- "It's not like love at first sight, really. It's more like… gravity moves… suddenly. It's not the earth holding you here anymore, she does… You become whatever she needs you to be, whether that's a protector, or a lover, or a friend."
- ―Jacob Black explaining to Bella Swan about imprinting.[src]
When a shape-shifter imprints on a specific girl or woman, he becomes unconditionally bound to her for the rest of his life. When it happens, the experience is described as being gravitationally pulled toward that person while a glowing heat fills him, and everyone and everything else in his life becomes secondary, and only the imprintee is left to matter, leaving the shape-shifter with a deep need to do anything to please and protect his soulmate.
Imprinting can occur anytime after a wolf's first phasing. It can happen with anyone, regardless of previous personal feelings. It happens the first time he sees the person he's imprinting on.
Imprinting can't be forced on anyone, no matter how much the shape-shifter may want it, as shown by Jacob Black when he tried numerous times to imprint on Bella Swan. The same is also true for Leah Clearwater, who didn't look for someone to imprint on, like Jacob did, but admitted to either wanting to imprint or be imprinted on. How imprinting will be for her is currently unknown because she is the first female shape-shifter in the tribe's history.
What would happen if a wolf is rejected by his imprintee is also unknown, though this is assumed to be virtually impossible. The imprinter is deemed to be the "perfect match" to the imprintee—he will be anything she may want or need, making rejection unlikely. Should it happen, however, the imprinter may feel unspeakable pain, and may even want to commit suicide.
Stages of imprinting
There are stages to imprinting, especially if the shape-shifter imprints on a child, or otherwise someone very young. It starts with direct eye contact with his imprintee:
1st stage—If the imprintee is young, the shape-shifter will act as an older sibling.
2nd stage—As the imprintee grows older, the shape-shifter will also come to be their best friend.
3rd stage—They become intimate friends, meaning, their feelings for each other are changing into romantic feelings. This stage may or may not happen to the imprintee, but the imprinter will fall in love with his imprintee. They will not "see" any other woman at all. Their imprintee is all he cares about and he will love her even if she rejects him.
4th stage—When the imprintee is old enough, the shape-shifter's feelings grow into romantic love.
Rationale for imprinting
The reason for imprinting is unknown, although some members of the Quileute tribe have various theories.
Sam Uley believes that a shape-shifter imprints on the person with whom he has the best chance to reproduce. How this applies to Jacob Black and Renesmee Cullen is debatable.
Billy Black, however, thinks that imprinting is designed to make the shape-shifter stronger. While never stated directly, Billy's theory may explain Jacob's imprinting on Renesmee. She may provide him with the greatest support, or, if they can reproduce, some vampire traits, such as hardened skin, perfect memory, or supernatural gifts may be transferred to their offspring, reducing their weaknesses in human form.
So far, only male shape-shifters have imprinted on girls or women, regardless of their ages. While Sam Uley, Paul Lahote and Jared Cameron have imprinted on teenage girls or young adults, Quil Ateara V and Jacob Black have imprinted on young children. Jacob is the only shape-shifter known to have imprinted on a hybrid.
Unlike her imprinter, the imprintee can choose whether she'll accept him as her "soulmate" or not. It is, however, implied that rejection is highly unlikely, since it is said that it would be very hard to resist the levels of "commitment, compatibility and adoration." It has also been noted that the imprintee feels incomplete without her soulmate nearby.
If the imprintee chooses someone else, her imprinter will be in deep emotional pain. Nevertheless, he would still respect her choice as her happiness was all that mattered to him.
After-effects of imprinting
Even though the shape-shifter has imprinted, it doesn't necessarily mean he won't suffer, though he would instantly break the heart of a loved one before imprinting. In Sam Uley's case, he felt horrible breaking Leah's heart after imprinting on her cousin, Emily. The shape-shifter has to be very careful around his imprintee if he's angry—especially if he's standing too close to her and phases—a shape-shifter could kill or scar his soulmate for life.
In Sam's perspective within the Twilight Saga Official Illustrated Guide, when he first saw Emily after his first phasing, he instantly felt compelled to go to her side and touch her hand, and every step he took away from her was physically painful but getting back to her was a physical relief on him. This would explain the shape-shifters' constant need to be around their imprintees as much as possible.
If the imprintee is too young to date, the imprinter would wait, since he does not "see" any other girl or woman.
It is unknown what effects the imprintee's rejection would have on the imprinter, but featured in the Twilight Saga Official Illustrated Guide was Sam's personal experience on the matter. Taking place before Emily Young became Sam's imprintee, it told of what happened after Sam broke up with Leah prior to having imprinted on Emily. Whenever Emily told Sam to leave, Sam would do as she asked but would always return to her to try to explain how much he needed to be with her and how they were perfect for each other.
Emily wanted Sam to work out his problems with Leah, but Sam refused. Emily then told Sam he was just like his father by refusing to take responsibility for the decisions he made. Sam hated his father for abandoning him, and he was standing too close to Emily when he phased into his wolf form, and he slashed the right side of her face and arm. Sam was so distraught and guilt-ridden that when he visited her in the hospital, he told her to tell him to kill himself.
In addition to imprinting, the shape-shifters' sense of duty toward the pack and the tribe is probably the only other important element in their lives, leading to some hardships, among which having to balance their duty toward pack and tribe against time spent with their imprintees, and their aging on two different tempos due to the phasing while the imprintee does not. Though based on what the Guide stated on imprinting, that all other commitments in his life—even his pack—become secondary, it's obvious that if the imprintee wants their imprinter to leave the pack so they can live on peacefully together he or she would without any hesitation.
If something horribly drastic were to happen so that the imprintee sacrifices herself for her family and tribe, then the same consequences of the Third Wife's sacrifice are bound to occur, bringing much pain to all involved.
Apparently, even after the shape-shifter has stopped phasing and lived a so-called "normal" life with his soulmate, he could still phase back into a wolf if given enough incentive—especially if his soulmate is harmed or killed.
- "If you kill her, you kill me."
- ―Jacob to Sam and his pack[src]
If a shape-shifter's soulmate is killed, he will never forgive or forget whoever's responsible for her death. In the case of the killer being another pack member, purposefully or by accident, the inevitable result is a fight to the death. To avoid this, the La Push shape-shifters established their most strictly followed law, by which no wolf may harm or kill a fellow wolf's imprinted one; no exceptions.
It is unknown whether or not a shape-shifter can imprint on anyone else if his soulmate is killed.
Known imprinted shapeshifters and imprintees
- Sam Uley and Emily Young
- Jared Cameron and Kim
- Quil Ateara V and Claire Young
- Paul Lahote and Rachel Black
- Jacob Black and Renesmee Cullen