In Amy’s brilliant piece a few weeks ago on what we all should have been taught at school, she linked to a page entitled ‘Ten Ways to Know You’re Dating a Sociopath’. The following list came up:

If your new romantic interest exhibits all or most of the following behaviors, be careful. He or she might be a sociopath.

1. Charisma and charm. They’re smooth talkers, always have an answer, never miss a beat. They seem to be very exciting.

2. Enormous ego. They act like the smartest, richest or most successful people around. They may actually come out and tell you that.

3. Overly attentive. They call, text and e-mail constantly. They want to be with you every moment. They resent time you spend with your family and friends.

4. Jekyll and Hyde personality. One minute they love you; the next minute they hate you. Their personality changes like flipping a switch.

5. Blame others. Nothing is ever their fault. They always have an excuse. Someone else causes their problems.

6. Lies and gaps in the story. You ask questions, and the answers are vague. They tell stupid lies. They tell outrageous lies. They lie when they’d make out better telling the truth.

7. Intense eye contact. Call it the predatory stare. If you get a chill down your spine when they look at you, pay attention.

8. Move fast. They quickly proclaim that you’re their true love and soul mate. They want to move in together or get married quickly.

9. Pity play. They appeal to your sympathy. They want you to feel sorry for their abusive childhood, psychotic ex, incurable disease or financial setbacks.

10. Sexual magnetism. If you feel intense attraction, if your physical relationship is unbelievable, it may be their excess testosterone.

As I read it, it reminded me of two things. One, my ex boyfriend, who was without any doubt, a sociopath in every sense. But that’s in the past, and not what we’re talking about here. The second, more troubling, thing that it reminded me of, was Twilight.

I admit that I’m pretty late to the Twilight party. I only started reading them when I was pregnant, and it’s only now that I’ve just started to be able to find time to start reading occasionally again, so I’m actually only about half way through the third book. Perhaps I shouldn’t be writing about my opinion on them without even finishing them. Please all feel free to correct me if the fourth book turns everything around.

From the very beginning though, something about them made me feel really uncomfortable. More exactly, something about Bella and Edward’s relationship made me feel unsettled. Agitated. The books are deliciously easy to read, in the same way that The Da Vinci code is, and they pull you in and make you want keep reading, that I can’t deny. But the dynamic between Bella and Edward spoilt the whole thing for me. The way she idolised him, despite the fact that he admitted several times that he wanted to hurt her, and perhaps even kill her, rang huge alarm bells for me. In fact, the more I read, the more uncomfortable I became.

Yes, the list above is just for fun, but it pretty accurately described my relationship, and I think that Bella could tick just about every item on the list. From the beginning he was manipulating her, sucking her in, and then retreating back, ignoring her and giving no reason or explanation. He then secretly followed her around, even when she was out with friends, because ‘she’s so clumsy that she’s not safe to be left on her own’ (which he tells her so many times she absolutely believes it). Their love is intense, from the very beginning, to the absolute exclusion of all others.He constantly threatened to hurt her, but ‘only because he loved her so much’. Is that not the classic abusers excuse? He watches her sleep without her permission for christ sakes! I could go on with my examples, but I’ll leave it there. From someone who has been in a relationship like that, I know exactly how unhealthy and negative all of these things are.

And don’t get me started on how Bella reacts when he disappears in the second book. It made me actually physically uncomfortable to read how she behaved. How she believed that life wasn’t worth living without Edward. How she cut herself off from everyone who cared about her. Changed her personality. What sort of message is that sending to impressionable young girls about how to deal with a break-up?

I’m well aware that this is ‘only a story’. That people write about emotionally and physically abusive relationships all the time. What makes this different for me though, is the fact that this is romanticising what is actually a deeply dangerous relationship dynamic. And worse, doing so in literature aimed at teenagers. How many teenage girls fell head over heels in love with Edward in the books or the film? It has made an abusive relationship aspirational. How many of the girls who’ve read Twilight now actually aspire to be in a relationship where the boy dominates her, overrides her wishes, and threatens to hurt her? Who believe that unless the boy loves them so much he is willing to kill other suitors, and potentially her, he’s not worth being with?

I know for certain that if Emmi was a teenager right now, I’d feel deeply uncomfortable about her reading the series, without some sort of frank discussion about how damaged, and damaging, the relationship is. But is that just because of my past? Am I seeing things where they aren’t? Do you see what I’m seeing, or do you think it’s just a harmless piece of fiction, with a handsome and mysterious lead character?

Categories: Books, Family, Friends and Relationships, Politics and Feminism
37 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Posted July 5, 2012 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    He is a vampire

    I see where you’re coming from but really the amount of shit that’s on TV that young girls are watching and the crap in magazines Twilight is at least well written and it is at the end of the day just a story.

    I hope that George reads as much as I do, then it will just be another book. It’s the kids that get completely fanatic about it that are more of a worry.

  2. Posted July 5, 2012 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    I haven’t read them because, I’m ashamed to admit, I thought the trailers for the films were awful. All that teenage angst *and* vampires? Not interested.

    Reading the list about sociopaths…I’ve met a couple of these *shudder*

  3. Posted July 5, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    I have very little time for Twilight. She didn’t half drag that last book out. I think your point is an interesting one if you take the story as an allegory for an abusive relationship…. but I’m not sure that is what it is intended to be? It’s a book about a vampire. If he behaved like a normal boy…it wouldn’t be a book about a vampire. I think the points on sociopaths are fascinating though! And they can be girls as well as boys… I’ve definitely known a lady who ticks all those boxes.


  4. Posted July 5, 2012 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    I haven’t read Twilight, as it just doesn’t appeal to me, but I have very recently re read Jane Eyre. This post has set me off thinking… Could Mr Rochester perhaps have strong elements of the sociopath about him? Is their love sometimes not held up and idolised? Then what about other characters from novels who are sociopaths? Jane Austen’s Wickham and Willoughby definitely are, but then they are shown to be so at the end, as is Helen Fielding’s Daniel Cleaver. What do we think of female sociopaths? Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary? Not sure where this leads to, probably nowhere. Stories need a variety of characters in them and is it just if they are hero worshipped that it becomes darker for our own real emotions? Are we often, I think I often am, slightly snobbish and allow ‘classic’ novels their sociopaths but not modern fiction? What other characters in stories have sociopaths?
    Thank you for stimulating my brain this morning Clare, now all I want to do today is look through my bookshelves.

    p.s. Emmi – Your mother writes very well so next time she sets you down to sleep or play so she can write – please let her.

    • Posted July 5, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      That’s such an interesting point, because I’ve always thought Mr Rochester was a bit manipulative, and I’m always really glad when Jane leaves him. I’m also really glad when they get back together, though, so there’s some mixed messaging from me! I think the difference is personally I never felt that Jane Eyre *needed* Mr Rochester, she loved him but she was prepared to leave him rather than sacrifice her values to stay with him.

      I also think it’s worth noting that most classic novels were written at a time where women genuinely were expected to be submissive and subservient a lot of the time. The values and ideals of society are reflected in literature, and in the past a woman was expected to put up with a man controlling her life. I’m less tolerant of this in modern Western literature because I don’t think those values still apply.

      K x

    • Clare
      Posted July 5, 2012 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      Really good points Rachel – I’ve thought the same about several of the Austen characters, and definitely Jane Eyre. I’m not sure exactly how aspirational those relationships are though? Is the author setting them out as an example of a perfect relationship? And (unfortunately) nowhere near as many teenagers read those books – Twilight is specifically aimed at that age-group – that’s where I really struggle with it…

      • Posted July 6, 2012 at 8:01 am | Permalink

        I think the important thing about Jane Eyre, too, is that despite her pull to, and love for, Rochester she does leave, and she is offered another, and you could argue ‘safer’ life with St John. When she goes back to him it’s her choice to, and the balance of power shifts when she’s back… this is such an interesting post though Clare and I remember being a bit wary when my sister, who was 14 at the time, became totally obsessed with the books. To the point where she could quote whole passages. After spending a ridiculous amount of her pocket money (books in Australia are waaaay more expensive than they are here) she’s now 17 and 3/4 (which is also making me wary but for totally different reasons!) and now thinks the whole series is ridiculous.

    • Emily
      Posted July 5, 2012 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      Rachel and Clare, you’ve got my brain buzzing too! I also haven’t read the Twilight books because they aren’t my thing, but I re-read Jane Eyre a couple of years ago and was quite surprised at how cruel Mr R was. I still loved the book, but I loved him a bit less as an adult than I did the first time round. I think maybe the thing about C19th literature is that, in general, the sociopaths are more evenly spread between female and male characters – I totally agree about Emma Bovary, and possibly Anna Karenina, though I’m not quite sure where being a headstrong, impetuous woman breaking conventions stops and a sociopath begins.

      I read a great comment somewhere yesterday in the context of Fifty Shades (which I also haven’t and don’t intend to read, mainly because I’ve heard they are very badly written and I can only just cope with the later Jilly Coopers!) that if the person wanted to read about that sort of relationship they would read Pamela (though with a sub title of Virtue Rewarded, I’m not sure if it exactly fits the brief!) instead!

  5. Katielase
    Posted July 5, 2012 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Clare, I think I love you.

    I can see the points above about him being a vampire and thus not a ‘normal boy’ and if she wanted to write a sociopathic vampire then fine, but to me that still doesn’t explain why Bella constantly lets him abuse her, and tell her she’s useless without him, she needs him to cope with life. It makes me feel twitchy and scared, and I had to put the book down because it was making me want to scream at her to stand up for herself.

    I’ve never been in an abusive relationship, in fact I’ve only ever been in one long-term relationship and it’s been very happy and my husband loves me as his equal, and I still felt uncomfortable reading Twilight, so I don’t think it’s just you projecting your past Clare, because I don’t have the same past experience to project.

    I guess if is ‘just a story’, but personally books have shaped my life and my values and ideals a vast amount, it scares me that a generation of young women may be having their relationship values shaped by this, without realising how damaging it is.

    K x

  6. Becca
    Posted July 5, 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    I really hadn’t thought about it like that but wow….you’re right. I wouldn’t be comfortable for my daughter (or son actually….) to read those and think that its how a relationship should be. I think back to what I read as a teen and it really influenced me. I would much rather a child of mine read teen fiction like the Hunger Games where the female character has some gumption and the relationships are more equal.

    I also agree, I don’t think its you projecting your past because it made me uncomfortable but (until know) I never really knew why. Bella REALLY irritated me when I read the book and I think that comes from the fact I don’t like her as a character. Weakling. The 3rd book (I don’t think there is a 4th) is THE most boring book I ever read.

    Waiting for the next Divergent / Insurgent book to come out. AMAZING. You must read it afterwards.

    • Posted July 5, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      YES. I second this, you must read Divergent/Insurgent. But maybe wait until the 3rd book is out because the cliffhanger at the end of Insurgent has had a seriously negative effect on my mental health. If I have daughters I want them to grow up aspiring to be strong and badass, like Katniss or Tris.

      Also, I laughed aloud at “weakling”.

      K x

  7. Esme
    Posted July 5, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Very interesting. I haven’t read the books as, like Lucy, I thought the films were rubbish. I guess I’ll get round to it at some point, but then I haven’t read the Hunger Games either (I know, I’m sorry! Does anyone want to lend them to me?). I absolutely agree with your point, Clare, that whatever the intended message of the book, so many young girls will read it and think that they want a boyfriend just like Edward. More books for teenagers about REAL relationships, perhaps?

    I remember a family friend saying that her 12 year-old daughter was reading them and it made me feel really uneasy. I tried to warn her that the last book is pretty graphic (am I right?) and that maybe she should skim through it before her daughter came to her with questions she wasn’t ready for.

    • Becca
      Posted July 5, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

      I’ll pop them TO.YOUR.HOUSE.TONIGHT. They are THAT good*

      *Except I don’t know where you live

  8. Steff
    Posted July 5, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    I’ve not read Twilight so I can’t comment on that relationship but it sounds like it would make me pretty uncomfortable. My ex was, without doubt, a total sociopath and it took me 6 years to wise up to it. My life mission is to make sure that none of my nieces (or indeed nephews) endure the same thing, that relationship crushed my self esteem and I still struggle to this day, it would kill me to see any of them go through that.

    It is kind of hard to read in a teen book but I suppose in a way it’s kind of raising awareness of these kinds of destructive relationships…

  9. Sarah
    Posted July 5, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    I don’t have any direct experience of sociopaths or vampires, thankfully, but I still enjoyed reading your post Clare. Definitely thought provoking…

  10. Sam
    Posted July 5, 2012 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Have you read over any feminist critiques of Twilight, particularly Bella & Edward’s relationship? They’re quite scathing. I can see what you mean and as much as I enjoyed the books and films (they’re my guilty pleasure!), it does concern me that this sort of literature normalises quite unhealthy relationships. Don’t even get me started on 50 Shade of Grey!

    • Clare
      Posted July 5, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      No I’ve not Sam – would love to – any recommendations?

  11. Vivienne
    Posted July 5, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Do all teenage relationships (with human boys) have a touch of Bella and Edward to them? The chase, the retreat, the chase, the blissful catching, the retreat, the feeling that you can’t live without them, the all consuming feelings that you could never love another. And thankfully at the end you don’t get turned in to a vampire, but you have your own ‘awakening’ that actually this silly boy does not make the world go round?

  12. Kate S
    Posted July 5, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    YES! Clare, I read the first book and couldn’t read any more for precisely the reasons you talk about.

    I found it an extremely unsettling relationship and it made me very uncomfortable that young girls were lapping it up. Bella is so weak it made me really quite angry.

    Give me Buffy any day of the week.

  13. Posted July 5, 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Thanks to the aforementioned lovely Any who left us the following comment:

    “Can’t get on to the blog today as my phone has had a falling out with WordPress and I’m on a train so having to comment here instead (if someone wants to cut & paste it over feel free).

    Like Clare, I’ve been in this type of relationship and like Clare I can’t decide if that’s warped how I see things. I get really frustrated when other women swoon about things that break me out in a panic (Twilight, 50 shades, OTT romantic gestures, etc) and I feel as though I see the world through a different filter to others. It impacts my real life too when I see friends in relationships which have red flags waving in my head. I really wish that this was better and more widely understood – 1 in 4 is really shitty odds!

    Back to Twilight, I got the ‘bad feeling’ straight away. I think its much more obvious in the book than in the film though so perhaps if you saw the film first you might not notice it?”

    • Clare
      Posted July 5, 2012 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      Oh yes Amy – over the top romantic gestures with wild declarations of ever-lasting love make me really uncomfortable.

  14. Leeanne
    Posted July 5, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    I agree to an extent with you Claire. I read all four books in a week before I put them out in the school library so I knew exactly what was in them and what age they would be suitable from. The relationship between Bella and Edward really worried me and I hated the way Bella was characterised as weak, clumsy and a bit pitiful. Happier to be a loner and felt as if she didn’t matter without Edward. Not the best message to put across to teenage girls. I have had numerous discussions with my pupils about how not to get too sucked in to the love story and to remember its not real life and relationships don’t need to be like that. The worrying thing is that they don’t pick up on any of the negatives but think that it’s a wonderful love story and that they want their own Edward.

    I don’t think the books are well written and I actually don’t like when pupils take them out. I they enjoyed the book I try to get them to take out other books which have a more positive love story in them but mostly have no joy. At the end of the day getting teenagers to read is hard enough so if they enjoy twilight I don’t want to put them off.

    Oh and don’t you think 50 Shades of Grey is exactly the same?

  15. Posted July 5, 2012 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Full disclosure: I loved reading the Twilight books. I read them all in about a week. I don’t think they’re any good (what is even the point of the third book? Snoozefest) but I loved them all the same. I think part of why I enjoyed them was that, when I was a teenager, relationships really did feel that all-consuming, and reading the books transported me back to that over-dramatic period in my life when I truly believed I was in love with Leonardo DiCaprio, or when the prospect of two weeks apart from my boyfriend had me SOBBING. A teenage girl is basically a walking hormone, and I think things take on profound significance at that age which in later years we would laugh off.

    So, I suppose I read them with a pinch of salt. They’re fictional, after all, and he is a vampire: I just read them as a silly romp (and I didn’t find Bella nearly as annoying in the book as she is in the films – GOOD LORD, woman, how about trying some other facial expressions beyond “glum and confused”?).

    Did you know Stephenie Meyer started to write a companion novel of Twilight written from Edward’s perspective? You can read it here. Might give some insight into how she perceives Edward – predator or protector? Of course, how the author perceives him and how an impressionable teenage reader perceives him, especially once he’s wrapped up in a sexy Robert Pattinson-shaped package, are two different things.

    • Roz
      Posted July 5, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

      I loved reading the Twilight books too and none of this occurred to me when I was reading them. Kirsty you’ve hit the nail on the head with being transported back to being a teenager and thoughts of the world revolving around the most recent crush.

      I guess if I read the books now I might pick up on some of the points you’ve identified above. I wish I had some teenage cousins to ask them their perspective on reading the book

  16. Posted July 5, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    I don’t really care that much about the Twilight books, I did like them but I’m not a crazy fan or anything- I just want to say that before I say this:

    Half the point of Bella being weak and clumsy as a human is setting us up ready for how strong she is as a vampire- she doesn’t kill humans straight away unlike the other vampires who all go nuts. That’s the whole point of her weaknesses- its teen fantasy that something will take away your weaknesses and make you stronger and better!

    Edward might be a sociopath but he is a vampire!!!! He goes off every weekend to kill deer in the woods and suck their blood out. He makes her stay in school and doesn’t have sex before marriage!

    Kids need to be allowed to read about these things, to explore all the genres – I read
    Some ridiculous books at 13/14 but it doesn’t mean I was running around trying to get vampires to go out with me.

    • Posted July 5, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      I think teenagers should be allowed to read what they like, of course, but if my daughter read Twilight I would want to sit down and talk to her about how Bella lets Edward treat her and why that’s not great.

      Perhaps it is just a book, but I know I was very influenced by the many many books I read as a teenager, and some of them did have strong effects on my views on sex and relationships that took a very long time to iron out (possibly this is because I’d finished all the teen books in my local library by the age of 12 and was reading adult books from that point onwards!) I know most people don’t necessarily react in this way but it is worth bearing in mind that if books are read at an impressionable age they can have long-term effects, and when a book is as phenomenally successful as Twilight, I think it bears consideration because some percentage of the girls reading it will take something on board from it.

      K x

  17. Fee
    Posted July 5, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    I loved the Twilight books but then I am a twenty something rather than a teen – and I can see how impressionable teenage girls who are in that ‘I just want a boyfriend’ stage of their lives could end up hankering after a relationship verging on obsession, which they probably won’t get from your average teenage boy!

    I was very much this kind of teenage girl (embarrassingly!) but based my romantic ideals on Leonardo Di Caprio’s Romeo – obviously as I got older I realised that I didn’t need my boyfriend to want to die for me for my relationship to be successful, much to my husbands relief ; )

    Hopefully the majority of of teenage girls aren’t as foolish as I was! Although I stand by my Leonardo crush…..

  18. Mahj
    Posted July 5, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I think what’s most interesting about this post is how differently people perceived the books. I’m also in the camp of reading them all really quickly and getting a little, ahem, obsessed. But like most things when you’re a teenager, it did wear off and I was a bit embarrassed by getting sucked into all the hoopla.

    Tbh Clare, I’d never looked at how damaging the relationship is with Bella and Edward. The terrible writing and lip biting and dazzling are what bother me. Oh and Bella is such a twit. Actually what bothered me most was the imprinting storyline. Now that made me uncomfortable.


  19. Mahj
    Posted July 5, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Oh and just to hijack this a little, loving the love for Divegent etc. Awesomely
    Awesome books!


    • Becca
      Posted July 5, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

      I blame you by the way. The end of the second book? Had to go back and read the first and check I hadn’t missed A.VITAL.CLUE.

      I lost three days of my life.

      Also…I think I’d be in Candor. Anyone else

  20. Alice
    Posted July 5, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    I can see your point, but I do think things change slightly in the last book, as Anna has said some of Bella’s attributes are set up to give a real contrast to how she is as a vampire. Once Bella and Edward are on an equal footing she goes about making Bella much more normal and strong. I also agree with Mahj that the Bella and Edward storyline is the least unsettling thing for me, I really found the imprinting creepy and not a huge fan of the way Jacob also behaves like he is also in charge of Bella.And all the Vampire foster children relationships.

    But I also don’t think it is all an unreasonable relationship and certainly some of these things are in your own personal interpretation. Edward’s actions can also be interpreted as honourable and loving (I know that not all everyone will agree). He is continually putting the brakes on the relationship and he is most certainly not the only one telling her that she is clumsy (my own recollection is that her Mother is the worst at this but it has been awhile since I read them). He wants her to take care, and think on the consequences of her actions, rather than behave like a typical reckless teenager.

    My biggest problem is that they are incredibly badly written and editing seems to be non-existent. The last book is too long and poorly finished. Meyer seemed to have been allowed to do what ever she liked (rather like JK Rowling in Order of the Phoenix). Before being forced to stop short. The characters aren’t well formed and their behaviour makes no sense. She doesn’t seem to learn anything about writing or her characters through the course of her book.

    But I really love the films. Don’t get me wrong they are awful but I enjoy them in a real guilty pleasure kind of way.

    • Alice
      Posted July 5, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

      Sorry that turned into a real essay didn’t it.

  21. Posted July 5, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    Late to the party here and I agree on your points about it being a poor relationship model for young girls to aspire to, although perhaps we read too much into these things. After all a lot of his behaviour was slanted with his ‘vampire’ perception (i.e. that she was fragile etc) – Yes, I invested a lot into those books ;)

    This post however reminds me of a post I almost wrote after watching Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. I had purposefully not read the books because a number of people had told me they were sick and disturbing, Pete included. Why did I watch the film? Don’t ask, I have no idea – I thought it wouldn’t be that bad. I actually almost left the cinema and resorted to completely blocking my view and ears so I could avoid the horrible rape scenes.

    I’ve never been good at rationalising that stuff, ‘It’s only a film’ etc, but it lead me to think. Why do people want to see that? Why do people want to write that or reproduce it on film? That kind of thing must be responsible for putting thoughts into peoples heads… it’s so… wrong?!

    But I guess you could say that about any graphically violent film, of a sexual nature or not. It’s just not my thing.

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