Have you ever had that moment when you’re reading a mushy love story and all of a sudden you think to yourself: Really? Romantic cast broken, love story spoiled – there’s something up in this love connection. Sometimes you connect the dots in an indirect way: you watch the film adaption only to realize the love story you adored is riddled with off-putting oddities, or a friend breaks the news to you – you know they were cousins right? There’s many ways a love story can go awry and unfortunately, the creepy romance is more common than you think.
Pick your favorite. Take any love story, pluck it from its pages and stamp it with a contemporary frame. Depending on what you chose, you’re probably seeing a painfully thirsty bachelor or bachelorette begging for their love interest’s attention, the dominance of one character over another in some form, a fetish for sick people, incestual tendencies, and if nothing else a whole lot of deception. Let’s take a romantic walk on the beach as we examine a few case studies.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
So for starters we have the context of the love interest: a young governess by the name of Jane works for the equally reputable and repugnant Mr. Rochester, a man some 17 years older than the 18 year-old employee. Age difference and employer-employee relations (that’s a lot of hierarchy) is creep factor #1and 2. As the plot thickens, Jane and Mr. Rochester begin to take a liking to each other. Who knew he was such a softy?
But as the romance begins to heat up – the pinnacle being at the alter – it’s revealed that the hubby-to-be has a few skeletons in his closet. Correction, a deranged wife in the attic (creepy factor #3). As if it’s not horrible enough that he keeps his wife locked up, he also keeps his affair with Jane from his wife and lies to Jane about being married (#4 and #5). Moreover, despite softening up with Jane, Mr. Rochester is a general meanie to just about everyone else (#6). Oh and he pretends at one point to be a gypsy fortune teller – another move of deception (#7) and also blatantly weird (#8?).
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Ah the story of star crossed lovers! Taken from Shakespeare’s day and transplanted to our own the story feels less like true love and more like teenage angst. Let’s not forget R&J are in their tween years when the story takes place. The tragedy opens with a lovelorn Romeo swooning over the girl of his dreams, Rosalind. He’s depressed and anxiety stricken, and I hate to pathologize fictional characters, but a DSM consultation might have served him well. As he’s falling over himself, pawing for Rosalind with puppy dog eyes he – oh wait, here’s Juliet, forget that Rosalind chick. Romeo moves on pretty quickly and is head over heels for Juliet within minutes of meeting her.
Call it love at first sight, but reimagined today we’d probably just call him a stage five clinger. The largest flaw in this relationship however, is the lack of communication between our angsty lovers. For feuding families you think they’d have better tabs on each other’s where-abouts and be able to offset the dual-suicide that brings the romance to a tragic end. Dying for each other is one thing, but dying for each other out of sheer confusion takes hubris to a whole new level.
A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks (and honestly, anything by Nicholas Sparks)
Don’t let the tender tale fool you, there are definitely creepy elements at hand. Unlike the books listed prior, there’s not the issue of a persistent suitor, or at least not initially. In the beginning our female protagonist, Jamie, encourages our male protagonist, Landon, to walk her home everyday and join the cast for the school’s production of The Christmas Angel. He agrees hesitantly, and is embarrassed to even be seen with Jamie for a good chunk of the plot. When he discovers she’s ill and will inevitably die he’s suspiciously more on board and wants to marry the increasingly feeble Jamie. Perhaps guilt, perhaps a sudden realization of what’s at stake, but also perhaps a peculiar obsession with sick people?
As a part of Jamie’s life dream, she is married and her father is able to walk her down the aisle. No incest (see Kathryn Harrison’s The Kiss) here, but debatably some bubbling fetishes, a clear dominance of Landon over Jamie in terms of his health and her vulnerability, and definitely some deception – not telling your lover you have cancer is a big no-no.
Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer
The movie that spawned a thousand vampire shows, movies, and memorabilia is oodles full of creepiness. Let’s take it from the top: Seattle is lovely but the scene is given a very creepy cast. The characters themselves seem to talk very little and our protagonist Bella, seems exceptionally silent. Her love interest, Edward is 1) a vampire that wants to eat Bella, 2) nearly mute, and 3) pulls lines more cringe-worthy than your favorite LifeTime Movie (my personal fave is She’s Too Young! What’s yours?).
Edward: “Besides, friends don’t let friends drive drunk.”
Edward: “You’re intoxicated by my very presence.”
Edward: “Are you still faint from the run? Or was it my kissing expertise?”
So yes, Edward is a certified terrible charmer. But his persistence – showing up places he shouldn’t, staring at Bella across the room – which would naturally turn a girl away, only captivates Bella further:
“I was consumed by the mystery Edward presented. And more than a little obsessed by Edward himself.”
-Bella Swan, Twilight, Chapter 3, p.67
“I was completely absorbed, except for one small part of my mind that wondered what Edward was doing now, and trying to imagine what he would be saying if he were here with me.”
-Bella Swan, Twilight, Chapter 6, p.117
Bella’s infatuation with a mutant that could kill her is a bit of a red flag, especially alongside her reference to her father’s gun and his concern that she might hurt herself. That along with Edward’s persistence, embedded male-female dominance (immortal trumps mortal anyday) , and general deception between the two love birds brings the read closer to a horror story than a gripping romance.
Whatever romance novel you may have had in mind at the beginning of the article, chances are there’s at least one creep factor that stands out. These are all too easily dismissed, maybe because it’s fiction or because we know the two will end up together: the ends justify the means. Nonetheless, deconstructing the relationship dynamic of a read gives insight to the romantic tropes that these books pave in literature.
They set precedent for how men and women should behave in these dynamics, and in many circumstances, encourage behaviors that don’t translate well into real life, i.e. stalking, deception, obsession, and dependence. It’s all fun and games in the fiction, but when literary characters transcend to cultural icons (cue the tweens fawning over Edward) taking a step back to see the courtship behavior we uphold becomes less frivolous and more important for discussion.
So let’s discuss! In the comments I mean…
Featured image courtesy of Flocku.