"I check the Internet all day long for 'Twilight' news, from the minute I wake up until I go to bed at midnight," says Joyce Swiokla, 50, a former engineer who runs the website CullenBoysAnonymous.com. "If there is a chemical that's released when you're falling in love, your brain has it when you're reading or watching 'Twilight.' You get that utopic feeling of first love and you want to experience it over and over again."
"My husband finally came to me and said, 'I think you love "Twilight" more than you love me,' " says Johnson, who had become especially attached to the community she'd found online. "I ended up moving out of the house and fought for my marriage for six weeks. I had to take a step back and detox myself from 'Twilight.' I was really angry that I had allowed it to suck me in. Now I meet women every single day where 'Twilight' has become a major issue in their marriage."
By going cold turkey, Johnson managed to kick her habit. And, with some work, her relationship later rebounded. But for some people, the romance, intrigue and celebrity gossip that's always just a mouse click away is too hard to resist.
"What you're seeing with 'Twilight' has to do with the ramifications of our infinite access to pop culture," says Kimberly Young, a professor at St. Bonaventure University in New York and psychologist who specializes in treating patients with Internet addiction. "Any addiction is about escape, and some of these women are using it to fill a void. This is their way of connecting. Instead of watching soap operas all day, they're online following 'Twilight.' And now they can chat and it becomes an opportunity to have a connection with other fans."
The Internet's role in pop culture has always had the paradoxical effect of making people feel both connected and alienated at the same time. So it's not surprising that people spending a lot of time glued to their computer screens would seek solace in the company of fellow online lonely-hearts. "I loved finding this community of women who were giddy and excited about the same thing as me," says Johnson. "I had this whole new group of friends. And, as a mom who spends most of my days at work, the appreciation from the other fans was a big deal."
But of all the romantic novels and movies to cycle through bookstores and theaters, why have Meyer's works and not those of say, Jane Austen or Nicholas Sparks, caught fire with the masses? There's no shortage of theories out there. "Some people have suggested a 9/11 context to 'Twilight,' " says UCLA sociologist David Halle. "The vampires represent a danger from people living right in the midst of us who you wouldn't expect to be dangerous."
However, there may be a much simpler explanation as to why women spend so much time obsessing over Edward and Bella (whose saga will culminate with "Breaking Dawn," which has been split into two films, due out in the fall of 2011 and 2012).
"If you take away 'Twilight' and put in a football team, this doesn't look so much different from what guys have been doing for decades," says Baym. "They stay up late at night looking at statistics and playing fantasy football. You could just as easily say they've lost touch with reality or that they're addicted. 'Twilight' is just a story women are engaging with passionately, so people say it's dysfunctional. On the other hand, maybe men's relationship with football is dysfunctional as well."