If you’re anything like me, you probably adore a good rom-com. As the Princess Diaries and Cinderella obsessed child that I once was, I recall nothing as sweet or simply joyous as watching the beginning credits roll to sentimentally sweet music. They were calculated masterpieces, made endearing by awkward, ill-dressed main characters and boyish princes left unsatisfied with their comfortable, privileged livelihoods. I was the Mia Thermopolis Renaldi, and I supposed that somewhere along the way I would coincidentally run into my prince to be. Now, I chuckle at my naivety.

Princess Diaries

Because of my studious background as a rom-com lover, I was duly thrilled when I saw announcements of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before coming to the small screen that is Netflix. Though I had never read the book, I could tell just from the title that an adorable high school love story was bound to ensue. A few weeks after it had finally dropped, I wrapped myself in a cozy blanket and settled in for a good story. And, as Lara Jean crossed her dream field to her sister’s boyfriend, caught up in yet another romance novel, I found myself in love with the film.

Laura Jean, The Princess Diaries

If anything, Lara Jean and Peter’s story was even more than I expected. In Lara Jean I saw myself: a bit shy, a bit awkward, and very much unprepared for the depths of her soul to be bared without prior consent. And in Peter, I immediately saw that quintessential popular high school boy charm. Almost immediately, as the camera surveyed Lara Jean’s colorful room, I fell head over heels for how realistic – and yet satisfyingly escapist – the entire setup was. I felt transported to my childhood, except now I was remembering high school romance for what it was instead of imagining what it could be. Regardless, I loved it and have all but demanded that my friends love it as well.

One aspect of the film that I enjoyed is how real it all felt: I mentioned earlier that I saw myself in Lara Jean, but I also saw my high school in the setting, my siblings in her well-meaning – if a bit chaotic – sisters. And in the relationship between Lara Jean and Peter, I saw the real-life foundations that pull people together at the moment during which they least expect it. Even though To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is fiction, I noticed a reality that made it feel far more linked to the patterns we all follow as we develop relationships.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is unique in that it boldly shows off the transactional nature of romantic relationships. While these layers might be a tad more subtle in our own lives, or in other movies, Lara Jean’s and Peter’s relationship finds its roots in a deal – one that explicitly defines the advantages one party exchanges for another’s.

And in fact, this kind of relationship isn’t uncommon. A 2017 article in The Atlantic profiled American marriage, and its relationships with what we consider advantages in people we are romantically interested in: education, income, and gainful employment. Americans without a college education are becoming less likely to get married, even though a few decades ago, the marriage rates for college graduates and high school graduates was nearly the same. Even though Lara Jean and Peter probably aren’t getting married anytime soon, the trend is pretty clear: who we pursue relationships with is determined by what they can provide. Popularity Explained calls this Advantages Make People Want You (Rule 2).

As I reviewed the film and paid attention to their interactions leading up to the deal, the fight, and eventually the reconciliation, I saw that each party had something to offer the other: something that could not be replaced by someone else or another situation. This is what I consider an advantage, and Lara Jean and Peter offered each other several in the process of moving from needing each other to actually wanting each other. In my secondary examination, I noticed several examples that not only exemplified a great rom com, but also happened to coincide with Rule 2.

In case you need a quick refresher or just haven’t seen the movie yet – something I highly recommend! – here’s a quick rundown of the major plot points:

  • Sixteen-year-old Lara Jean Covey has five love letters tucked away in her room: one to each of her strongest crushes.
  • Her sister Kitty actually sends her letters.
  • A little bit of chaos ensues.
  • Lara Jean and Peter Kovinsky, the recipient of one of the letters, decide to fake date for their own reasons – and even make a contract to seal the deal.
  • Fake dating becomes a lot like real dating…
  • The pair fall in love – but for real this time. (I know, super adorable.)

So what are Lara Jean and Peter’s individual advantages – and how did they fit into making each want the other? Lara Jean and Peter each have problems that they need help solving, and thus a contract is born. But how did they get from there to a real relationship? Let’s do a deep dive into the film.

Lara Jean needs to make Josh think she doesn’t actually like him.

When Kitty sent out those letters, Lara Jean’s world basically get turned upside down. I mean, can you imagine having your most secret crushes suddenly bared to your crushes themselves (especially years after the fact)? Me neither. Anyway, Josh is perhaps the most complicated crush since he’s actually Lara Jean’s sister’s ex-boyfriend. Lara Jean realizes that she has limited options to avoiding the situation with Josh without other public romantic options. While the spontaneous kiss on the track was a temporary fix, she realizes she needs help from someone who can “date” her just long enough for the situation with Josh to blow over before Margot comes home from college. Lara Jean needs someone who is nice enough to do this for her, and Peter is her best bet.

Josh Sanderson, The Princess Diaries

Peter needs to make Gen jealous.

Peter got dumped – yikes! Many of us know the feeling, and it probably doesn’t help that Gen dumped him for a college guy. If you’ve been paying attention, you know that this is a perfect example of Rule 2. Gen knew that dating a college guy would give her a higher social standing (the advantage), and so she wanted him over her current boyfriend. Knowing this, Peter realizes that if he’s going to make Gen jealous, he needs some kind of advantage. When he hears that Gen got jealous when she heard Lara Jean kissed him, he realizes that other girls wanting him is an advantage. It means that other people think he’s attractive, smart, and/or funny. This advantage is heightened because of how much Gen dislikes Lara Jean – she is actually uniquely qualified to make Gen jealous. And thus, the contract is born!

Lara Jean wants to live in a romance novel.

The strength of literally having a relationship contract lies in being able to define the terms. Lara Jean takes advantage of this by specifying no kissing, but still revels in finally fulfilling some of her romantic dreams. Because Peter is easygoing, sweet, and attractive, he does for Lara Jean what she desires in a real relationship: meeting her family, putting his hand in her back pocket a la Sixteen Candles, taking her to parties, traveling all the way across town to get her favorite snack, and the like. Lara Jean benefits from both Peter’s popularity and the actual reasons he’s popular: his charm, humor, and kindness. Peter’s advantages means Lara Jean finally gets to have a traditional high school experience, complete with youthful romance.

Peter wants love without all the hangups.

Peter Kavinsky, The Princess Diaries

Our introduction to Peter is him making excuses for why his girlfriend is rude to Lara Jean and Chrissie, citing a new diet and caffeine withdrawals. Immediately, viewers see the contrast between even-tempered Peter and his tyrannical girlfriend Gen. Lara Jean, while perhaps a bit naive, is refreshingly sweet and simple. At the ski resort, while Gen is stirring drama out of her own jealousy, Lara Jean is still adorably unaware of how much he likes her. Instead of constantly performing so that Gen will stay with him, Peter gets to be himself and still win the girl he truly wants. Lara Jean’s honesty, without all of the game-playing, amplifies his attraction to her. Her advantage to him graduates from “can make Gen jealous” to can be loved in the way in which he wishes to love.

Lara Jean wants love that isn’t hidden.

In the closing scene, when Lara Jean approaches Peter on the field, she simultaneously confronts her feelings for him and her discomfort with actually expressing how she feels. For all of these years, she’s hidden her love away in a box in her closet, and instead drowned herself in endless romantic fiction. Now, she’s able to not only talk about her love, but be met with the same openness. This last advantage? Peter Kovinsky knows how to love out loud – and not only does that satisfy a need that Lara Jean has, but it also inspires her to do the same.

Final Kiss, Peter and Lara, To All the Boys I've Loved Before

Okay, so Lara Jean and Peter didn’t exactly have the average advantages – after all, the premise of their relationship is anything but average. Still, notice how their interactions with each other upgraded from need to want. Though they initially sought each other out for the more traditional advantages – attractiveness, popularity, and a common goal – they ended up seeing each other for their unique advantageness: openness, honesty, and compatible love languages.

One thing I loved about this movie in relationship to Rule 2 is that they also graduated from advantages that are more about luck, and winning the genetic or personality lottery, to advantages that can be controlled, earned, and natured. Together, they learned each other through advantages like Peter’s devotion and caring and Lara Jean’s hidden humor and trust. Not only was the movie consistent with Rule 2, but it also provided what an evolution in Rule 2’s existence in a relationship can look like.

While I’ve got a penchant for all rom-coms, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before has a special place on my Netflix watchlist. Examining it for examples of Rule 2 has been a deep dive into what makes a romance feel special, and how you can fall for a character you’ve never even seen in person if the advantages are just right.