I have talked on this blog about the Twilight series of books for young adults, and how I have enjoyed them (the first one the most) and how I recommend them. Like millions of others, I ran out and bought the final book of the series, Breaking Dawn, the first day it was out and quickly devoured it. I have been struggling for a good answer when students stop down to ask me how I liked it; I really didn't know what to say except that it was a huge disappointment.
Enough time has passed, and I have mulled over my thoughts long enough, to say with certainty:
I hate this book.
Shocking coming from a librarian, isn't it?
There are many and asundry reasons why I am hating on Breaking Dawn. I won't go into all of them here; if you want to know what all the fuss is about, read one of the many negative reader reviews on amazon.
What I do feel compelled to talk about is the book's portrayal of "real love."
It's not just this book that gets my goat when it comes to romantic love; I also once threw a Nicholas Sparks book across the room.
When I was young, I had this idea in my head of what a serious relationship should be and what true love looked like. It was heavily influenced by (and I'm not proud of this) V.C. Andrews and by Guiding Light. I thought that when you love another person, truly, madly, and deeply, you get butterflies in your stomach every time you hold hands or make ga-ga eyes at each other, which I thought you had to do, like, all the time, and see rainbows and unicorns every day and never say an ill word to each other. And I certainly felt that way when I first fell for Jason when I was a mere 16 years old.
But true love changes. It grows up.
Just because Jason and I have a love story more When Harry Met Sally and Everybody Loves Raymond now than The Princess Bride does not mean that we don't love each other deeply. We just aren't so...gushy about it now. You're not going to see us hold hands, or walk down the sidewalk with our hands in each other's back pockets. We often bicker. We don't spend every waking minute together, nor do we want to. A romantic date night out without the kid might consist of beer and wings at B-Dubs.
This is not the way love looks in romance novels. It especially is not the way it looks in Breaking Dawn.
I know, I know. It's a fantasy book. It's fiction. But the first book, I thought, got first love pretty close to right (at least from Bella's perspective.) So I thought through four books, with characters learning and growing and getting past the initial crush and lust, that there would be a depiction of a mature, loving relationship between two soul mates. Even the last two Harry Potter books, though fantasy, showed healthy, mature relationship through Ginny and Harry and Ron and Hermione. I thought Meyer would take note of this and make Bella and Edward grow up a little, especially since (creepy spoiler alert!) there is a child of sorts involved.
But Edward and Bella's relationship, in a very V.C. Andrews kind of way, never grows up, and never grows imperfect. It stays pretty superficial, and fixated on the physical, and frankly, a little cloying. Their lives completely revolve around each other and they are willing to give up anything and everything to stay together. Bella and Edward live solely for Bella and Edward (and the creepy creature-kid.) And that just isn't such a good lesson.
Don't get me wrong; I'd walk through fire to stay with Jason. If giving up my life would save his, I would do it without blinking. That part of any good love story is right. But I almost gave up my own identity in college, thinking after reading too many cheesy love stories that that is what I had to do to keep love alive. I thought if I got interested in different things than he was interested in, or if we travelled in different circles of friends, that we would fall apart. So I took voice lessons, and worked my tail off to get into the premier choir despite my mediocre musical ability, and fretted over his decision to join a fraternity, and stayed alone in my room waiting for his phone call, and basically became a clingy emotional trainwreck.
I found my own voice only after literally making myself sick trying to find a place in his college world and realizing that we only had a chance if I maintained a life and identity of my own. My biggest college regret is not finding and hanging out with my posse of girlfriends sooner.
Someday Ainsley will read books that idealize true love. She already is well-versed in Disney-fied princess romances where everybody lives happily ever after. I hope that she learns something positive from her mom and dad; she may see us fight, and she may never (because we're not big PDA-type people) see us be affectionate, but if she looks really hard, she should see two people who love each other very much.
True love is having someone stay by your side, even if they're bothered by needles and blood, while an oncologist sticks a syringe roughly the size of a power drill into your hip and pulls out some marrow.
True love is having your significant other clean up your puke and still be physically attracted to you when you feel better.
True love is being so comfortable around another person that you are allowed to be human and do very human things, like sneeze all over yourself, burp, and fart. 'Cause let's face it; we all do it, and holding that stuff in makes you explode.
True love is what I saw with my own mom and dad, when my mother cared for my father at home while he was dying, taking care of all his body functions and tubes and bags, and held his hand when it was his time to go.
A sense of humor and a partner that can make you laugh when you feel your world is coming apart at the seams is far more sexy that someone who moons all over you and takes your relationship oh-so-seriously.
Romance is having a cup of coffee carried to you on a weekend morning with the cream and sugar ratio perfect from years of experience. And candle light and roses have nothing on being told your partner will play with the kids while you sleep in a little bit.
Comfortable silence is as powerful a symbol of love as a million little "I love you"s.
This weekend I was talking to Jason about needing something new to read, and told him I had heard the new Celia Rivenbark book (love her!) was coming out on the 19th.
"Yeah, I know," he said. "It's been preordered on amazon for a long time. You'll have it on Tuesday."
That, my friends, is true romance.