In the last month I’ve read three books that all feature something that has made me think. I have been thinking away for about a week on this something, and the results are below, for your bemusement.
But first, let’s set the scene:
You’re the new girl in high school. You think you’re kind of plain looking, but generally ok, and you’d prefer to keep yourself to yourself. You keep your head down and avoid the obviously mean and super-pretty popular kids, because you don’t want trouble, and they’re mean to you anyway. But there is a boy. He’s a loner, an outsider, and maybe someone has warned you about him because either a) he’s been with a lot of girls, none for longer than a night or two b) he’s been with no girls, and he has no friends either or c) he’s just bad to to bone, ok? This boy. He stares at you sometimes. You may have to pair up with him in class, or work together on a history project, and even though he may have been a little abrupt and rude with you, you can’t help but think about him. All. The. Time. He’s a tantalising secret in hot boy-form, and you need to know more. But you’ve got secrets of your own that you can’t share with anyone. So you resist. You stay away. And you tell yourself Do Not Think About the Boy - who still stares at you, from time to time.
Then one night, when you’re awake and listening to the house sounds when you should really be sleeping because you’ve got an important midterm in the morning, you notice a figure at the window. It’s him. It’s the dark and brooding and mysterious (and possibly slightly mean, and definitely with a crooked smile) boy who you just can’t stop thinking about. And he’s been watching you. Turns out he’s been watching you sleep every night for the past week.
If this is a teen romance novel: you open your window and let him and his tortured soul stay over. You may not even kiss, but you definitely will at some point. It depends how long the writer wants to draw this out.
If this is real life: YOU CALL THE POLICE. Because the boy is seriously deranged, has fixated on you and will probably smother you with a pillow before defiling your virginal corpse.
What I want to talk about is this: STALKING. And why for some reason it seems to be an extremely sexy quality in novels that are primarily read by young ladies.
In three recent reads the sexy love interest turns up at the bedroom window uninvited (after copious amounts of staring and/or following and/or unwanted flirting) and I’m struggling to see the romantic plausibility. I’m scared that young girls reading these scenarios will think it’s ok for boys to behave this way, or worse, expect boys to behave this way. Because the reality is that boys don’t sparkle, they probably aren’t your soulmate and it’s really not ok for them to be at your bedroom window uninvited. It’s weird, it’s creepy and they probably expect something that you’re not ready to give up.
So now I ask myself a question: why is the stalker fantasy so appealing?
I will admit that I once had my own stalker fantasy. I must have been about thirteen, possibly slightly older, and I used to have it when I was walking home from school. I used to imagine that there was a boy following me. That he was mysterious and perfect, possibly slightly older than me and definitely more knowing. Sometimes he was a time traveller, sent back in time to protect me. Sometimes he was a psychic spy who wanted to recruit me to his psychic spy organisation. He was always in love with me. Completely and utterly besotted - and of course I was already in love with him, in my head. He was my Edward Cullen years before Edward Cullen existed.
I think the reason I was in love with my imaginary stalker was because I was in the throws of teenage hormones and every other film seemed to feature Leonardo Dicaprio in absurdly romantic roles, but I wasn’t the type to get infatuated with a real life person. I wanted a Romeo of my own to peer through the fish-tank at, but all the boys around me weren’t nearly good enough. Nobody could match up to the perfection that was my imagination. So he’d follow me home from school, and when I got to my front door I would turn around and look longingly down my street, but he was never there. And then I grew up. And realised that my fantasy was just that, a fantasy. And that boys were mostly stupid. And then teen novels were incredibly fun to get lost in as a singleton adult because they recaptured that stalker fantasy for me without me even having to try.
Why a stalker fantasy? Why do so many of us long for our own secret person who loves us, no questions asked, no matter what?
Perhaps I’ve answered my own question there.
Us ladies, and especially the younger ladies with their floods of hormones, don’t want to do the work. We want love to be instant, and more importantly, easy. We want to sit all cosy in our bedrooms, with our bed hair and our schlubby pyjamas, and quite literally have the perfect boy come to us. He taps on our window, and the most we have to do in terms of exertion is open it. It’s a tantalising fantasy, for any gender at any age.
In this scenario you don’t have to be a cover girl to have a boy obsessed with you - in fact I find it rather telling that most narrators of this style of fiction think themselves to be generally plain (when the reader knows they’re blatantly not). Obsession is an interesting concept when it comes to teenage fiction. I don’t think there are many of us out there who didn’t have a teenage obsession (I’ll come clean here, mine was Star Trek!) and to have this rejection mirrored directly back at us must be alluring. Here’s a boy who doesn’t care what you look like, he loves you anyway! Not only will he never reject you, he will do the opposite - he will actively pursue you!
I’m not saying that the stalker fantasy is unhealthy - I suspect we all had one in one form or another - but as an adult reader of Young Adult fiction I do find it worrying at times. Especially when I encounter it in book after book after book. I worry that it may become too prevalent, and seen as acceptable or even wanted behaviour.
Let’s have female heroines who instigate relationships. Let’s have some male love interests who aren’t unrealistic knights in shining armour. It’s been eight years since Twilight was published, let’s give the boy a break and make the girl do some work. Let’s make it real.
Boys knocking at your bedroom window is only ok if:
- You are already in a relationship with them
- He’s Peter Pan
- He’s Doctor Who
I realise that this is an impassioned blog post and that some of you won’t necessarily agree with me - but that’s ok! I’d love to hear your feedback, am always up for a discussion.
Hugs and high fives,