Maybe it was silly of me, but I expected a lot more from Stelena in Season 3. I thought their relationship would finally graduate from the syrupy sweet high school romance which lacked dimension into something much darker. I honestly thought that with Stefan's ripper storyline, we would really see Stelena develop and change. However, I was VERY disappointed with the results we got.
Even after the most testing time of their relationship, Stelena has barely evolved at all. They went through a brief dark spell, yes, which culminated in Stefan holding Elena and the ones she loved to ransom in his attempt to get revenge on Klaus, and most notably, when he threatened to drive her off Wickery Bridge - but the consequences of this were so slight, they are hardly worth mentioning. If Damon had dared to pull this kind of stunt on Elena, there's no way she would have let him off the hook as easily as she did with Stefan. She would have felt so betrayed, it's unlikely she would have forgiven Damon until the end of the season. The only effect Stefan's actions had on his relationship with Elena was in making him feel guilty and consolidate his desire to distance himself from her, which had already happened anyway.
I don't know about you, but I find the way that SE are constantly given a 'free pass' for whatever challenges they face seriously frustrating. It's not as if the writers don't know how to write complex relationships. They certainly succeeded in doing so with Delena and to some extent, Klaroline as well. But when it comes to Stelena, then it simply does not apply. Season 3 was the only time SE were in any serious doubt, but the season ended without a real resolution to all the issues they faced. Stefan knows Elena has feelings for Damon. He encouraged her go on an over-night trip to Denver with Damon to sort those unspecified feelings out, and he knows that they were camped in a motel room together. But when Elena tries to tell Stefan what happened at the twenties dance, he interjects. Nope, he doesn't want to know what went on, thank you very much. I mean, what on earth was the point of the 'experiment' if they're not even going to talk about it afterwards?? Elena might think honesty is the best policy, but for Stefan, ignorance is bliss.
Stelena have been locked in a curious cycle this past season, which has gone round and round in circles but hasn't led anywhere. She held onto him, he pulled away. He held onto her, she pulled away; but by the end of the season, no resolutions about where they stood had been reached, no closure had been given, no honest heart-to-hearts about the things they'd gone through, or confessions of feelings, hidden or otherwise, had been openly discussed. Again, I can't help but find that very frustrating. I find Stelena's never ending sameness, even in the aftermath of serious obstacles, mildly disconcerting. SE'ers will undoubtedly claim it is a testimony to their undying love, but I think there's something unnatural and almost robotic about a couple who never really discuss the problems they've had, and never change or grow in the wake of those problems either.
Upon closer examination, we can see that Stelena's relationship has been defined by Elena's emotional dependency on Stefan. He filled the void in her life after her parents died. She craved normalcy, which she found in him. She needed to feel safe again after such a painful loss, and Stefan was not only blessed with supernatural strength and abilities, he was also immortal. There has been some debate and confusion over whether Damon's compulsion affected the way Elena fell in love with Stefan, and while I do believe she genuinely fell for him, I think it's safe to say that Damon's compulsion couldn't have hurt their relationship on Elena's side. Didn't she fall for Stefan at lightning speed, and wasn't she looking for someone to give her life new meaning and purpose after losing her parents? SE's relationship therefore, all things considered, is shaped at the outset by Elena's vulnerability. For 3 seasons, she constantly needs to be protected and saved, and even though Damon is the one who regularly comes to her rescue, DE's relationship is not defined in the same way as SE's. For this reason then, Delena have continued to evolve whilst SE have remained largely static for much of the time. Elena has looked to find in Stefan the things she lost when her parents died, and although she became stronger and more independent when he was absent, she feels bound to honour him for giving her her life back and that's why she chooses him in 3x22. SE are defined by their roles as Stefan equals Elena's 'comfort blanket' and Elena feels a strong moral obligation to stay with him for the things he's given her, namely safety. But now she's become a vampire, I have a feeling that everything could change.
As a vampire, Elena will be vulnerable in other ways, but her entire sense of what's 'normal' will be dramatically different from what it was as a human. Mortal Elena needed Stefan because he made her life feel 'normal' again, but now that the last thing she wanted to happen has, any sense of 'normality' is going to be thrown out the window, or at the very least, re-examined and re-written. As a vampire, the dynamics of their relationship will alter, and it will be very interesting to see how they adjust to this, because in a sense, Stelena have been structured by the nature of their vampire/human relationship. Stefan falls in love with Elena because she looks like Katherine on one hand, but has all the good qualities Katherine lacked, and is human to cap it off. Stefan wants to forget what he is, so being with a human girl is a perfect way to do that. At the start of the show, SE are both people who are recovering from a vulnerable place and find what they're looking for in each other. The question is, now that such a cataclysmic event has occurred, can they still be what the other needs? Now that the innocence and security of their relationship has gone, can they adjust, or has the glue that was keeping them together come unstuck for good? If Stelena continue on their merry way as if nothing has happened, then the writers are in danger of turning SE into a complete joke. Elena never wanted to be a vampire. Stefan knows this. And we all know how susceptible to guilt and martyrdom Stefan is. How will he deal with the knowledge that Elena is now a vampire as a direct result of his actions? OK, Meredith gave her the vampire blood, and Rebekah caused Matt to drive off the bridge, but Stefan had the chance to save her, and he didn't, and he has to live with the consequences of that forever. Unless Julie wants Stelena to turn into a match.com advertisement, the aftershocks of 3x22 have to be serious for them, and affect them long term.
Elena chose Stefan because he made her feel safe. She chose him because he taught her how to live again when she had given up. She chose him according to her home-made philosophy that you should love the one who makes you feel alive, and Stefan made her feel alive. But...now she's a vampire, and it's partly his fault. 'Normal' and 'safe' aren't the same anymore. The balance of their relationship and how Elena defined it has been knocked to the ground. Stelena will have to adjust to this life-changing event because if they don't, their relationship won't survive. The problem is, I don't think that change comes naturally to them as a couple. Rather than facing change head-on, they try to resist it, as we saw in 2x05, when instead of putting their romance on hold to placate Katherine, they pretend to break up so they can stay together. When Elena gets back from Denver, instead of sitting down with Stefan and confessing what happened with Damon while she was there, she...invites him to the decade dance(!) Stefan knows that something happened, but rather than talking about it, which would be extremely uncomfortable for both of them, they revert to an old, familiar pattern of behaviour which feels safe.
Delena have been constantly changing, ever since they met. They're not afraid to challenge each other when they have to, or to be honest with each other when the situation calls for it. Damon has been consistently challenging Elena since before they 'officially' met in 1x02, and makes her see the world in a new way. In 1x03, after noting that she looked miserable at cheerleading practice, he playfully suggests she should quit and move on, and later on in the same episode, she does. He surprises her when he offers to take away Jeremy's memory of Vicki's death, In 2x05, he takes the initiative and advises her that Stefan should be drinking human blood again; in 3x04 he is unflinchingly honest and tells her to stop trying to turn him into Stefan. But it goes both ways. "Let's get one thing straight: I am not Katherine," she hisses when Damon tries (and fails) to compel her to kiss him in the parking lot in 1x03. In 1x11, she forgoes her responsibilities and burdens when Damon takes her on a trip to Georgia and becomes the fun-loving girl she'd once been. "Don't pretend you don't care," she reprimands him in 1x20. "Be the better man," she encourages in 2x13. Right from the start, their relationship has been 'real'. Their best and their worst, their strengths and weaknesses have been out in the open, without apology. It's almost as if Elena loses sight of who she is when she's with Stefan, like she becomes a paler version of the girl she truly is, or is meant to be, whereas when she's with Damon, she feels everything more intensely. Whether she's kissing him against a wall, feeling angry at him for something he's done, dancing with him at the Miss Mystic Falls pageant, or even hating him, all her feelings are intensified and so she lives life to the fullest when she's with him.
Delena have proven that they can adapt to whatever life throws at them, and so Elena's transition will just be another stepping stone in how they evolve. Unlike SE, Delena are not characterized by their roles or defined by their needs, and so their relationship is not limited in the way SE are.
At the end of 2x21, during the voice-over of John's letter to Elena, he tells her that as a human or a vampire, he loves her just the same, as he's always loved her, and the shots alternate between Elena and Damon looking at each other. This scene could simply be a happy coincidence with how Season 3 ended, but even if that's all it is, is it not rather strange, even to a non-shipper, that the camera focuses on Delena as these very words are spoken, and not Stelena??
How Elena will handle her transformation into a vampire and her subsequent new life and identity is anybody's guess. I don't think it will be easy for her or for Damon and her friends, but it will be especially difficult for SE. Stelena were in a dream before 3x22. Even when they were dealing with Klaus, and being separated, and Stefan's guilt, they always knew they still had each others love and their relationship to go back to, if they wanted. But now the security of their world has shattered. Whether they're ready or not, it's time for them to wake up.