The first thing any girl hears in a dating violence discussion is that jealousy is not love. Yet Edward is critically jealous of Jacob Black, one of Bella’s family friends. Edward pushes Jacob aside from the end of Twilight where, when Jacob asks Bella if she’d like another dance, Edward answers “I’ll take it from here.” Perhaps Bella would prefer to dance with Edward – but it’s her decision to tell Jacob that, not Edward’s. The situation only escalates as Jacob becomes closer to Bella. In a confrontation at the end of New Moon, Bella is genuinely afraid for Jacob’s life. Fans of the series might say “Oh, but Jacob is a werewolf – they’re historical enemies.” Would this excuse an English beau from threatening an Irish friend?
Moreover, in Eclipse, Edward is intent on keeping Bella from associating with Jacob at all. When she says in the first chapter that she’s planning on visiting Jacob without Edward if necessary, he says simply “I’ll stop you.” That is to say, he is willing to use physical force rather than let his girlfriend see one of her closest friends. And it does come to force – to removing a vital part from Bella’s truck and bribing Alice to keep Bella under house arrest when he isn’t around.
A general dislike of Jacob would be understood. But taking steps to prevent your partner from spending time with someone that you dislike is abuse, plain and simple. And his surprising calm after Bella kisses Jacob seems more indicative to me of a cycle of abuse and reconciliation than any real resolution.
Jealousy is a control tactic. As such, it is often paired with isolation – a technique most familiar in cult dynamics. As soon as Edward and Bella begin dating, Edward criticizes her friends as ‘shallow.’ Bella soon stops going anywhere with other friends. Not having formed strong bonds before Edward appears on the scene, Bella never bothers to form them at all. The isolation is so complete that when Edward leaves in the beginning of New Moon, Bella spends three months in a depressed state before rediscovering her other friends. Yes, it’s understandable to want to spend time with your boyfriend. But when you have quite literally no life outside of them – when their absence leaves you so utterly lost – that is unhealthy. And it is wrong of Edward to encourage it. As already demonstrated with Jacob Black, Bella is capable of forming strong friendships when Edward isn't monopolizing her time.
Moreover, a part of this isolation is fully and unarguably intentional. When Edward leaves Bella, he flat-out forbids Alice, Bella’s best friend at the time, from seeing her. His motivation? To ensure a “clean break.” But it is Bella’s right to decide when and how she wants to forget about their relationship. Presuming to dictate her healing process for her is the height of control – it is assuming that you have the right to a person’s thoughts.
Abandonment is yet another control tactic. It is emotionally jarring, disruptive, and, if timed properly, can convince the target that their life is less worthwhile without the abuser. I have been the subject of this treatment myself – and, if it were not for my close friends, it would have worked. Thanks to isolation, Bella has no such friends. When Edward resurfaces, she immediately clings to him more desperately than before. He has become her only lifeline.
Of course, Edward resurfaces in that he attempts suicide. I don’t care what Romeo and Juliet says: suicide is not romantic. Apart from being mentally unstable, this is characteristic of abusive boyfriends. Many abused women remain with their boyfriends because they believe that they still love each other. They often feel responsible for their boyfriend, who tells them “I can’t live without you.” For obvious reasons, Bella doesn’t want to be responsible for Edward’s death. But because of this fear for his life, she stays in a self-destructive relationship.
Perhaps Edward didn’t realize that Bella was alive when he tried to kill himself. But that just proves that he was unstable enough to go through with it – he had made the threat long before he made the attempt. Bella did not laugh off the threat – it shocked and horrified her. If Edward hurt himself, she felt it would be “because of her.” And that puts a burden of responsibility on her that no person can or should be made to bear.
This sense of responsibility for his welfare also extends to lying to her father. Encouraged deception is a red flag for an abusive relationship. Yes, you can argue that Bella shouldn’t tell her father about Edward’s vampirism for the same reason that she wouldn’t tell anyone if he had AIDS: respect for privacy. But it is expected that she would tell her father when she is with her boyfriend. Lying is unnecessary. You can argue that Edward does not encourage her to lie, instead asking her to tell someone where she is. But this statement is consistently followed with ’So I know that if I kill you, I’ll get in trouble for it.’ (“To give me some small incentive to bring you back,” p 214) Predictably, it has the opposite effect: Bella, out of her sense of responsibility for her boyfriend, keeps their dates secret. Thus serving Edward’s ends. Many teenagers will lie to their parents about their dates without a second thought. But this doesn’t make it right. In fact, it only shows that Edward can’t plead ignorance regarding how Bella would react to his statement. Any mind reader will know what she’d do.
Time and time again in Twilight, Edward frightens Bella. Fear is emotional abuse. It can also be used to assert control. Fans might say that Edward is constantly telling Bella how much he wants to kill her and giving unnecessary displays of strength in order to convince her not to stay with him. Why, then, doesn’t he take the lead and stay away from Bella? Why didn’t he stay in Alaska? Why didn’t he simply switch Biology classes? Because he’s “selfish.” If he is unable to stay away from her, he has no right to scare her. Calmly explaining the danger – once, as accurately as possible, without hyperbole – will suffice. And then a boy who really cared would help her take necessary precautions for her safety. For example, telling Charlie when they would be together. Or, having Carlisle chaperon. Or by having a double date with Alice and Jasper, or by sticking in public places, or any of dozens of other measures, since Edward clearly doesn’t believe that feeding often is precaution enough. But that would prevent Bella from swooning over his “devotion.”
For that matter, why is he under the impression that seeing the dents his shoulders left in a car is insufficient to remind her that he is, in fact, stronger than your average human?
Finally, Edward refuses to allow Bella to make her own decisions. She insists she does not want to go to the prom – he brings her there without telling her. She insists she doesn’t want a birthday party – he gives her a surprise party. She does not want to leave Charlie while James is loose – he throws her in the back seat and tells his brother to hold her down. When she resists, he either works around her back or manipulates her decision, kissing her until she forgets her argument. Real boyfriends respect their girlfriend’s right to a decision. Abusive boyfriends must make all the decisions – using force if necessary. It doesn’t matter whether he thinks he’s acting in her best interests or not. Free will is non-exchangeable. And it should be.
The circumstances of their engagement is a perfect example of his inability to let her make her own decisions. He agrees, at the end of New Moon, that he will change her into a vampire if and only if she marries him first. Marriage is not a bargaining tool. Vampirism and marriage are both commitments – but they are separate commitments, and should be discussed separately. The fact that he never intended for her to make that bargain, that he used it as a delay, is not an excuse. Rather, it is further evidence of a need to manipulate the relationship according to his wants and needs.
Likewise, when Bella decides that she does not want to apply to Dartmouth, he ignores her and forges her signature on the paperwork. Going to a college outside of the Ivy League will not place Bella’s life or even her general contentment in danger. Yet he resolves that it is his decision to make, not hers.
A parallel incident can be found when he forges a note to Charlie in her handwriting on the day he leaves her in the middle of the woods. Yes, it turned out to be a good thing that Charlie knew that she was out there when she went missing, but no, that doesn't excuse forging a note when it would have been just as easy to write the note as himself: "Hey, Chief Swan, it's Edward. Bella and I are going for a walk in the woods. Be back soon."
For those fans who insist on some definite physical, non-negotiable sign of abuse, recall how Edward enters her house after leaving her in New Moon and hides every one of her personal possessions associated with himself. Destroying someone’s stuff is never OK and always an abusive act. Even – especially! – when he’s trying to control her healing process. Add the fact that Edward is prone to watching Bella while she sleeps – repeatedly, without her knowledge – and you have one very unhealthy relationship.