, the heroine of Twilight, has no interest in school, women friends, her parents, or even the world around her. Yet her single-minded pursuit of a hot guy becomes the focus of her life and ultimately results in unconditional happiness. This is a dangerous message for girls.
I gently suggested that the books weren't exactly realistic. "Oh, I know that," she reassured me. But I worried about the effect that these fantasies would have on this sheltered young woman.
So when she told me that she was engaged, at 18, to her first serious boyfriend, I was deeply concerned. I launched into all of the reasons why early marriage is a bad idea. Go to college first, I argued. What happens if you grow apart as you grow up? I asked. I saw her quietly withdraw under my skepticism. I was raising the same concerns that her father had, telling her all the same reasons that she should not follow her own heart. So I stopped lecturing her and instead began asking her why she loved this young man and what she wanted their lives to be.
Her answers were surprisingly mature, reasoned, and thoughtful. She is a young woman who hasn’t had an easy childhood. She expects to work hard at everything: at school, at relationships, at her job. And so she does.
I will continue to worry about her, but not because she’s young, but because I worry about all of us who risk building lives together, dreaming of forever.