If you follow at least one person under the age of 20 on social media, it’s likely that in the past couple of weeks, you’ll have come across the name Peter Kavinsky, the character played by actor Noah Centineo in Netflix’s new teen romantic comedy, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. On Twitter, thirst for Kavinsky is rife. Just search for “Peter Kavinsky,” and you’ll see hundreds of tweets like this:
Teens also love to share GIFs of Kavinsky casually chilling out in a hot tub, slurping a chocolate shake or just swooning in a bathrobe with captions like “ Peter Kavinsky has my whole heart” and “Where’s my Peter Kavinsky?” The movie, which is based on the young adult novel of the same name by Jenny Han, has been met with near-universal praise for its portrayal of Asian Americans and the teen experience — from crushes to trauma and loss.
But it’s Kavinsky, the movie’s lead male character and love interest of protagonist Lara Jean Covey, that’s hit a particular chord. “Peter is tall, dark and handsome, but he’s also uber-sweet and sensitive,” writes Forward. “He is unafraid of vulnerability and welcomes romance.” GQ’s Sophia Benoit put it more succinctly: She describes him as “the silly-love-note writing, making-out-in-the-hot-tub, saving-you-a-seat-on-the-bus-to-the-ski-trip man you’ve probably seen your girlfriend lusting over on Twitter.” While Kavinsky has the physical qualities of any generically good-looking rom-com love interest, Benoit argues his appeal hinges on the lack of machismo, arrogance and aggression usually associated with rom com-men, whether that’s Heath Ledger’s Patrick Verona in 10 Things I Hate About You or Ben Affleck’s Larry in Gigli.
Not everyone agrees, though. Many viewers have used Twitter (and reblogged tweets on Tumblr) to argue that Kavinsky, rather than representing the gold standard of a super-woke and unconditionally supportive boyfriend, is actually just carrying out the duties that every boyfriend should be expected to in a healthy relationship. If anything, they argue the hype around Kavinsky actually illustrates how low the bar has been set for men in cis hetero relationships.
For some Kavinsky stans, though, this isn’t a problem, it’s part of the appeal. “It’s absolutely true that Peter isn’t exceptional,” says Dani, a college freshman from Michigan. “His appeal is that he’s normal. A lot of women just saw him as refreshing because he showed that men could be like that, and it wasn’t like, this impossible fantasy even though it sometimes feels like it is.”
Sarah, 16, who didn’t want to publicize her location, adds, “Peter Kavinsky is hot, not gonna lie. But he also isn’t the typical guy who demands attention, and puts his needs before his girlfriends. That’s a reality for us — for a long time, girls have been made to think that guys will always be like this, in movies as well as in real life. So Peter Kavinsky didn’t raise the bar for boys because he’s cute. He raised the bar back to where it’s supposed to be because, unlike boys nowadays, he’s thoughtful, sweet, genuinely kind and goes out of his way to show you that he cares.”
“You have to ask, ‘Why is [Kavinsky] different from all the other romcoms you know?’” says writer Priya Alika Elias. “It’s because the other ones are problematic in terms of what the guys do to get the girl at the end. Kavinsky is the only departure from the romantic hero trope in that he’s gentle from start to finish — just like pure and wholesome. He never does anything bad to her, besides letting his ex take her scrunchie which he couldn’t really help.”
“Even in my favorite movies, I’m hard pressed to think of a single man that I’d genuinely like to date,” writer Bolu Babalola says, citing When Harry Met Sally, in which Harry projects his own lack of emotional growth onto a woman he supposedly loves and cares for, and Brown Sugar where Taye Diggs’ character Dre allows his cowardice to interrupt his relationship with his true love Sidney, only to express envy when Sidney finds happiness with another man.
For Babalola, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before isn’t just a welcome departure from the problematic elements of romantic comedy’s leading men, it might also show how better men can be portrayed in the genre and in real-life relationships too. “Rom-coms are inherently aspirational, and it’s important to see a romantic ideal that portrays an emotionally healthy man who can somehow cherish his partner or desired partner without being some massive *thing* he has to grapple with within himself,” Babalola says. “There’s a tenderness, a respect, an awe that’s apparent in the way Kavinsky looks at Lara Jean.”
Regardless of your age, gender or sexual preference, it’s hard to not find that appealing.