The reviewer in our local paper called the characters in New Moon “barely chaste.” Pretty astute for a gentile. But as Mormons we ought to be tendentious enough to call it what it really is, unchaste. Simply because a couple doesn’t have intercourse, doesn’t mean they are chaste. My 15-year-old daughter was so embarrassed by the intense passion of the “barely chaste” scenes in New Moon that she pulled her jacket up over her face and whimpered, “Tell me when I can look.”
It’s a tad disconcerting to think that the world believes Stephanie Meyer is reflecting Mormon values simply because she doesn’t allow her characters to sleep together before marriage. My values do not support high school students engaging in a passionate, soul-wrenching love affair, simply because they don’t have sex. My values don’t advocate teenagers sleeping in the same bed, as long as they don’t have sex. My values don’t claim teens can deceive their parents, as long as they don’t have sex.
President Hinckley taught, “When you are young, do not get involved in steady dating. When you reach an age where you think of marriage, then is the time to become so involved. But you boys who are in high school don’t need this, and neither do the girls.” (Italics mine)
Prophets have repeatedly warned teenagers against emotional intimacy. Mormon values not only discourage sex before marriage, they discourage serious romance between high school students.
The emotional intimacy poignantly depicted in New Moon can be as dangerous for teens as physical intimacy. Consider the ramifications of the break-up. Bella is so distraught when Edward leaves that she becomes clinically depressed, a depression that includes suicidal ideation. Such emotional trauma really does happen to teenagers who have been passionately in love and then break up.
I know a 15-year-old girl became anorexic after her boyfriend dumped her. I know another who jumped off a building and killed herself. I know another who sliced the tires of her boyfriend’s car, and keyed his new paint job (twice).
Romantic love is tremendously powerful. Meyer does an unparalleled job of depicting the power of romantic love. The problem is, in real life, when teenagers fall in love they eventually break up. They want to believe their love will withstand all obstacles, just like it does in Twilight, but outside of romance novels, the love can’t withstand the obstacles it will inevitably face. And the ramifications of a break-up can be dire.
For young people, intense emotional intimacy is dangerous even when it doesn’t lead to sex, because when teens are in love parental influence diminishes to practically nothing. Bella doesn’t care what anyone else thinks besides her beloved Edward. She doesn’t listen to her friends; she doesn’t listen to her father; she doesn’t listen to Jacob. She cares only about what Edward thinks.
Diminished parental influence is definitely a phenomenon in real life. Teenagers who fall deeply in love don’t listen to their parents. They only care only about pleasing their beloved. We don’t see the danger of diminished parental influence in New Moon because Edward happens to be the ultimate gentleman and saves Bella from herself. But in real life, high school boys are not such gentlemen. When their girlfriend decides he matters more to her than anything else, and she will do anything he wants, he will not have the restraint of a vegetarian vampire.
The message of New Moon alarms me further because of the intensity of the passion. My husband and I have been married for 27 years, and our children will be the first to acknowledge that we love one another more than anything else in the world. But if my husband said I was the “only” thing that he lived for and that he refused to live in a world where I did not exist, I would send him straight to psychotherapy (with someone other than myself.) It may sound flattering to a teenager to believe that she is that important to someone, but frankly, it’s creepy. The Romeo and Juliet-type obsession is pathological and reflects serious mental illness.
Emotional Intimacy is dangerous in real life because real-life teenagers do not have the self-restraint of these fictional characters. It is dangerous in this fictional series because teenagers want to believe that their lives can imitate fiction. The girls want to believe that their boyfriends will have the self-restraint of an Edward. And that’s not even fair to ask. The fiction deceives teenagers. Just like all romance novels deceive their readers. Even adult women who read romance novels find themselves confusing their reality with fantasy, and frequently make decisions that destroy their reality because they were so sold on the fantasy.
Teenagers, with even less of an appreciation for real life than their mothers, ought to be spared the deceptive fantasy. Any attempt to turn their fantasy into reality is far too dangerous.