“The more people that walk into your life, the more they can just walk right out,” Lara Jean Covey says in a scene from To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, explaining why she doesn't want to take a chance on love in real life, instead of inside her head.
In the new Netflix movie adapted from the Jenny Han novel of the same name, we follow the story of teenage hopeless romantic Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor). Lara Jean is a rising junior in high school who, through the course of her life, has accumulated love letters she’s written about boys she’s had powerful feelings for. Although Lara Jean never intended for the letters to reach their subjects, they mysteriously end up being sent out, and her life is forever changed when she embarks on a “fake” relationship with Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo). The two decide to pair up to make Peter's ex-girlfriend Gen jealous and to help Lara Jean avoid Josh, her older sister’s ex-boyfriend who believes Lara Jean is in love with him after receiving one of her old letters.
It’s clear from the get-go that Lara Jean doesn’t trust easily, mostly because of her mother’s death and her fear of people coming into her life only to leave. Still, she frequently protests that she doesn’t have as many walls up as she does. This is deeply relatable to so many people because trust is hard. As human beings, we are, historically, meant to build small communities, and not trust random people against our own survival skills and instincts. Trust requires you to accept that letting something larger and more important than yourself and your own ego into your life might be be more important than the risks and consequences, or even the heartbreak, you’re afraid of facing.
As someone who also experienced loss and grief in complex ways when I was very young, I deeply feel Lara’s hesitance to let Peter, or anyone else for that matter, into her heart. Her letters, which she keeps to herself, remind her of “how powerful her emotions are.” But it’s not that she’s too embarrassed to share them with anyone. It’s that she is the only one she can trust to truly handle the sanctity and overwhelmingness of love that the letters contain.
In the first party scene, Peter takes Lara Jean's scrunchie and asks her to put her hair down because he likes how she looks, and he asks her to trust him to give her scrunchie back to her later. Lara Jean is hesitant to give Peter both her trust and this sacred object, but she does anyway. Why? This scene is such a pivotal moment in the film because we begin to see Lara opening up, even though she later protests at the diner that she’s not.
That fear that Lara Jean struggles to cope with throughout the movie is what feels so specifically relatable to people, and why it resonates with me on such a deep level. From the scene where Lara Jean and Peter draw up and sign their “fake relationship contract” onward, we see Lara Jean repeatedly choosing to trust Peter in the smallest but most intimate ways. It’s only through her relationship with Peter and his tiny yet consistent asks of her to trust him that her walls are truly broken down.
It’s finding the little things you like about someone in any new relationship that feel the sweetest and most satisfying, and is what ultimately breaks down our walls until we’ve given in to trust them enough to love us and be deserving of our love. From Lara Jean’s surprise at Peter drinking kombucha, to her discovery of Peter's unexpected ability to have deep thoughts and conversations about his family and her own, to her joyful surprise as she finds him waiting for her in the hot tub—all of these little things and more have reminded me of the good things about giving your trust to someone new. Yes, it’s always a risk. It means potential heartbreak, deception, feeling like a fool for trusting the wrong person. But if the reason for not opening yourself up to that love is about feeling like a fool, the movie has reminded me that we, or at least I, might as well do it. Life will take from us and make fools of us regardless. But what is more pure or more worth experiencing than giving yourself a chance to explore the world, and yourself, through someone else’s love for you?
That feeling of foolishness is exactly the reason Lara Jean’s heartbreak comes so swiftly when Gen tells her that Peter has been unfaithful. It’s not because Lara Jean has allowed herself to be deceived by Peter or Gen, but because she feels deceived by herself. She’s finally let someone in and has begun to see herself as worthy in the eyes of another person, and here she is—a fool of her own making. On a personal level, I deeply identify with the way that Lara Jean retreats after that moment. Having your trust crushed by someone is devastating, but it’s worse when it took so much to let your guard down and accept someone else’s love, only for it to morph into something different or ugly. It wounds you in the way your own reflection in the mirror does when you feel too inadequate even for yourself.
After my own recent breakup, I went through the various stages of grief and wanting to retreat the way Lara Jean did when her deepest fears—that the relationship as well as Peter’s feelings for her truly were a sham—were confirmed. After holding on for so long to someone who I thought I had one thing with that could really last, and found out that we were not what I thought we were, the hardest person to confront was myself. I felt like a fool for giving myself to someone so fully, holding on too long to something that just wasn’t working, and not being able to save it. It felt like my fault.
If Lara Jean feels anything in the aftermath of Peter's (assumed) infidelity, it’s the crushing responsibility for not being able to make someone stay and love you. This specific form of heartbreak shattered my glass heart into goddamn sand, simply because that is my deepest fear, and an issue I’ve had to confront in myself. I cannot begin to count how many times I have loved someone who I thought felt the same for me, made room in my life and heart for them, and felt foolish and destroyed upon the rug being inevitably pulled from under my feet, only to find that their intention was never to stay.
Yet despite my own vulnerability and tenderness surrounding my own breakup, I’ve still found myself rooting for Lara Jean and Peter to make it—during the ski trip, I want to scream, “JUST TELL HER YOU BROUGHT HER SNACKS, PETER!” again and again. I am rooting for their love, and for them to ultimately give in to their trust in one another. And to my surprise, my support for their relationship has, in turn, made me want to develop that trust with someone else in my own life at some point soon.
Where I once swore off love and closed myself off to trust, Lara Jean and Peter have restored my hope for my own life. They make me believe that I can and will find a person who not only loves me, but also wants to put in the work to stay. Their relationship reminds me of something greatly important a truth that I have tried to bury deep inside of me. The truth is that in any relationship, it is not a given that the other person will stay.
You cannot make rules or sign contracts to say they will watch your favorite movies, or put their hand in your back pocket, or genuinely mean it when they make out with you in a hot tub on a ski trip. You cannot make someone stay, or be honest with you, or want you in the exact way you want them. But that’s also not a reason to hide from love in fear. In love, all you can do is try your best to do those things for someone else, and enjoy feeling like a fool for however long it lasts. Because the possibility of finding out that the person you are a fool for is also a fool for you, is just too great an opportunity to pass up.
Ultimately, the joyful surprise that Lara Jean and Peter finally allow themselves to show each other at the end is, to me, the epitome of why handing your heart over to someone else is so exhilarating and wonderful, despite the potential to get hurt. There is maybe no feeling more wonderful than the surprise of recognizing yourself capable of giving that love and that trust (even if it means handing over all your private letters and feelings originally meant for your eyes only)—and finding that the other person, too, wants to do the same.
More than anything else, To All The Boys I've Loved Before reminds me that what we want most out of relationships is for someone to tell us, out of the blue and in a way that knocks our last defenses out, “There is no one like you.” And mean it.
Each time I watch the movie, holding onto that wholesome teen rom-com joy for dear life, I get the same feeling of hopeful vulnerability. And through it, I am starting to be okay with admitting that’s exactly what I want and deserve—and in the end, I’m the only one who can hold myself back from having that.
Top photo: Netflix/To All The Boys I've Loved Before
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Elly Belle is a writer, digital media strategist, and pun enthusiast living and working in Brooklyn, New York. Unfortunately, she does not own any cats but still fiercely stands by her title of Supreme Cat Lady. Follow her on Twiter @literElly.