disturbing trend alert: ephebophilia and abc family

ABC Family, you know I love you and your completely nonsense plotlines and your endless intensely dramatic public service announcements, but WHAT ARE YOU DOING.

In case you weren't aware, ephebophilia is the word of the year over at ABC Family. And in case you didn't know what ephebophilia was until today, it is the technical name for being attracted to just-barely-post-pubescent (15-19 year old) persons. Not that this is some bizarre development - we've all seen ads for "BARELY LEGAL" and "SHE'S JUST 18" when walking the strip in Vegas and being assaulted by those guys with the weird porn cards, or by super aggressive popups (thanks be to popup blockers) with girls with pigtails and schoolgirl uniforms biting their fingers laciviously. Nobody is unaware of the sheer amount of porn, erotica, and creepy Halloween costumes dedicated to this concept.

The problem is that ABC Family is taking this whole thing to a very romantic place. And it's creeping me out.

First, and longest-lasting-uncomfortable-relationship-on-TV-ever, are the "star-crossed" Aria and Ezra on Pretty Little Liars. Don't get me wrong - PLL is one of my favorite shows, and I've brought many a friend onto that boat. My sister and I talk about it endlessly. But Ezra was Aria's teacher when they started dating (we'll cover origin stories in a moment), and though young for a teacher, he was probably in the 25+ range. I'm sure they decided that he's actually just 23 and so it's totally not weird for him to be dating a 16-year old girl. I'm sure.

Second, and in the WTF-WHY-IS-THIS-HAPPENING-I-THOUGHT-WE-HAD-RESOLVED-THIS category, is a brand new development on my dear, darling Switched at Birth. It's a great show that involves deaf culture more gracefully and extensively than pretty much any other show... maybe ever. It often has bonkers plotlines that I love (Bay and her brother's significant others cheating on them with each other, the whole switched at birth situation, Emmett's dad's drunk pot-smoking girlfriend, Bay's brother's ex-girlfriend being an alcoholic... the list goes on), but today it took one too far, that I had hoped was already resolved - Daphne made out with her boss, who, at my most conservative estimate, is probably 28 - to Daphne's MAYBE 17.

Now, don't get me wrong. I know that sometimes, age ain't nothin' but a number, and I have known some relationships that started in very awkward age-differences that were largely successful, AND I understand that men these days seem to be getting less and less mature and sometimes it seems like sixteen-year old girls DO have equivalent maturity levels to male 20-somethings - I understand that all - having two separate plotlines on two separate shows, concurrently, where the attraction between a full-grown adult man and a teenage girl being too much to resist sort of seems like approval. Maybe even encouragement. Especially when you consider that those aren't the only age-disparate plotlines on that network (or even those shows).

Look, I remember being in high school. I remember having crushes on people who were inappropriately older than me. I get that. I get that maybe writers are trying to live out some kind of thing that they wish had happened when they were a teenager. I don't know. Maybe they're creepy old dudes who wish they could be banging teenagers. I really don't know.

What I do know is that it's creeping me out. No matter how mature a sixteen-year old girl acts, she's still sixteen! She's still at an age where her brain is forming (yes, literally), where her hormones are still settling into some sort of coherent mess, and where she probably has never really been in love or had her heart well and truly broken before. How are you going to go in there, with your years of dating experience, and having loved and lost, and having a goddamn fully formed brain, and be like, yeah, no, there's no weird power dynamic here. There's no strange, uncomfortable difference in experience and the extent to which this relationship will impact our day-to-day lives. (Spoiler: remember Romeo and Juliet? Relationships were substantially more dramatic when we were in our teens.)

The part that maybe gets to me the most, though, is the introduction these storylines have all had. With the possible exception of Wren, the medical student who can't stop hitting on 16-year old girls of Pretty Little Liars, all of the men were tricked by the girls about their ages. Aria and Ezra met in a bar, which pretty well implies age. Chef Jeff (I know) didn't bother to look at Daphne's resume because she was foisted upon him by family connections and so assumed she was a college student, what with the crazy hours she was pulling at the restaurant. The message here is that the men weren't at fault, because they were in some manner seduced by these young women who hid their ages. 

Dear ABC Family, WHAT THE HELL KIND OF MESSAGE ARE YOU SENDING TO BOTH SIXTEEN YEAR OLD GIRLS AND THE LATE-TWENTIES-EARLY-THIRTIES MEN THAT APPARENTLY CAN'T KEEP THEIR HANDS OFF OF THEM? At least Nabokov made Lolita so young that even while in the perverse mind of Humbert Humbert, you knew he was doing something wrong. The girls in these shows are well-written, interesting characters, who are in fact smart and mature for their ages, and some part of me wanted to root for Daphne and Chef, and even Wren and his succession of 16-year olds. What kind of message would that have sent 16-year old me?

"Yeah, baby version of me, it's totally normal for this man who is 8-10 (or more) years your senior to be interested in you! There's nothing weird about this at all! He's definitely completely socially functional and not at all a creep for hanging around the high school looking to pick up chicks."

Guys. This is not normal, ABC Family. A mentally stable, emotionally healthy guy who falls in love with someone in a completely different developmental stage than him is definitely possible, but it's a crazy unlikely exception to the rule. Stop making it seem like the rule. 

Or else expect more of this in the future.

[if you don't go to the link, it's about what it means in the Twilight series when Jacob, an 18-year old man, "imprints" on a newborn baby girl, which means he will marry her. No way to write that as not creepy.]