A Surprising Relationship Lesson in Netflix’s ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’

To all the boys I've loved before Poster

We don’t often encounter a relationship lesson watching teen movies, and yet that’s what happened when I watched Netflix teen special ‘To all the boys I’ve loved before’. Sounds terrible, right? I thought so too, but read on for the pearl of wisdom it contains. No, seriously. But also, SPOILER ALERT. Don’t read on if you don’t want to know how it ends (hint: there’s no twist).

I don’t know who built the recommendations algorithm for Netflix that predicts the likelihood that you’ll like a particular show based on the other things you’ve watched. But that algorithm is crazy accurate. Netflix knows me better than I know myself. But I constantly question its recommendations and resist… for a while. I usually give in eventually. So it was one day recently, when I was browsing the catalogue and was once again presented with a Netflix Original teen flick, “To all the boys I’ve loved before”. I mean, it looks awful. Sappy, teen chick flick… But that’s a mood, and I was in it, so I thought I’d give it a watch.

So first bit of good news if you grew up watching Sex and the City as I did – John Corbett AKA Aiden – stars in Dad mode. Awesome. Moving on.

Quick Synopsis

So the basic plot is that a high school girl (Lara Jean) and a high school boy (Peter) who she used to have a crush on, decide to pretend they’re in relationship. They each have their own reasons for it, so it’s not in service of one particular person. Equality points, cool. And then, as you’d expect – it’s a teen chick flick after all – they fall in love. Naww… We knew it would happen, fine. But here are the important plot points for the purpose of this post:

  1. When they agree to the fake relationship, Lara Jean – diligent teenaged girl that she is – writes down the things they have agreed to as the ‘terms’, so to speak, of their arrangement. At some point in the middle she tears them up in the midst of heartbreak.
  2. At the end of the film, when they confess they like each other, is the key exchange. Lara Jean asks, “Wait, how do we do this?… What do you put into a contract for a real relationship?” To which Peter laughs and replies, “Nothing. You gotta trust.”

The Relationship Lesson – Buried in a Teen Flick

And so here we are, at the lightbulb moment that inspired this post. The first thing that needs to be said, is that I don’t believe it was the creators’ intention to make a wise or gendered point here. This teenage girl took the entirely reasonable and sensible step of coming to an explicit agreement on the terms of their first arrangement. Which is all well and good, and probably supposed to be adorably naive, when it was fake. But actually, it’s an extremely sensible – dare I say adult – thing to do.

But as soon as they want to start a real relationship, the idea that the couple should discuss and agree what they each need and want, is dismissed as silly. Literally, Peter’s comment, “You gotta trust”, is the end of it. There’s no further discussion of this infinitely sensible, what does a relationship mean to you, question that has just been posed.

Why do we sell teenagers this romanticised idea that if you just love someone, everything will work out? If that were truly the case, the divorce rate wouldn’t be what it is. A functional adult relationship should include conscious, clear and constant communication about expectations, wants and needs.

So the Relationship Lesson I took from “To all the boys I’ve loved before” is this – don’t listen to the loved up adult, listen to the overly diligent teenaged girl. Discuss and agree what you want, write it down, revise it as needed. Then trust.

Oh, and when Netflix tells you you’ll like something that looks terrible, it’s probably right.

What should I watch next?

As I finished “To all the boys I’ve loved before”, I was still pondering this profound relationship lesson that a surprisingly enjoyable teen flick had presented me with. Of course Netflix was all over it – and automatically started playing the sequel. Of course I watched that too.

The sequel is fine, if you enjoyed spending time in this world, go on and give it a watch. I personally prefer the original. I just wish they would re-write it a little to give Lara Jean more credit for skipping ahead like 3-6 years of relationship experience and understanding the meaning of life the universe and everything. Or for Peter to recognise her obvious sense and genius, and immediately whip out paper and a pen to record their discussion…

And while you’re here… Check out the ThirdShift blog for more on navigating conversations with your partner, particularly on sharing household work. If you want to understand more about your household work, you can try the ThirdShift app. It helps you to measure, manage and value the work in your household. Start with the ThirdShift Quiz – it’s completely free, and in just 3 minutes will give you an overview of your current workload. Start now.

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