For some reason, this week, I felt Netflix calling my name. I saw all of the memes and witty articles going around and I decided to watch, “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.” It was alright; though predictable and cliche. Entertaining, at least, but it definitely got me searching for more in the Teen RomCom genre.
So, next up I indulged in teen RomCom, “The Kissing Booth,” and since watching it, I just can’t get out of my own high school feels.
The two Netflix Original movies have some similarities with each other. Both feature a cute and quirky female lead character. Both female leads have a male bestie. Both have lost their mother (why’s the mother always have to die, though?) And the main similarity… in the end, both lead characters win over the popular jock.
But my question is: Why is he worth winning? Why is the popular jock the prize?
I don’t want to rip into “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,” too much because it was okay. But, “The Kissing Booth” was horrifying, so let’s get to it. The most horrifying part of “The Kissing Booth” is that the lead, Elle, accepts a date from a young man who has assaulted her. ACCEPTS A DATE! And, to make it worse, the young man who, in the end, will be her boyfriend, tells her she was asking for trouble. ASKING FOR IT! This, in itself, could be an entire post so I will leave it for another day.
The issue at hand for today is the relationship between handsome jock, Noah, and naïve, quirky, Elle. And why Noah would ever be considered such a prize in the first place.
When I said that this movie got me stuck in my feels, it is true. And the reason is that my own high school romance played out just like a teen RomCom. The problem is, these teen RomComs, for the most part, end as the relationship is blossoming. You don’t see how it deteriorates and the long-term damage or pain this may cause.
In high school, I was neither popular nor nerdy. I was cute, quirky, naive, sheltered, and awkward in the funniest possible way. Though the show did not exist when I was a teen, in my 20’s when “The New Girl” premiered, I often received calls and texts from friends and acquaintances who thought the show could be an actual documentary about me (just to give you a visual). But, back to high school. I had the obligatory male bestie that I always hung out with. I didn’t date and was likely completely oblivious to any guy even remotely interested in me.
When I was 16, a friend set me up with one of her coworkers so that I’d have a date to our Junior Ring Dance. The entire scenario was straight out of a teen RomCom. We did not hit it off. We had a comically awkward time at the dance and I figured I’d never see him again. But, alas, I was a cheerleader and he was a jock at our rival high school. We had multiple comical, clever, charming run-ins over the course of the next few months. I ultimately won him over with my quirky good-girl charm. The entire situation culminated in late winter of that year with cheesy banter I can still remember and a kiss right out of the movies.
And, if this were a teen romcom, that is where the story would end. The female lead won over the popular jock and they kissed under the twinkling stars. That’s a wrap, roll credits.
But for me, this story went on for 4 more years.
Just like Noah in “The Kissing Booth,” my popular jock boyfriend was controlling. When I think back on it, now, the first sign of his control showed in my weight loss. I was petite to start with, and between my junior and senior year of high school, I dipped well below 100 lbs. By the spring of my senior year, I couldn’t donate blood in the school blood drive because my BMI was too low (donating blood was a rite of passage for most seniors at our school as they were over 18 and able to leave school for the day after donating.)
While Noah tried to control Elle’s behavior; my boyfriend controlled my confidence and the way I dressed. He ridiculed me if I wore something he deemed too tight or too short. I was called chubby (I was NOT chubby.) His behavior was all strategic, I know now, but when you are in a relationship like this, you often don’t see what is really going on.
The second sign of my boyfriend’s control was likely that my male bestie hated him. HATED him. This should have been a red flag, but I didn’t see it. My bestie was a guy, and he saw what I couldn’t see, what I didn’t want to see or admit.
And in the worst possible turn of events, my parents caved and allowed me to attend the same college as him. Mothers, if you are reading this, please, PLEASE, do not let your daughter attend college with her high school boyfriend. No matter how respectful, poised, responsible, and caring he seems. She needs to grow and learn on her own. Please, trust me.
We dated for another two years. My freshman and sophomore years of college. During this time, his control tightened.
He chose my friends for me. He ridiculed me for trying out for and making the cheerleading team. He refused to ever come to a game to support me. He refused to let me hang out with cheerleading friends outside of practice and games. And, I complied. Because he had asserted his dominance over me for years at this point. I did what he said because I was the awkward, quirky one and he was the handsome jock I had been lucky enough to win over. I was lucky I told myself. I was lucky he wanted me.
At the same time, he slipped deeper into drugs. In high school, he had smoked pot, of course, like all of the popular jocks. I could deal with that. But, in college, the drugs became more serious and more frequent. That was when I finally had enough. I broke up with him not long after the summer between sophomore and junior year of college began. It wasn’t until after we broke up that I found out about all of the cheating (SO much cheating) that he had done. Constant cheating that I had NO idea about. I was too naive and trusting to have seen it. Cheating that all of our mutual ‘friends’ knew about.
The worst part is that when this nearly four-year relationship ended, I was utterly alone. I hadn’t just lost my boyfriend. I lost most of my grade school and high school friends from years of choosing my boyfriend over them. My trust in others had been shattered, my entire sense of reality was shaken in a way it can only be when you find out that not only has one person been lying to you for years, but also all of your ‘friends,’ too. I was lost.
This sent me into a tailspin that lasted nearly 3 years. My grades dropped, and I made poor decisions with my body. But, I also rekindled old friendships from grade school and high school and made new friends that have stood the test of time.
Unfortunately, you won’t find any of that in a teen RomCom. Nope, they end with the magic. But, in real life, that magic ends pretty quickly. Then, you’re just left with a controlling boyfriend. He might be popular and good-looking, for as much as that is worth.
When I met my husband, I knew immediately that he was different.
I knew after our first date that he was the one for me. We could talk freely, and he didn’t need to appear smarter than me or tell me what to do. He didn’t need to control me to feel confident.
Even still, the lack of that teen RomCom magic was a hurdle. When I introduced my future husband to my best friend, she initially didn’t approve. She said he wasn’t funny enough for me. But the funniest, most charismatic guy in the room, the one all of the girls want? Yeah, I’d had that and, no thanks. I know it doesn’t make for the exciting story, but it makes for a real story. The story with the type of ending you want.
At 34, I’m far more impressed with our balanced budget, diminishing debt, shared hobbies, and having a partner to talk about politics and current events with. High school popularity has long ago ceased to matter.
I wish, in my younger years, someone or something (a teen RomCom, perhaps) had told me that the real goal was to find someone who is safe, responsible, and kind. I wish I’d have been told that I was the prize. It could have saved me years of hurt and pain.