To the uninitiated, the idea of a middle-aged mom swooning over the Twilight saga (about a human girl loved by a vampire) is unthinkably cheesy, or, if you live in New York, perhaps just unthinkable. “The only people obsessed with Twilight are teens and fat suburban moms from the Midwest,” said an anonymous poster on UrbanBaby New York when we dared to pose the question. “In either case, this is not your target demographic.”
The unkind observer might say that a Twilight mom is the worst combination of cougar and deluded teen fan. But, then, the unkind observer probably hasn’t read the books. Don’t let the Y.A. label fool you: Author Stephenie Meyer, a mother herself, has said she didn’t have a specific demographic in mind when she started writing. And, as it turns out, a large percentage of devoted fans of Meyer’s four novels and two films (the second, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, opens on Friday) are smart, sophisticated, well-read mothers. Perhaps because the love story at the crux of the saga is unconventionally adolescent.
“Bella [Twilight’s female lead] is a responsible caretaker—she cooks, she cleans, she takes care of her family. Those are maternal traits that a lot of moms can relate to,” says Kirsten Starkweather, media director of TwilightMoms.com, a fan site with 34,000 registered members. And while Edward, Bella’s bloodsucking soul mate, has the moony eyes of a 17-year-old, he’s actually over 100. “His impeccable manners, his sense of morality, his way of speaking, they’re all old-fashioned,” says Starkweather. “More like a man in a nineteenth-century novel than a modern teenage boy.”
But preternaturally wise protagonists take you only so far. The real appeal of this story is that Bella and Edward’s relationship is pure, unadulterated puppy love: innocent and intense, overflowing with sexual tension and promise, and all taken life-or-death seriously. “The books made me feel like a teenager again,” says Eve Waltermaurer, a professor of sociology at suny–New Paltz. “It’s been a long time since I got to feel that complete adolescent abandonment over a boy.”
The attraction toward Edward is understandable: Few guys get a full century to perfect their rap while sporting the abs they had in high school. But for some women, the nostalgia the series inspires has evolved into a how-to guide to romance; TwilightMoms members go so far as to suggest that the books have strengthened their marriages. Gabrielle Vittoria, a Brooklyn member who co-founded Volturi Ventures, the New York–New Jersey offshoot of TwilightMoms, read the first book aloud to her husband, a chapter a night, and now he sends her sweet texts like “Be safe,” referencing Edward. Karin Baker, a mother of two kids under 10 who works at a music-licensing company, found the books empowering in the same way teenage girls do. “I’ve always felt plain and ordinary. And after seeing the way Edward saw Bella and felt about her, regardless of how she felt about herself, it kind of gave me more confidence in myself and my relationship.”
But for every outspoken fan, there are a dozen closeted ones, who refuse to read the books in public and patiently wait for the films to come out on DVD. More than a handful of those confided that Twilight had improved their sex lives. “It made me more lustful,” says Dana, a West Village mom. “I think my husband and I had more sex in those couple of weeks when I was reading Twilight than in the entire few months before.”
This despite there being almost no sex in the books; even when sheets do (finally!) get rumpled, the details are vague and the consequences severe. Twilight taps into a time when passion is as much about fantasy as reality, before drunken college hookups, before booty calls, before scheduling sex into a marriage. Twilight reinvents sex for women who might have placed it at the bottom of a to-do list. “When I look at Robert [Pattinson, who plays Edward in the films], I feel like I am 8, 14, and 31—my actual age—all at the same time,” says Nora Kindley, who keeps a photo of Pattinson on her fridge.
While Meyer’s writing is generally not held in high esteem (made crystal clear with the Harvard Lampoon’s just-out parody, Nightlight), the great storytelling—and equally great escapism—has created bonds beyond the Internet for adult women. Volturi Ventures is sponsoring a sold-out advance screening of New Moon this Thursday to benefit pediatric cancer research (including an odd and random special appearance: The model whose hand was used for the book cover of New Moon). “It’s a fun community of women, a sisterhood even,” says Vittoria. “These women used to be my TwilightMoms friends. Now they’re just my friends.”