Part 1: Love in the Time of Hot Vampires
As a teenage emo in desperate need of attention, I languished in despair over this one simple fact: handsome, vampire men weren’t real. Edward Cullen wasn’t going to stalk me to my room and then try not to kill me in my sleep, Bill Compton wasn’t going to orchestrate my almost probable murder just to get in my pants, and don’t even get me started on the pain I had over not personally knowing the vengeful Salvatore brothers.
Teenage Marnie (the hopeless, misguided romantic that she was) would only settle for a man with fangs and a (slight) moral compass. Suffice it say, I was single for most of my high school years. Now that I’m older and wiser (and incredibly cynical), I see it as a good thing that I never really pursued the guys who would remind me of a sparkly Robert Pattinson, or a sly, blue eyed Ian Somerhalder, because as I came to see during my college years, vampire boyfriends really suck (pun most certainly intended).
To begin with, vampires are predators. Of what you ask? Oh yeah, people. Their track record with humans is spotty at best, so to think that they could have a stable relationship with a human is laughable. To use a well-known example, Edward Cullen from the Twilight Saga fits all of the criteria of an emotional abuser. He talks down to his mortal squeeze, Bella Swan, on the daily by calling her “silly” multiple times, and claiming that it’s hard to take care of her because she’s clumsy and irresponsible. He also isolates her from her own family by lying to her father about where she is and how she’s doing, and by also refusing to let her see her guy friend/rebound/werewolf Jacob. He also threatened to kill himself if Bella ever died, and almost got away with it in the second book. Furthermore, he controlled her life by planning her days, events he forced her to go to, and even planned when she was going to become a vampire like him (which he was adamantly against no matter how much pain and anxiety it caused Bella to stay human). Oh yeah, also before they got together, he would watch her sleep (without her knowledge), follow her everywhere (also without her knowledge), and try not to kill her (he completely admitted to that, but she still wanted the sparkly D afterwards).
It does make a sick kind of sense though. vampires, based on their mythology, aren’t really supposed to be built for long lasting relationships, well with humans at least. They are known, at least in the last 100 or so years, as seductive creatures only because they need to find an easy way to get prey. They were basically used as a warning to not give into your base instincts, and in the case of Dracula, to beware of the outsider trying to steal your girl.
But to the teenage mind, that doesn’t translate. Yeah, vampires are monsters, but they’re also mysterious, brooding, gentlemen from a different, more chivalrous (more restrictive for women) time. Edward was just being “overprotective,” and he just cares so much about Bella that he has to make sure she’s okay 24/7, and would willingly kill himself if she died—that’s not creepy, it’s romantic! I’m not making a generalization here: my friends and I would constantly talk about how romantic we thought Edward Cullen was on the daily, and on the many message boards (sigh, yes message boards) that I perused, most other fans were writing about the same thing. Edward was a little overbearing, and a little too old-fashioned, but he was romantic, dammit!
I would say that Stephanie Meyer was a genius for understanding that vampires make the worst boyfriends, but this also isn’t true. Instead of showing his abusive signs as red flags that Bella Swan should have definitely seen, Meyer literally has the two get married, have a vampire/human baby that mortal Bella carries to term even though it basically kills her, and then sticks her with Edward for the rest of her life as a vampire with a pretty lame superpower.
And this story, flawed as it most definitely is, spurred on a Young Adult (YA) fiction vampire romance genre that was already gaining traction with other series that were just starting, but gave it the international push that it needed. For the last ten years, the genre has exploded the market to the point that most horror publishers now have a “no vampire” rule for what an author can submit.
Before Twilight became a worldwide phenomenon, the YA and adult vampire genre as a whole did a little more than have a vampire and human fall in love. Not to say that there weren’t many vampire/human romance novels; Anne Rice’s series of novels featuring the mysterious and psycho Lestat, later played by 90s heartthrob Tom Cruise, propelled vampires from pretty scary and seductive to just mostly seductive. But where Twilight cemented vampires in the “boyfriend material” section, its predecessors were all about showing you how being a vampire, or trying to date a vampire, was not a good idea at all.
A book (and author) that is greatly underrated in the genre is Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde. Published about ten years before Twilight in 1995, the story is about a teenage girl named Kerry who lives with her brother and dad after her mother abandons them. She is the main caretaker of her brother, so when he loses a stuffed koala bear named Footy at the laundromat, the teenaged heroine doesn’t think twice about going to said laundromat to find it. Instead of just finding the bear though, she finds a freaking vampire/vigilante slayer showdown, which propels her into a really weird night (the vigilante vampire slayers think Kerry is a vampire too, so they kidnap her brother and father, as one does). And of course, this story also includes a really rude (but of course hot) vampire named Ethan.
Spoiler alert: the reason this is one of my favorite vampire novels is at the end, with the vigilantes taken care of and her family safe, Kerry has a steamy make-out sesh with Ethan, but instead of staying with him for the rest of her mortal (and maybe immortal) life, she grabs Footy and goes the hell home.
When I first read Companions of the Night, I was livid! I was so obsessed with vampire romance that any other option just seemed wrong. But I get it now, and would have probably done the same as Kerry. She saw that her life with Ethan wouldn’t be the way she would want it to be. Yes, there would be passion, and adventure, and possible immortality, but Kerry had plans for her future. Kerry had a freaking test to study for! She had no time to be undead when there was so much living she wanted to do, and honestly, while being a vampire sounds awesome and everything, it’s not the “best” long term plan for your life. The author gets that, and instead of perpetuating an emotionally abusive relationship wrapped up in a “no sex before marriage” morally correct message, Velde shows what all of us should do if a vampire promises forever. Run. Fast!
I haven’t read YA vampire fiction in a long time, but I do see vampire lore shifting once again. The Vampire Diaries show just ended, the Twilight Saga is buried, and the undead lover is no longer a viable relationship goal. Just by peeking at a list of upcoming YA novels for 2018, the vampire romance genre is starting to become a thing of the past, but now vampires (as shown in popular adult book series like the Strain and The Passage) are starting to get their bite back. Instead of being fully in the seductive field, those lines are getting blurry again, and these monsters finally have the room to be gross and terrifying, and definitely not something you want to have kids with. Finally, all is right in the world of vampires.
If you still have a little blood lust left in you, please join me for the next (and final) installment of this series, where I’ll explain why vampire girls are the true queens of this mythological creature. Until then, have a safe Halloween and if you meet a tall, dark, and handsome vampire, don’t ask for his number unless the fangs are detachable.