Vampire Love

The Twilight addiction among women is irrational and perhaps irreversible. But hardly irrelevant.



Photo By Summit Entertainment

The boy’s name is on the lips of women everywhere. They are obsessed with his every detail. He’s only 17, but the women—wives and mothers included—say there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, he’s been 17 for more than a century.

Edward Cullen is a teenage vampire, the central character in the Twilight book series and movie. He lurks in the dreams of his rabid followers, a fantasy figure who sends female admirers into a tizzy with his golden eyes, shimmering skin and brooding stare. The fans call this irrational fascination “Obsessive Cullen Disorder” (OCD), and it has spread across the world.

Andrea Hayes has been bitten. The 34-year-old Orlando woman discovered Edward and Twilight at the movies and told her mother about it. Already a fan of the series, Mom lent the books to her daughter.

“Over the first five days I read all four books in the series,” Hayes, a stay-at-home mother of two, says with a nervous laugh. “I checked out from the world.’’

During the next eight weeks, Hayes re-read each book five times. Once a week she returned to the theater to see Twilight. “It was interfering with my life,’’ Hayes says. “The last time I had an obsession like this was with Grease in high school.’’

Hayes and legions of other fans have struggled to explain their obsession with Stephenie Meyer’s story of the vampire Edward—and of Bella, the lovely but awkward girl who is drawn to him. But there is a strong suggestion that a desire for passion holds their attention. Whatever the reason, Twi-Hards —as the fanatics are known—have eagerly opened up their wallets to grab a piece of the infectious
phenomenon.

Meyer’s books have sold more than 70 million copies—she was the best-selling author in the United States last year—and have been translated into 37 languages. The first film, which opened in November 2008, has grossed nearly $380 million in theaters worldwide, and the sequel, New Moon, opens Nov. 20. Beyond that, fans are grabbing up soundtracks, character merchandise and anything else emblazoned with the Twilight logo.

Coming soon at Bath & Body Works: The Twilight Venom lip stain from DuWop. “Shake before use to represent the blending of the human and vampire worlds,’’ the label says.

From Bram Stoker’s classic 1897 story of Count Dracula to modern-day author Anne Rice’s tale of the vampire Lestat, stories about creatures who thrive on the blood of others have long captivated us.

“Vampirism is a means of enchantment—a device to suspend the constraints of the real world,’’ says Susan Hubbard, an English professor at the University of Central Florida. Hubbard, author of a three-part series of vampire novels, says she hasn’t read Meyer’s books, but acknowledged that the popularity of Twilight and Charlaine Harris’ True Blood has helped boost  sales of her books. Hubbard’s vampire characters are designed for a mature audience and, she says, “take on cultural concerns ranging from corporate greed to animal rights to academic politics.’’

Twilight’s characters have no such causes. Indeed, nobody would mistake Meyer’s writing for great literature—no less than Stephen King once said the 36-year-old author “can’t write worth a darn.’’

So why the obsession? At its core, Twilight is a romance novel. Written for PG-13 audiences, the books lack the scenes of heavy breathing common to the grocery store brands. Nonetheless, the story is a Shakespearean tragedy of star-crossed lovers.

“Just like with a first love, you find yourself thinking about it all day,” writes “imarriededward,’’ a poster to a forum at twilightmoms.com, a popular fan site. The writer, who claims to be an educational psychologist, goes on to explain (with academic citations accompanying) the chemical processes of the “Twilight Response’’--increased production of dopamine and norepinepherine in the brain, decreased serotonin, dependence, attachments, habituation, withdrawal and depression. “You have connected in such a way that your mind and body are reacting exactly the same way as if you were in love,’’ she concludes.

And Edward isn’t really 17, say women old enough to have sons that age. Asserting that their love-lust for the bloodsucking heartthrob doesn’t make them cougars, they contend the character is a century old.

“Emotionally, Edward is not a teenager. He has lived for a hundred years so he has those old-fashioned manners,” says California Twi-mom Kirsten Starkweather, 40. “He is the man that doesn’t really exist; he lives only for Bella.” (It also doesn’t hurt Edward’s gentlemanly reputation that he thrives on animal, not human, blood.)

So, if the selflessly romantic male is an unattainable commodity in the real world, are women forever spoiled for other men? While most married women agree that at first Edward’s appearance in their lives only highlighted the shortfalls of their mortal husbands, over time the wives learned to identify aspects of their beloved vampire in their own spouses. Reignited passion, women say, has strengthened their relationships.

Still, single women resoundingly exclaim that they are doomed to walk the Earth searching for their Edwards; his presence both a blessing and a curse.

Windsor McCullough, an Orlando sales manager, adds that beyond the romance aspect of Twilight’s appeal there are other significant themes. “Stephanie Meyer wraps up relational and spiritual aspects of life in a very simple book. Everyone on some level can relate to that,’’ says McCullough, 28. Meyer, who is a Mormon, “ties in a lot of religion subconsciously. She touches on love, eternity.”

McCullough, a wife and mother, started reading the books after becoming curious about the craze that had overtaken the youth at her church. “I just wanted to know what the big deal was.” And, yes, now she’s hooked, too.

The September night is humid as about 100 Twilight fans gather for a cocktail party around the pool at the Florida Mall Hotel. It’s the first event of a three-day Twilight convention in Orlando and each attendee has paid a steep $295 for a platinum pass.

The eclectic crowd of middle-aged women, teen girls and a few men (who look conspicuously out of place) is eager to have a beer with some of the movie characters they love. Neither of the top stars, Robert Pattinson (Edward) and Kristen Stewart (Bella), is here but the crowd is happy to mingle with a handful of lesser-known actors in the movie.

Flirting with handsome Gil Birmingham (who plays Billy Black) are two moms and their tall, voluptuous nanny. Nearby, Diana Viola, a 27-year-old Orlando transplant and Transylvania native (really), is posing with Edward and Bella look-alikes and professing her delight in her vampire infatuation. “I am obsessed! I am a vampire, so I love it all. I can’t get enough!’’ Viola gushes.

Photos of the professional imp-ersonators are nearby, ready to be autographed at $5 a pop. Brandon Register-Watford (Edward) makes for a reasonably impressive Pattinson stand-in. His face is made pale with liquid foundation make-up, and a hefty helping of styling
product gives him Pattinson’s signature coif.

Even out of makeup, Watford, 23, is enough to incite a rampage among mall-goers. “I was at the American Eagle in the Millenia mall and I turned around and was surrounded by teenage girls,’’ he recalls. “I had to tell the manager that I wasn’t really him.”

Actor Justin Chon (who plays Eric Yorkie) sips on a beer, hand delivered by a fan, and reveals that his Twilight-mom fans are a welcome benefit to the job. “They all want to take care of you, they treat you like their kid. They’re great,” says Chon, 28.

Andrea Hayes isn’t at the Friday night cocktail party, but she does attend the dressier “Prom Night’’ the next evening at the hotel.

Happily, Hayes has learned to control her Obsessive Cullen Disorder (“I began to wonder what was wrong with me’’), and has channeled her addiction into something positive: a new self-published book called Confessions of a Twilight Mom about her journey into OCD. (In a gesture that would make Edward proud, she’s donating $1 of each sale to the Foundation for America’s Blood Centers.)

The Twilight experience has benefited her in another important way, Hayes says:

“The spark is back even stronger in my marriage. I have married my Edward.’’

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