By Aoibheann Holland
Art by Camilla Lee
As we inch ever closer to the month of March, our time spent in quarantine is encroaching on a full year. One bright spot that exists in my life is my being able to live, both at Dartmouth and off campus, with two of my closest friends. The reality of remote classes has us each emerging from our rooms at the day’s end, faces red with exhaustion, twitchy with irritability, and stomachs aching for a meal. During the fall term, no longer able to deal with the monotony of putting pen to paper or looking blankly into a blue screen for hours on end, we decided every night to forget about our commitments and anxieties for a while. Every evening, my friends and I grabbed our sweaters, walked out the door of our barely-on-campus apartment, and walked the seemingly endless distance to Foco. Once there, we kept our heads down to try and avoid people whose masks were askew or who were completely disregarding the glaring green arrows on the floor telling them where to go. We would scour the room for food that we wanted and that could fit into our lime green plastic containers. As we exited, we tried to balance two plastic cake containers and a drink in our numb hands as we hurried back to the warm yellow light of our apartment. Once there, we would pick our places on the floor, set up our dinner, and welcome the familiar chime of logging on to a streaming service.
I wish I could say that we watched movies and shows that we had always been wanting to watch but never had time for, or that were beloved by fans, or that were well-written. Unfortunately, with our chronic Zoom fatigue and ever-present four-hundred-page readings breathing down our necks, we ended up choosing to consume that which did not require any effort or brain power to watch. We sat in awe with Glee as the horrible all-for-one show choir sound poured into the room, as the chiseled abs and utterances of the phrase “endgame” in Riverdale slowly turned our brains into a sort of soupy sludge. As the leaves began to turn, fall to the ground, and form a soft carpet outside our living room window, we realized that we desperately needed a change. Thus, for no apparent reason at all, we decided to watch a movie series that would stay with us for the rest of the term, forcing us to think about our time in quarantine, and ultimately what our time would be like outside of it. The name of that immortal series? The Twilight Saga.
So, it is probably not news to anyone that the Twilight movies are incredibly, painfully, shockingly awful. Even though the series catapulted Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, or R-Patz and K-Stew if you feel a particularly strong admiration, into mainstream stardom, both actors are trying to make people forget that they ever portrayed these characters. Bella’s entire personality seems to be based upon the fact that she is “not like other girls,” even if that means falling into a deep and life-halting depression when her vampire boyfriend leaves her. Edward’s looks aside, his obsession with Bella is equal to that of an aggressive stalker — he watches her sleep, becomes the catalyst for many of her life decisions, and refuses to turn her into a vampire, explaining his decision with what is essentially “because I said so.” The movies themselves look like they were filmed without access to proper lighting equipment, and the dialogue sounds like the writers were throwing word magnets against a refrigerator and seeing what came up. And I’m not even going to bring up the werewolves and the exploitation of Seattle’s indigenous tribes. Yet, if you have been on the internet at all during the past few months, you will have seen scores of Twilight memes, TikToks, and/or Buzzfeed articles. Sure this “renaissance” could be due to the fact that Robert Pattinson is going to be our next Batman, and an emo one at that, or the fact that Robert Pattinson standing in a kitchen wearing a maroon tracksuit got everyone hot and bothered. But couldn’t there be another reason?
When you are watching Twilight and you decide to look past everything that is so obviously wrong with it, you are confronted with one of the greatest/worst love stories the world has ever known. The relationship between Bella and Edward breaks every rule there is, teaches the vampires of the world a new meaning of love and companionship, and presents the audiences with an incredibly toxic, harmful, and misogynistic portrayal of love. Bella almost kills herself after Edward leaves her; Edward almost does the same. The two marry before Bella leaves her teen years, and she gives up everyone she loves to be with this one sad vampire. The list goes on, but I said what I said: Edward and Bella were terrible for each other and should never have given up their real lives to live together for eternity. But it was this very idea of forbidden love that drew my friends and me into the universe of late aughts’ vampire and werewolf fever: we somehow, inexplicably, incredulously saw similarities between our lives and those of the residents of Forks, Washington.
Pretty much every day, we hear someone say, “When all this is over, I’m going to …” Waiting for this pandemic to be over has seemed like an endless and futile task, as the U.S. government has made wrong decision after wrong decision, prolonging our quarantine, and putting people in increasing amounts of danger. Now that we have a working vaccine and people receiving it every day, many of us are starting to make plans for when we can get back to leading our lives. My friends and I are no exception, and missing our vanishing youth, we often spend time sitting on the couch talking about being spontaneous and crazy once we can go indoors with other people again. Since we all are or about to be twenty-one, we see in the distance city bars, clubs pulsing with loud music and the vibrations of feet hitting the floor, parties full of friends, restaurants humming with the sound of laughter and vibrant conversation. We talk about dressing up and going out, pretending to like playing pong in frat house basements, enjoying the company of other people at parties, watching blockbuster movies on screens that will do them justice, and, vitally, being able to have an actual social life with actual partner sex.
With COVID-19, dating — especially casual dating — has become near impossible for single people, especially college students. And, if you are in fact casually dating currently, that probably means that you are shirking social distancing guidelines and acknowledging the rampant COVID-19 exposure that comes from present day casual sex. For those of us who are too freaked out to meet strangers we cannot contact trace, stepping outside of our doors feels like breaking some sort of rule and being within six feet of someone means you can feel your heartbeat in your ears. You may say, try Tinder or Bumble, but I still feel wary about meeting someone I do not know and trusting that they are COVID-19 free just because they told me they were. Even seeing someone cute on the street has lost its excitement, because you can never quite tell if they are smiling at you under their mask or just happening to glance your way. Of course, every publication and its mother has done a “Dating During COVID-19” article, and they all say the usual. Don’t make close contact with people you do not really know or trust to not have COVID-19, have the COVID-19 talk with any potential sex partner, stay inside your bubble, if you are going to meet someone for a date it has to be outdoors, ad nauseum, ad infinitum. Ultimately, we are on our own, in more ways than one.
With casual dating looking more and more like a brick wall blocking our path, the world of escapism and absurdity beckons and tempts. The near impossibility of truly safe casual sex had me and my closest friends grabbing for the remote ready to immerse ourselves in Twilight. As vampires, the Cullens live an incredibly isolated life. They can never really stray outside their bubble, they cannot expose themselves to the sun so they stay inside whenever they can, and they have been forced to form intimate relationships with only the select few people with whom they live. Yet, it is within this seemingly impossible environment that Bella and Edward can find each other and begin an utterly ludicrous romance for the ages. As the audience, we see the absurdity in every scene, every shot, every line of dialogue. Yet, we remain transfixed by the idea that, in a world very similar to the one in which we are living right now, Bella and Edward fucked. Even though they had to get married first, they fucked so hard that they destroyed a hotel room and managed to conceive a child even though vampires certainly do not have any sort of blood flow. In Twilight, we found the best escape we could – we were able to laugh at ourselves while also being comforted by the fact that even a vampire and a human could find love in the most dire of circumstances.
Yet, the sad truth of our reality is echoed in the sad truth of Twilight — casual sex is awkward, forbidden, or impossible. As society begins to emerge from this pandemic, we have to start considering what the new “normal” will actually mean, especially in terms of our sex lives. We have spent almost a year avoiding people on the street, going out of our minds with remote learning, watching everything there is to watch, and really escaping so far down the rabbit hole that we have somehow left Wonderland. So, what will transitioning away from the escapist universe of Twilight into a post-pandemic definition of love and sex mean for all of us? Well, according to people who study the future for a living, there is going to be a huge increase in virtual dating. While dating online has been a reality for decades, many people are now in full pandemic mode and transitioning their entire lives onto an online platform. While this may mean letting go of our expectations that we will meet someone hot in a random bar and immediately hit it off, it does give us an entire new slate of opportunities. Moreover, we may have a big shift to polyamory and open relationships to look forward to! Apparently, when people are faced with what is pretty much the end of times, they don't really want to have to worry about monogamy. Ultimately, though, I think that we are all going to be faced with the fact that the landscape of dating and sex may look quite different after we emerge from our homes. And, instead of diving into the worlds of escapism and comfortable isolation, we have to realize that the next few years are going to be rife with countless opportunities for new sexual opportunities, experiences, and awakenings. So, let’s stop pretending that Robert Pattinson or Kristen Stewart are going to show up at our door in need of first aid and someone to truly understand them, and let’s instead head into our new reality as we are — young, hot, and confident.
 Freedman, Cathleen. “You Are Now Entering the ‘Twilight’ Renaissance,” Grain of Salt, October 26, 2020.https://grainofsaltmag.wordpress.com/2020/10/26/you-are-now-entering-the-twilight-renaissance/.
 Parker-Pope, Tara. “Masks, No Kissing and ‘a Little Kinky’: Dating and Sex in a Pandemic.” The New York Times, June 11, 2020, sec. Well. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/11/well/live/coronavirus-sex-dating-masks.html.
 Sarmiento, Isabella. “Coronavirus FAQs: What Are The New Dating Rules? And What About Hooking Up?” NPR.org. Accessed February 14, 2021. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/09/11/911991077/coronavirus-faqs-what-are-the-new-dating-rules-and-what-about-hooking-up.
 Iovine, Anna. “Futurists Predict What Your Sex Life May Look like after the Pandemic.” Mashable. Accessed February 14, 2021.https://mashable.com/article/future-of-sex-dating-after-coronavirus-pandemic/.
 Ibid., et al.