Contemporary Psychoanalysis in Action

A roundup of psychoanalytic points of view

Vampire Stories: Does Love Bite?

Fear of love and desire makes these tales compelling

By Rhona Kaplan, LCSW

Romantic relationships often bring fulfillment and joy. Falling in love, becoming more intimate, and feeling connected to another person is exciting. And often scary. Why the fear? Need and desire for another often stir anxiety: how many times have you asked yourself if you are “too needy,” and then decided to “play it cool?”

We worry that our need, our desire, for another might destroy that person, or, more literally, exhaust and deplete them emotionally, possibly destroying the relationship. What better metaphor for being “needy” than the story of the vampire? Blood is not just food for the vampire; it’s a powerful aphrodisiac he craves like an addict craves his drug. A vampire’s need for blood is so intense that he must kill for it, literally sucking the object of desire dry.

Vampire stories have never been so popular! Unlike the classic Dracula, who was a thing of nightmares, modern day vampires more closely resemble humans than they do the Grim Reaper with fangs. For example, in the “Twilight” saga, the vampires are depicted as flawless and captivating. They are sexy and charming, their murderous propensity for blood sucking obscured. Since they resemble humans, audiences relate to these characters as they struggle with their need in relationships, particularly romantic relationships.

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So, how do the vampire stories illustrate the fear of needing or being needed by another person “too much?” Consider the beginning of the “Twilight” saga. Bella Swan, a mortal teenage girl, is very attractive, contemptuous and full of angst. Edward Cullen, the vampire, is an elusive, mysterious, James Dean-like character. There seems to be a magnetic connection between the two. Edward realizes that his need and desire for blood have the potential to kill Bella. He fears his uncontrollable destructive impulses, and experiences himself as a monster. Edward avoids Bella to protect her from himself. This leaves Edward feeling lonely, isolated, and in a perpetual state of frustrated desire.

Returning now to the world of mortals, consider two questions: what exactly does being “needy” mean, and how does a person come to believe his or her need and desire are so overwhelming they will destroy the other? Of course, needing “too much” can have many meanings, from wishing for more of a partner’s time, and/or a deeper commitment to the relationship, to physical desire for affection, intimacy, and sex. 

Experiencing needs as “too much” is complex and specific to each individual. These fears are often connected to one’s family of origin. To illustrate: consider a patient I work with who sought therapy for her struggle to find a meaningful and satisfying romantic relationship. In reflecting on her parents’ relationship, she became aware of experiencing her mother as demanding and dependent on her father. She described her mother as “insatiable,” and “draining,” and as a result felt her father was depleted.

Part of this woman’s story is also a belief that she was expected to be self-reliant and independent, unlike her mother. She understood this to mean her needs were “not good,” “too much,” and would surely be overwhelming to a partner. In order to avoid feeling need, she engages in casual relationships, and keeps a careful distance from others. 

This woman, similar to Edward’s character in Twilight, struggles with loneliness, isolation, and unfulfilled desires. My patient and Edward both experience needing another person as “bad,” shameful, and potentially destructive to those they love and desire. Distancing can sometimes seem the only option.

As a psychotherapist I help my patients reconsider their stories about need so they can, perhaps, develop a new perspective. I believe a new “story”—that is, a new understanding of one’s history, actions and feelings--can free people from fears and judgments about what they want from their partners.

Perhaps the need a vampire has for blood is potentially destructive, but it’s also necessary for his survival. Similar to the vampire, then, we need others for our emotional and psychological survival.  Relationships, with all their complexities, desires, needs, and fears have the potential to be affirming and enlivening.

Eventually Edward finds a way to be with Bella, as the two learn to navigate fear and desire in the relationship. Though it is a fantastical story, the message we can take away is this: with awareness, courage, and optimism there is the possibility of finding the love and fulfillment we are seeking. 

Rhona Kaplan, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker.  She is currently a fourth year candidate in the Psychoanalytic Training Program at the William Alanson White Institute.  She works with adults, adolescents, and couples in her private practice in New York City.

Contemporary Psychoanalysis in Action, edited by Susan Kolod, Ph.D., and Melissa Ritter, Ph.D, is under the auspices of Contemporary Psychoanalysis, the journal of the William Alanson White Institute.

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