PSYCHOLOGICALLY immature and nihilistic M. incapable of love with barely restrained urge to murder seeks F. for fun times and possible romantic relationship.
It's not the kind of lonely hearts ad that's likely to set a girl's heart aflutter- unless of course the suitor happens to be Edward Cullen, the object of Bella Swan's affections in Stephenie Meyer's hugely popular Twilight series of books and films.
While Edward has both girls and women swooning, regular blokes are left wondering, "What's he got that I haven't?" Well, first up, he's a psychopath.
The popularity of Edward owes less to his status as fantasy and more to the fact that he accurately reflects the real-life ‘bad boys’ women encounter in their daily lives.
That, at any rate, is the conclusion of Debra Merskin, associate professor for the school of journalism and communication at the University of Oregon. Writing in a recent issue of the Journal of Communication Inquiry, Merskin argues that Edward has all the hallmarks of a "compensated psychopath".
Unlike full-blown psychopaths, compensated psychopaths have learnt to conceal their limited emotional repertoire and "pass" as normal. "While he is incapable of feeling compassion, or remorse, there is an awareness that the full-blown psychopath doesn't have - that these feelings do exist in the world but he is somehow lacking," Merskin explains via email.
Edward, she says, ticks all the boxes.He's psychologically immature; although born in 1901, Edward is fated never to develop beyond the age of 17.
He's socially withdrawn, living far out of town, and he's controlling. He frequently belittles Bella, saying she's emotionally unobservant, she's absurd and, most patronisingly, "You've got a bit of a temper, don't you?"
Edward's inability to love is the crucible for the romantic tension throughout Twilight. "I don't know how to be close to you. I don't know if I can," he says to Bella. And, perhaps most tellingly, Edward admits: "I'mn ot used to feeling so human. Is it always like this?"
Merskin says these types aren't new in literature and cinema. Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray, serial killer Patrick Bateman in American Psycho and Wall Street's Gordon Gekko are all examples of compensated psychopaths.
But unlike Edward, none of these fictional characters was presented as boyfriend material. This,Merskin says, makes Edward novel. It also makes him concerning- especially given that its target audience is young women and adolescent girls.
"The media play an important pedagogical role in the socialisation of young people. If the information coming to girls is that a dangerous, psychopathic boy is good boyfriend material, I argue they are psychically and physically in danger."
But is Edward really that dysfunctional- or unique? Western literature and cinema is, after all, littered with dysfunctional leading men.
Wuthering Heights's Heathcliff, for example, isn't exactly a poster boy for mental health. Similarly, for most of Pride and Prejudice, Mr Darcy is contemptuous and emotionally withdrawn, spending his time charging across the English countryside belittling anyone who fails to live up to his own standards. Jane Eyre's Edward Rochester is another , being withdrawn, controlling, patronising and moody.