Oh, Kristen Stewart and Rupert Sanders – giving tweens everywhere a lesson in real life this week.
That’s right, fans of “Twilight,” the young adult book series and movies, have been distraught ever since they learned that their beloved, star-crossed, 50 percent vampire couple, Bella and Edward, are not living the fairy-tale romance so many had imagined.
But before getting into the details, I will back up, for those who might have been out of the pop culture loop. (Vampires? Lovers? Kristen Stewart?)
In 2008, Ms. Stewart starred as Bella, the female protagonist of Stephenie Meyer’s young adult book sensation, “Twilight.” The basic plot of the Twilight series is that Bella, decidedly not the most popular girl in school, has fallen in love with Edward, who is, inconveniently (or at least, challengingly) a vampire. It goes from there, with many near death experiences, other angry vampires, obsessive love and lots and lots of not having sex. (Until the last book, that is, and you should just wait for the consequences of that. You do not want to give birth to a baby vampire, all I’m saying.)
There’s been a lot of feminist criticism of these books, but girls across the world love them. Just love them. And so, when it became known that popular actress Stewart was dating – in real life! – hunky Robert Pattinson, who plays Edward in the movie, well, it was almost more than the Tween world could handle. As much as they lurved Bella and Edward, they double lurved Kristen and R-Patz. They called the duo “Robsten.” Seriously.
And then, Mr. Sanders had to come along.
He directed Stewart in her leading roll in the new movie, “Snow White And the Huntsman.” And this week, Us Magazine printed photographs of Mr. Sanders and Stewart apparently involved recently in a romantic tryst.
The whole thing is ugly. Sanders is married to a model and actress Liberty Ross, who is a decade older than the 22-year-old Stewart, and who played Snow White’s mom in the film. Sanders and Ms. Ross have two children together. Meanwhile, rumors had been swirling that Mr. Pattinson would propose to Stewart.
Both Stewart and Sanders have admitted to the cheating. Both have apologized privately and publicly to their families, and Stewart has been photographed looking tearful and drawn.
Meanwhile, the tween world is outraged.
“I don’t want to believe it,” Tweeted one.
“How could you!” said another in an emotional YouTube video.
And then there were death threats, but the Internet is wacky like that.
But here’s the thing. This situation is surely painful and miserable for those people involved. But when it comes to the widespread reaction to the cheating, there is some context worth pondering.
Americans are notoriously conservative and outraged about infidelity. In a 2008 Gallup Values and Beliefs poll, Americans as a group found extramarital affairs morally worse than polygamy, human cloning and suicide. But an awful lot of Americans do cheat. It’s almost impossible to get accurate statistics for this (estimates range from 3 percent to 80 percent), but a lot of studies put the number at about 30 percent of married people. (Stewart, recall, is not married.)
When I reported a Monitor magazine cover story about infidelity a couple of years back, researchers I interviewed told me that it is a very US phenomenon to believe that cheaters are a certain type of person, rather than to acknowledge that cheating is something that happens. (Other countries have a far different view of infidelity – in Russia, for instance, some therapists will recommend extramarital affairs as a way to spice up a relationship.) In this country a lot of people have the “I’m not the sort of person who would cheat,” or, in this case, “she didn’t seem like the type of person to cheat” attitude.
But this black and white view doesn’t make any sense, psychiatrists and academics told me. Relationship dynamics, outside temptations, individual characteristics, feelings of isolation, self control – those all have a lot more to do with cheating behavior than the “type” of person.
Which is something of a lesson, perhaps, for the teenagers furious at Stewart right now, or devastated to learn that their example of true love is messier than a young adult romance novel may portray it.
Relationships are complicated. People are complicated. Good people can hurt each other. (Caveat here that I don’t know any of the folks involved, so really can’t judge their personalities, but let’s assume “good” for now.) And there is nuance in the world of adult romance.
Even when there are no vampires involved.