- Caroline: It doesn't matter what he does, Damon's gotten under your skin.
Elena: That's not true.
Caroline: God, just admit it, Elena, okay? You are attracted to him! In all of his bad brother glory.
Caroline: Wait, no, you're not attracted to him, or no, you just won't admit it?
Elena: I can't, Caroline! If I admit it, if I even thought it for just a second... What does that say about me?
Caroline: It says you're human, Elena.
~ Elena's reaction to Damon's "I love you."
Everyone and their dog is aware that Damon loves her. However, Elena has only heard it three times before – once from her manipulative, biological mother, Isobel ("Isobel"), once from Stefan after Damon forced his blood on her ("The Last Day") and a dying Damon ("As I Lay Dying"). The first was six months to a year ago when she was just beginning to truly accept Damon as her friend, the second was when Elena was furious with Damon, and the last instance, well, Damon was dying and it's best not to go there because if Elena is one thing, it's denial-girl. So for all that everyone and their dog knows how Damon feels about Elena, it is not talked about. It truly is the elephant in the room; everyone tiptoes around it except for an occasional prod here or there. It's a fact, but it's an unspoken fact. And because it's treated as such, Elena can live in denial-land and do what she does best when she doesn't want to deal with consequences and that is pretend, pretend, pretend.
And that is exactly what she's been doing. Even with the kiss that the two shared, she didn't allow herself to accept that there was any permanence, any meaning to it. She told Bonnie that it wasn't going to happen again; she didn't even bother telling Caroline. While she gave the excuse for not telling her on everything crazy that had been going on in their lives, the truth is that she didn't want to tell her because that would mean discussing it. Which she did not want to do. Not only did she not tell Caroline, she didn't intend for Bonnie to know either. Damon was the one who spilled the beans to her, so Elena had no option except to shut the conversation down as swiftly as possible if she didn't want to deal with the ramifications of kissing Damon. And that's exactly what she did: Boom! It won't happen again, moving on. Of course, she did tell Stefan, but I think that she told him for a few reasons (none of which involved discussing her feelings). She did so partly to get a rise out of him and make him show that he still feels something, partly because she did feel guilty, and, finally, in part because she felt that he deserved to know due to the whole convoluted, complicated mess that is their relationship, and because the guy she kissed was his brother.
Still, it wasn't about discussing, acknowledging what was going on with Damon on her end, but rather how Stefan felt about it. And, of course, Stefan lives in denial-land as much as Elena so he not only didn't discuss how he felt, he didn't push her on her feelings either. Which left her where she was before, not discussing, not dealing. And as long as she doesn't discuss, doesn't deal, doesn't acknowledge what is happening between her and Damon -- his feelings, her feelings, their actions that result from those feelings -- she can continue to pretend that they are just friends and that she is not repeating Katherine's pattern of loving both brothers. She can continue to turn to Damon, lean on him for support, argue with him, knowing that he'll have her back in the end no matter what she decides to do, and share their intense moments. All of this she can continue to do as long as they keep things status quo with Damon's love for her the unacknowledged elephant in the room.
However, in that moment, Damon pointed out that elephant in the middle of a SITUATION, and, frankly, it isn't something that he should have done, expressing himself as if he is her boyfriend. There are reasons for acting certain ways (ie, I'm being an overzealous protector because I don't want you to die and I have the right to do that because I love you and I don't want you to die!) that are excused because of the type of relationship you have with someone. The thing here is that as much as Damon would like to be in that kind of relationship with Elena, and as comfortable as he had become in that role of her pseudo-boyfriend (key word being pseudo), he is NOT in that kind of relationship with her. He is not her actual boyfriend, so therefore he doesn't get to say those words without any consequence. Right now, that phrase is too weighted and comes with so much still unsaid between them. An "I love you" spoken as baldly as he did happens when the two parties are in a mutual, I-love-you relationship that is established and set. Damon and Elena are nowhere near that type of relationship at this time. By Damon throwing out the "I love you" as he did as if it were not the giant elephant in the room, he kicked open that complacent stasis they were all in. Which meant that Elena could no longer glide along treating him like just a good friend, with nice words, tender gestures and touches, because he said the words -- with no extenuating circumstances -- it's out there now, and they can't go back to just pretending.
And that is from where her quick, wounding response came. She wasn't thinking; she was reacting to him suddenly pointing to the elephant in the room. Also, she is only eighteen and without much experience. An even more salient point is that since she hasn't admitted, even to herself, how she feels about him, and Damon loves SO fully, heavily and completely ... it was just too much for her to deal with. To have it blurted out like that had to shake her up. And it did, leading her to respond in a less than ideal manner that was so unlike her -- and to be fair, she regretted it immediately. But she said them, those hurtful words that were lacking in Elena's normal warmth and empathy, her understanding and desire for him to feel and own up to his feelings, which is how she has almost always treated him in the past. However, expressing general feelings and sharing is totally different from an 'I love you' directed specifically at her, especially considering their weighted relationship and the fact that his love for her has NEVER been discussed by them. It is the wandering elephant in the room at all times. And he just casually acknowledged it.
In addition, it is quite clear that the last batch of episodes have shown just how deeply she has gotten in with Damon, and now she is trying to backpedal because if he feels secure enough in their relationship to say those words then she must be projecting something ... something more than she's allowed herself to acknowledge. And Elena is afraid of not only feeling that something, but how much of that something she does feel. More than the depth of those feelings is the fact that she has them for Damon at all. There is the fear that she'll become what she very much does not want to be: Another Katherine, toying with the affections of both Salvatore brothers. Furthermore, it's not even just all of the above. There are a LOT of things at play here. There is a whole list of ISSUES THAT DAMON AND ELENA MUST GET THROUGH BEFORE THEY CAN BE!
For Elena, she's warring with these other fears as well:
1) I can't love two brothers. It's wrong.
2) I can't love Damon. What does that say about me?
3) I said it was Stefan, always, only Stefan! Oops!
4) I said I'd never fall for his brother.
(And we're not even wading into the Damon-shaped issues.)
That's a LOT to get through before an acknowledged 'I love you' could enter the arena in her confused, conflicted mind. And so the empathetic, understanding Elena was just not in the building, despite her past attitude toward him. And this makes perfect sense when you look at the bigger picture. This is an Elena in a situation she's never been in before. She really feels like she shouldn't like, let alone love Damon, because what does that say about her? (See at the top her words from "Disturbing Behavior.") Liking, and, oh boy!, loving Damon would disappoint her parents, and obviously, everyone in her life now. However, who you choose to love is not a choice, it just happens and she's been fighting against that choice for a long time now. So she's constantly at battle within herself, and on top of that, she won't even admit to that battle, which leads to frustration on her part, which then spills onto Damon. Which leads to her not being empathetic and saying hurtful things. In addition, remember, right then, the girl was in a scary place emotionally due to her meeting with Esther, the deal she had just made with her, and the potential fall-out.
And again, I believe that we have to take into account that she is only eighteen, and she's suffered a ridiculous amount of loss in her life. Her last relationship (with Damon's brother!) ended pretty high up there on the list of worst possible ways a relationship can end, and yet there were these crazy, extenuating circumstances that still come into play. Plus, there are all of those issues she has that I listed above. And look, here's yet another huge factor that explains her less than rational response: It's Damon. He arouses her passions, he confuses her, frustrates her, makes her feel things that she doesn't understand and so she lashes out and says mean things, unthinking things. We went through a very difficult road with Damon last season and now we are at such a better place with him. I genuinely believe that that is what is happening with Elena. She's not perfect, and I love that; she's a screwed-up teenager who is going to mess up big time, but she will grow, she will get better ... just as Damon has done.
~ Elena ignoring EVERYTHING that Stefan has done and begging him to FEEL something.
The key part of that above sentence is "something" full-stop. Like many, I read this scene initially as Elena begging Stefan to feel something (ie, his love) for her. However, sumeria added another option:
- QUOTE: "... it didn't feel to me "romantic." Elena's been going through some rough shit. Shit that I imagine she wishes she didn't have to feel/think about *all the time.* She said that she's been trying not to feel, and it's not working. It felt to me like her trying to empathize with where he is, and trying to reach out to a friend that she doesn't want to see destroy himself forever."
That Elena was only thinking of Stefan as a friend, someone that she needed to help find themselves as opposed to wanting to *be* with him, really did bear itself out in the following episode, "All My Children." Honestly, it truly felt to me like Stefan was an afterthought in relation to Elena (and for Elena) except from Damon's point of view. Initially, I thought that the opening song was about the Stefan/Elena pairing, and that Elena was moody and restless when she awoke because she was thinking about Stefan since the phone call (reluctantly made) was to him. However, what followed made it clear that the song, Elena's mood, even Elena's phone call to Stefan was all about Damon.
She had called Damon several times (ten to be exact!), and the point was made that we knew how many times, whereas there was just the one call to Stefan -- and since he'd taken her home the night before, she knew that he was fine, so therefore, yes, she was calling him about Damon. After all, we know it wasn't about the Esther plan or her guilt over involving Elijah because she mentioned that the night before. Why I'm so sure that it was about Damon specifically is because she didn't say what she needed to talk to him about, and then there was her reluctance to call him. Her ex-boyfriend. Who knows that she kissed his brother, something that she pretty much said she would never do. And she's going to call said ex-boyfriend to tell him she's worried about said brother that she admitted to kissing?! With all of the crazy that Stefan is going through right now, would she really want to risk setting off some new trigger? Definitely not. So, I do believe indubitably that she was phoning him only because she hadn't been able to get through to Damon.
Now, let's take a step back. Perhaps you don't buy that it was non-romantic with Stefan, and you still believe that she was trying to get him to feel something for her. Don't worry, I've got an angle in play for that as well that makes sense and is perfectly in character. As previously stated, Elena is, first and foremost, a denial-girl. This was established in the Pilot. She stood in front of the mirror and practiced her denial speech. Elena is especially denial-girl when it comes to Stefan. She doesn't know him truly, not all of him, and she hasn't fully accepted this fact yet. Stefan, as of late, has mostly been a complete asshole to her, but it appears that for her that jerk!Stefan is not her Stefan, and as such she has separated them in her mind, and she has also done so in her heart. Therefore, all of the horrible things that he has done, she is simply not holding against him because jerk!Stefan isn't her Stefan. (Denial-girl is also very good at selective reasoning.)
Tonight for the first time, she saw signs of her Stefan. Going back to "The Ties That Bind," while I don't believe that Elena told Stefan that she kissed Damon to make him jealous and get him back, (I do think that she genuinely was trying to be honest and up-front as well as other reasons listed above), it's definitely feasible that she wanted to get a reaction out of him. Something, anything. She wanted him to feel (per Lexi). However, she didn't get one ... at least to her knowledge. But we know now that her telling him did lead Stefan to choose (likely a subconscious thing) to open himself up again to be more the Stefan of before: The Stefan that she loves and believes in and has rose-colored glasses on when she looks at him (so that she doesn't look at Damon). And again, in this episode, it was the first time that she saw that Stefan, her Stefan, as the evening progressed,. So that girl that blindly loved him saw a chance to recapture the happy euphoria of pretense amidst the crazy that she had shared with him not so long ago, and she went for it. Because at least when everyone that she loved was being threatened, she could escape into the cocoon of this pretend-world that she and Stefan had created out of their idealistic love. Now, all she has to escape to is this ever-spiraling, confusing, frustrating, intense thing with Damon that she is quite simply incapable of giving name to right now.
Elena is only eighteen. I keep saying that, but it is a very real variable that should not be forgotten when assessing the (negative) whys and wherefores of her actions. Add to that, Stefan is her first real love (with Matt being a trial-run, by all accounts, for her) and they didn't just break up. They were ripped apart (by Stefan's choices, but still), and so the chance to get back her Stefan, and also get back to that bright spot in her life is completely understandable. I don't like it and I certainly don't want it. I much prefer my strong, awesome, kick-ass Elena -- the young woman that she is when not with Stefan -- but it does make logical, character-based sense. And even if they did go back there with Stefan and Elena, there is no way that things would simply fall back into place as they were.
Finally, (again) with regards to her age, to Stefan and how it appears that this season is playing out ... at eighteen, Elena is now older than Stefan in terms of living life (as opposed to undead life). There was a big 'Elena is growing up' theme to the premiere episode; she's becoming an adult. She's growing up. Stefan CAN'T grow up. He's eternally a 17-year old boy -- I believe that the vampire mythology on the show is that their personality is based on their respective death age when turned and that that essence never changes. So Stefan won't change, not his essence, not how he approaches life (and love) in general. However, Elena will.
She will grow up. Not only her essence and approach to life, but also in the way that all of us can still grow: In accepting all parts of yourself (as Stefan needs to do). In season 02, Damon showed that type of growth. I believe that that is what we are seeing happen with Elena this season. But remember, Damon also regressed, two steps forward, a few more steps back, etc. and so on because that's how growth (that eventually sticks) generally works. Right now, with regards to Stefan (mostly from the point of view that she is trying to re-ignite his love for her, even to a small degree), she's regressing, trying to hold onto to her firmly defined definitions of black and white. I'm not particularly fond of some of the ways this regression is playing out, but I wasn't particularly fond of those bits with Damon either. Still, it was necessary for him to get to where he is now ... in a much better, more stable, more understanding place. We are getting a variation of this growth with Elena (as it applies to not just spiritual, theoretical, fundamental growth, but also experiencing growth through the passage of your life as your body, mind and heart age naturally).
~ But Elena was cruel to Damon.
Upon reflection, I don't see where Elena has been cruel, or even mean, to Damon at all. Damon casually threw out the "I love you" in the middle of manhandling her, controlling her (yes, out of fear, but still), while she was in the middle of a whole new emotional tizzy, still reeling with the fact that she had just betrayed Damon in a way which did upset her (as seen by her final look towards his snapped-neck form), and she had just walked into a potential death trap. Also, she had just found out that her blood would be personally responsible for killing quite a few more people than she intended beyond the one, including a guy who had been fairly good to her amidst all of the crazy. So she basically said "OH MY GOD! DAMON, I CAN'T HANDLE THIS!" but less shouty, and not as tactfully worded. It was frustration and confusion coming out without thinking of what she was saying. The bottom-line is that Elena was in no place to deal with the intense, passionate Damon of it all just then.
And that tension had been building up since even before the ball invitation had arrived. roselani pointed out that the scene where Elena received was the first time that Elena had strategy-discussed with both Salvatore brothers acting (fairly) normal since season 02's "The Last Dance" (three episodes shy of a full season order of 22 episodes ago). So with Stefan once more acting more like the Stefan of old, the dynamic between Damon and Elena reverted back to pre-season 03 interaction. No more discussing things, working them out, compromising ("Smells Like Teen Spirit, "Ordinary People," "The New Deal," and "Our Town") Elena using his weakness for her ("The Hybrid" in the lake, anyone?), Elena trusting Damon enough to take herself completely out of play for her safety ("Homecoming").
Instead, Elena found herself trying to play mediator, and, to a slight degree, deferring to Stefan because that was how it had always played out before. And perhaps she wouldn't have done so, had Damon not immediately fallen back into playing one-ups-manship with his brother, and throwing sarcastic quips out as a shield to show that it didn't bother him that it felt like them against him. With Stefan back in the equation, it makes perfect sense that, naturally, they would just fall back into previous patterns of behavior, with the main difference being the walking on eggshells act they are all participating in: Stefan and Damon due to the whole 'Being in Love with Elena/Kissing Elena' thing, Stefan and Elena due to the whole 'Ripper!Stefan/Compelled-No!Not-Compelle
And this goes along with how Elena behaved at the ball, going to Stefan behind Damon's back because, like clockwork, she fell back into old patterns because it was easier than creating a new dynamic between the three because that would mean acknowledging that things have definitely changed with her and Damon, and she's not ready to admit that yet. Then, of course, her going behind his back is what led to Damon handling things as he did (or rather manhandling Elena). Just as she didn't attempt to work with him, convince him and come up with a compromise together, neither did he attempt to do those things with her. Instead, he jumped straight back into anger, lashing out, wild eyes and trying to force her to listen to him. That is not how things have been with them throughout most of this season, but with Stefan -- much more similar to the Stefan they've known -- back in the picture, it played havoc with their new dynamic, and neither acted as best as they could and had been.
Finally, with regards to her phone conversation with Damon where she told him to "get over it," it didn't bother me even upon my first watch-through because, in all fairness, let's be honest ... when it's Damon about Elena, he ALWAYS gets over it, like that! She's just going with what she knows. And she knows that with Damon, she can let her less-than-angelic-nature out and he won't take offense or judge her for it. Because she knows that he loves her ... just the way she is (Petrova-side and all.)
~ In Conclusion ... (And if you've read all of this, bravo! Grab yourself a cookie!)
Once more for the road ... Elena is growing up. "The Birthday" was about Elena turning eighteen, becoming an adult, and that doesn't just happen overnight with a number change. She's learning, but she's going to screw up; she is screwing up. Part of that is how she reacts to those in her life that she trusts implicitly, that she can completely be herself with without being judged (which is basically Damon at this point because everyone else who fits the other categories would judge her for her feelings for Damon). However, because she has that safety net of complete assurance with Damon, she is beginning to not hold back with him. And, of course, it's starting out on the negative side of things, but eventually, we will get the positive output as well. We absolutely will. For now, though, that negative output falls in line with her recent lack of empathy for Damon despite the fact that she is normally so empathetic to everyone. "Everyone" is the key word because Damon no longer fits in that category; he's in one all on his own. Damon arouses her passions, he confuses her, frustrates her, makes her feel things that she doesn't understand and so she lashes out and says mean things, unthinking things ... because with him, she can. It's all in character, and it's all part of the process of growing up, of learning who she is and who she will allow herself to be, and with whom she will allow herself to be her whole self.
With that growth, there are going to be missteps and screw-ups. Damon's involved killing random people; Elena's involve breaking Damon's heart. But they have to be building to a better, morally gray both of them since we are seeing Damon as "good" as he's going to get. Now Elena needs to basically get a little "worse" before she can be equal with him. It's the only thing that makes sense when you look at the series, and especially this season, as a whole instead of these two episodes. Co-executive producer Julie Plec stated that Elena will make a choice before season's end, and while it obviously could be Stefan or Elena could choose neither, I do think it's going to be Damon because where is the story if she chooses Stefan that isn't either a repeat of their initial love story, or a repeat of Elena's story with Damon over the past two seasons (vampire gone bad, his love for Elena helps to push him to be better).* And as of "All My Children," Elena doesn't have the choice of either, and it appears as if she will be without both brothers for a bit longer. Therefore ... she chooses Damon, and in order for that choice to make sense to viewers who aren't Damon/Elena fans or haters (the former, of course it makes sense! the latter, never will it make sense!), Elena needs to be in a position where she's no longer defining her life by black and white, good and bad. And we are getting there.
* ETA: After the season, and she chose Stefan, sorta -- but it will be a new dynamic because Elena is now a vampire. Fingers crossed she did enough growing up in this season to be at the mature-level she needs to be once she starts accepting reality. :)
Just as we did with Damon. This is the same pattern, it seems, as last season. Damon seemed to be getting better, doing better and then boom! he would do something awful and Damon-fans lamented CAN'T HE EVER WIN!?, and then by the end of the season, he had made some hard realizations, and owned up to the truth. And now, while others are taking longer to catch up (because of all the bad that he did do before), we, as viewers, know that he has held onto that growth big-time, and if no one else is taking much note of it, Elena has. Yes, despite the last few episodes, it's still very clear that she does indeed like Damon, very much, just the way he is. She just needs to own up to that truth beyond when he's on his deathbed.
Plec also stated that "[Damon and Elena] have got some tension that they've got to work through as we get deeper into the season. Elena is ultimately in the position of asking herself, "How do I feel about each of these brothers, and who do I want to be with?'" What happened in these two episodes was the first real step getting to that point, I believe. Elena and Damon were doing well, maintaining their friendship and their closeness, but still keeping the kiss in a bubble atop that elephant that is not discussed, and then "Dangerous Liaisons" happened. That shook her up so much that in "All My Children," we got her reaction of jealousy, of anger and of hurt. And now, after what happened in that episode, I have no doubt that we will continue to see the fall-out. It has all been building up to that exploration of Elena's feelings about the brothers, and especially her feelings for Damon. However, it's not going to all happen in one fell swoop (or rather, in one or two episodes). It is just as Kevin Williamson told Ian Somerhalder: This is not a one-act play, a novel, or a two-hour movie. This is a journey of one hundred episodes and counting.
To see that this is where we've been heading all along, we only need to look at one scene from early on in the season. The only time thus far that Elena has come even close to truly talking about her feelings for Damon was in her final scene with Caroline in "Disturbing Behavior." As quoted at the top, when Caroline called Elena out on the fact that Damon had gotten under her skin, and Elena admitted that she couldn't go there because of what it would say about her, these were the lyrics (from The Civil Twilight's "Human") that played specifically from her denial to the look shared between Elena and Caroline before Caroline noticed her father.
- What is this I feel? Why is it so real?
What am I to say?
It's only love, it's only pain
It's only fear that runs through my veins ...
(Thanks to linsell_farm for the read-through, and vanimy whose back and forth helped inspire this.)