Thirsty for Love: The Power of the Vampire’s Kiss and the Twilight of the Truly Strong, Smart Woman

Finally, women can breathe easy. There is a perfect man after all. He’s tall, dark and handsome, has riches, a country estate and the promise of passion, romance, attachment and acceptance throughout eternity that allows today’s women to succumb to love.

The price of that love is a tilt of the neck, a baring of the throat—gestures that animals know as signs of defeat. But for these women the cost of that vulnerability is momentary. Besides, it’s too late to think, thoughts have lost their power. Reasonableness and defenses gone, it’s not her fault, it’s really here, one stab of pain, it’s okay—true love hurts, even Romeo and Juliet knew that, and yes, she wants that too, he’s chosen her, her. Surrender, and so the neck is revealed, his face now so near, his lips sparkle with the moisture of desire and she shuts her eyes, feels the pang, the jab, it’s never been like this, never, and she’s his—she belongs to somebody, fully, finally, and no girlfriend who hasn’t been there could possibly understand this power of the vampire’s kiss.

Huh? What’s going on? The sustainability of the vampire’s lure is proof that women have been looking for love in all the wrong places. The popularity of Stephenie Meyer’s book Twilight—and now the movie version—reinforces the fantasy that even in our technological and cynical times, dangerous love is in still in the air. But the appeal today of the vampire as lover is far more complicated than the historical enticement of a buff, ugly-handsome, mysterious, picky, push-the-envelope, terminally attractive man.

The attractiveness of this man to today’s very post-modern, post-feminist, strong, educated, trained, financially capable woman stands the vampire’s centuries-old appeal on its head and signals a disturbing trend in women’s intimate relationships. More about that later. Stay with me here for a moment while I do a recap of the history of the vampire’s cultural power over women.

The fifteenth-century’s story of Romania’s royalty Vlad Dracul posting his enemy’s beheaded skulls on his iron gates may have inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1897, but the archetype of blood-sucking, night-stalking, shape-shifting, spell-casting monsters that hunt and haunt has existed in various forms throughout most societies. The vampire’s secret appeal to women was inevitable in Europe after Henry the Eighth’s break from the Pope. It signaled disdain for paganism and impassioned religious fervor. Intensity of feelings had to go underground and religious.

The Enlightenment and Protestant Reformation temporarily reinforced the devaluation of emotions in the culture so well that by the nineteenth century the more literary version of the vampire offered women permission to succumb to passion-- to feel not just lust but feelings in general. Victorianism, in combination with a rising middle class and its regard for social norms and conformity, may have prevented most women from acting on their sexual passions but it solidified a now well-known male character in literature: the alluring and difficult man, personified, for example, as Mr. Rochester of Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre. Ann Rice’s vampire LeStat, the main man of her books which she began writing in the late 1970’s, crystallized the attraction of the non-conforming outsider who offers intensity, passion and fisted anger at society’s humdrumness.

Most importantly, until recent times, the unstoppable command of the vampire over women was he gave women an excuse to surrender sexually. The feminist movement did not invent pre-marital sex—or even Erica Jong’s “zipless” hook ups. Sex, thank you very much, without marriage was hardly unknown, even in Puritanically-influenced America.

However, by the 1950’s, with the rise of the middle class, the good girl who did not have one-night stands and who “waited” (and we know for what) until her wedding night became a cultural value. From the late 1960’s the widespread use of the Pill and the anti-war, anti-establishment counter-culture may have given women control over their bodies, sexuality, greater choices of men and types of relationships, but the value of the union of sex with love was still dominant enough that many women still fell back on private excuses for why they had sex with a man either at all or so quickly: “I was drunk or stoned or he was just so handsome and very convincing.”

Leslie Fiedler in his classic book, Love and Death in the American Novel, identified this appeal of the Good Bad Boy, whose power lies in his ability to relieve women of having to make a decision about sex. Literature is filled with the daring outsider who comes to town and sweeps the girl away—into his arm and his bed. The vampire is just another version of the man who allows the women to surrender sexually. If he was a little cruel and demanding, well, maybe that’s what it took to arouse passion, longing and surrender. It shouldn’t be all that surprising that the late poet Sylvia Plath uncovered women’s secret draw to the metaphorical kick of a man’s boot.

And now we come to the crux of today’s problem with the appeal of the vampire. The allure has morphed, been stood on its head and then returned in a new form to the original enticement of the vampire. Laura Miller’s article “Real Men Have Fangs” in the Wall St. Journal’s Weekend Journal of October 31, 2008, correctly identified the contemporary vampire lure of offering romance and wealth and sexual passion—along with living forever with unmatched power.

But the vampire’s appeal is deeper. Today’s wsomen no longer need permission or the experience of being overpowered in order to give in to sexual urges of any kind. They are not afraid of these feelings. What’s far more frightening is woman’s fear of emotional intimacy. It is not the breaking of the sexual guard that vampires promise but lifelong, unconditional acceptance and attachment without having to go through the more difficult adult tasks of getting to know a man, choosing the right man, falling in love wisely and—sin of all sins—dropping your emotional guard. Bypass self-knowledge, skip over responsibility in a relationship and forget about communication. Tilt your neck and let it happen and, DING, DING, DING, you have won love without the effort, hurt, disappointment, confusion or self-awareness—and, most crucially, without having to fret about earning a living, breaking that glass ceiling, supporting yourself, having kids—or not—or living an unforgivably mundane—ordinary—life.

Women today are too well-defended, in part, due to serious ruptures in their ability to attach—to love and be loved—in other words, to trust in love. Their parents’ divorces, single parenthood and multiple partners have taught them to suspect men, love, relationships and the world. Yet, they can’t get rid of their needs for love.

Enter the vampire who satisfies their longing and emotional intensity, who makes them feel less alone, less defended and therefore “alive.” All this, ironically, from a man who is unattainable and insatiable (he needs fresh blood—read more babes—and he can’t come out in the daytime—no running errands together), a man who is dead, deadening and dead-set on possession—oops!—something that we all thought today’s women most definitely did NOT want in a man.

And, so we have come full circle-with-a-twist, historically speaking, regarding the appeal of the vampire. His attraction began as permission to give in to feelings, then sex and now back to feeling, with the extra bonus of connecting, being attached without the work of falling in love wisely.

Truly smart, strong women would never compromise like that.

*** For Women Only: If you would like to be part of Dr. Wish’s research for her next book on women’s love relationships and get one hour of FREE counseling, go to her website and click in the Research box in the upper right and take the online research survey. Be sure to include you contact information and the word SELFGROWTH so that Dr. Wish can contact you.

Author's Bio: 

LeslieBeth Wish is a Psychologist, Clinical Social Worker and author who is nationally recognized for her contributions to women, love, relationships, family, career, workplace, and organizations.

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