If you're an adult, you may not anticipate that the Netflix adaptation of a young adult novel—no matter how hugely popular—would do it for you. But folks, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is as good as they say. I expected to laugh, cry, and embrace the resurgence of the rom-com, but I didn’t expect to emerge from the experience as an adult woman enamored with my new fictional teenage boyfriend. If you’re gearing up to watch To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, know that it will convert you into a card-carrying member of the Peter Kavinsky Hive.
For the unindoctrinated, the film stars Lara Jean (Lana Condor), a 16-year-old Korean-American student who daydreams, voraciously consumes romance novels, and has a crush on every boy. (Same.) Lara Jean is an exemplary protagonist and narrator, relatable yet frustrating, tender but bold when she needs to be, naturally hilarious, self-aware, and thoughtful enough to gently lead viewers through her transformative realizations. Stereotyped by her peers as the "shy" and "innocent" girl-next-door, Lara Jean is so endearing that I immediately believed no one would ever be good enough for her. This is, until we meet Peter.
Lara Jean and Peter’s relationship is borne from a classic rom-com trope: the fake dating scheme. Like the couples of Drive Me Crazy and Picture Perfect, Lara Jean and Peter pretend to date each other (Peter wants to make his ex, Genevieve, jealous, and Lara Jean hopes that it’ll keep her former crush—her sister’s ex, which complicates things—at bay), only to end up falling in love for real.
As the movie progresses, it feels like a privilege to watch them blossom into this "real" couple; they have a quintessential "opposites attract" dynamic wherein Peter teaches Lara Jean to loosen up and she teaches him to get clearer on his emotions and boundaries. As a foil to Lara Jean, Peter has all the traditional trappings of a movie love interest: He’s a popular lacrosse player with the speech affectations of Mark Ruffalo and the bone structure of Jake Ryan. He’s confident, funny, and has a nice car and many friends. Peter is what I imagine to be the perfect suburban high school boyfriend—a handsome guy who looks like he works at Lids and would buy you a bread bowl at Panera. (Suburban girls, was this your high school dating experience? Because that’s exactly how I pictured it.)
Like a more lovable Zack from She’s All That, Peter complicates the "perfect guy" trope by revealing his insecurities and vulnerabilities. Our sensitive jock boyfriend says "leggo," eagerly sets his girlfriend as his phone background, and drinks kombucha at a party when he’s the designated driver—and he’s also a great listener and a kind, thoughtful friend. It’s 2018—teen boys like Peter Kavinsky are the ones nuzzling up to their partners on the bus now!
From his introduction, Peter has a strong understanding of the kinds of affection and interactions that go into building a healthy romantic relationship. He drives across town to buy Lara Jean's favorite yogurt from the Korean grocery store, and later guides her to the realization that this gesture was part of his love language. Peter's ability to communicate his feelings and do things that let his partner know that he cares about her surpasses almost every adult man on Tinder today. And what's more, Peter's natural inclinations toward honesty and vulnerability stem from his own character and compass.
Lara Jean and our sensitive jock boyfriend set the perfect example for forming relationships—one that feels rare in the prototypical 80s rom-coms that inspired To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. They fall in love after spending quality time opening up to each other and communicating their feelings. Can you believe??
Peter awakened a very particular kind of longing that I find hard to name: It's not nostalgia, because I never saw this kind of leading man growing up; and it's not horniness, since he's not my type and also a teen. Instead, it's a hopeful longing for the kind of love I want to see prioritized by future generations—and dare I say, the kind of love I want for my future self, too. Peter helped shake me from my present romantic jadedness and served as a reminder that real love brings vibrancy and urgency to life. He helps viewers visualize and ultimately believe in a future where our first hookups aren't in sticky-floored frats, and instead with partners invested in your wellbeing and on their own journey of emotional growth.
Peter brings out the best in Lara Jean; she becomes bolder, more social, and considerate of others’ perspectives when she’s with him. And he brings out the best in viewers, too. Moved by his direct communication, relentless playfulness, and unabashed desire for love, we’ve accepted Peter as our new internet boyfriend and even the white boy of the month. In an era when everyone questions whether the rom-com is dead, Peter "woah woah woah" Kavinsky has single-handedly revived the genre’s greatest gift: an anxious excitement for the mere possibility of love.