‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ Makes Male Vulnerability Cool
We’re here to discuss the phenomenon that is quietly reentering movies: the male romantic.
Banished are the days of clichéd, yawn-inducing romances in which the protagonist yearns for the broody, angsty guy. You know what we’re referring to — the kind of tough jock who’s painfully good-looking (and mysterious, naturally!) He shoves his way through the high school hallway with a black leather jacket slung over his shoulder and a sneer curled on his lips. He’s dark; he’s guarded; he’s wounded deep in his soul and only the girl-next-door can save him! We’ve seen it so many times.
And you know what? We’re tired of him. Girls-next-door don’t exist to save boys. And boys? If only they could process those sneers and work through that desire to shove, we wouldn’t have to use our precious time trying to save them. Imagine how nice that would be.
That’s why we are so pleasantly surprised by the refreshing portrayal of the love interest, Peter Kavinsky, in Netflix’s new hit movie “To all The Boys I’ve Loved Before”. Peter is a popular football player who makes a pact with sweet, dependable Lara Jean to pretend they’re dating. In the movie based on Jenny Han’s young adult novel, Peter wants to stir up feelings of jealousy in his ex-girlfriend; Laura Jean wants to quash her forbidden crush on her sister’s ex. Peter is tall, dark and handsome, as cool jocks tend to be (I mean it’s still a movie), but he’s also uber-sweet and sensitive. He has more of a gait than a swagger and his mouth is seemingly fixed in an open grin. He cracks jokes. He makes thoughtful gestures. He pals around with her family. He writes her love letters. He gazes into Lara Jean’s eyes and he cares. He is not confused by experiencing feelings. He is unafraid of vulnerability and welcomes romance.
Believably showing unapologetic, fierce emotion in a strong male character is a feat. Yet we must remember that Peter Kravinsky is not the first alpha male to possess this skill. Hang on to your hats, friends, we’re going in for a Torah connection. According to the Torah, our forefather Jacob, amongst his many incredible accomplishments and traits, was a passionate romantic.
Jacob is one of the most prominent and complicated characters in the Torah, but he had a soft, romantic side to him as well. The leader of an entire people, we must remember, was a homebody — “a mild man who stayed in the camp.” He expands those skills, demonstrating immense humility and dedication to the woman of his dreams, Rachel. When Lavan sneakily tricked him into marrying Leah, Jacob does not give up on love. Actions speak louder than words, as all sensitive men know, and so Jacob pledged to continue working for the evil Lavan in order to marry Rachel. He worked tirelessly for seven more years before he’s finally able to marry his love. We see in Genesis 29:30 that Jacob was so set on marrying Rachel that the years of hard labor “seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her”. Sorry, but that just made me hardcore swoon as much as Peter Kavinsky driving across town to buy Laura Jean a yogurt. What a move. The Torah gets it — the strong and silent type is overrated — we want unadulterated, inspirational romance like that exhibited by our patriarch.
The poignancy of “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” is that it does not just provide the feel-good content of a typical rom-com. Rather, this film illuminates the importance of sensitivity, passion, and what it truly means to care — for people of all genders. Peter isn’t afraid of opening up and revealing his raw, real self, and he unabashedly does so throughout the movie — it is his vulnerability that helps Laura Jean grow.
The beauty of Peter Kavinsky is not just his sharply defined jawline that we could not help but marvel over here at The Forward; it is his innate warmth and emotional awareness, his decision to allow himself to feel his feelings, that makes him worthy of reverence. Peter Kavinsky is a fictional character, yet the lesson he imparts is real: vulnerability and emotional availability are traits that one should aspire to. We live in a time in which there is heavy emphasis on men being strong, powerful and unbreakable. Men are expected to come across as these virile, untouchable creatures that mask their feelings in a veil of aloof confidence. Emotional delicacy is seen as a sign of weakness in men, and it is imperative for us to shed this false notion because it harms men and women.
Peter Kavinsky and Jacob our forefather are not perfect characters, but they are exceptional male protagonists. They demonstrate that vulnerability is not a deficiency or weakness but, rather, that truly strong men are the ones who accept that their most defined muscle should be their heart.
Tamar Skydell is an intern at The Forward. You can contact her at [email protected]