The Ending Of 'To All The Boys I've Loved Before' Is Revolutionary For A Reason You May Have Missed
It seems like pretty much everyone who has seen To All The Boys I've Loved Before is freaking out about the movie. And for all sorts of reasons: an Asian woman in the lead role, further proof of the "return of the rom-com", the wholesome feel-good nature of it, the way Peter Kavinsky spins Lara Jean Song Covey around in the cafeteria — the list goes on. But there is one other part of the film that many people aren't noting, but is absolutely worth celebrating: the exchange at the very end when Peter tells Lara Jean he loves her, and she doesn't say it back.
In the scene, Lara Jean confesses to Peter that she likes him "and not in a fake way", and he straight up tells her he's in love with her. Lara Jean's response: "You what?" Then she says, "How do we do this?" and asks about what you put in a contract for a real relationship.
Point is, she doesn't say she loves him back. And that's fine. It's fine for them, because Lara Jean and Peter still kiss and walk off the lacrosse field together. And as a viewer, it's more than fine, because for one, finally someone not saying "I love you" in return isn't a point of conflict. And, for two, it sums up these two characters so perfectly and allows Lara Jean to still be true to herself.
There is a history of fictional characters having their big "I love you" exchange become a speed bump in their relationship. On The O.C. and on Friends, one member of a relationship says "thank you" (Ryan and Emily, respectively) in response to "I love you", and it's something that embarrasses the person who said it first (Marissa and Ross, respectively). Then there's Gossip Girl, where the already problematic Chuck and Blair went back and forth for seasons about whether one of them was willing to say the "three words, eight letters" to the other.
In movie rom-coms, a happy ending typically comes when the two characters profess their love, not their like, for one another. And it definitely doesn't come when one person professes love while the other professes their like. After all, in rom-coms, people are meant to make rash decisions and blurt things out. Their feelings come out of their mouths before their minds even have time to think about them. That tends to play well into a big romantic ending, like Matthew McConaughey chasing down Kate Hudson's cab at the end of How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, or the little kid running after the other little kid in the airport in Love, Actually.
But Lara Jean and Peter of To All The Boys aren't typical rom-com people. Throughout the film, Lara Jean is thoughtful and cautious. It makes so much sense that the girl who walked up to Peter on that field with a written down letter would stick to her plan. She knows how she feels, she knows what she wants to tell him, and she would never force herself to say "I love you" just because Peter does. She's surprised when he says it, and she's happy about it, but it would be out of character for her to suddenly say it back.
It'd be way more expected if, after this scene, Lara Jean goes home and thinks for hours about whether she should have said those words back to Peter. After all, she does say in the voiceover at the very end, "I always fantasized about falling in love in a field, but I just never felt it’d be the kind where you play lacrosse." It's clear she does fall in love with him — she just doesn't say it right then.
As for Peter, it also fits that he wouldn't push her to say it. During the movie, he does give Lara Jean a little nudge when it comes to her opening up and going to parties, but he wouldn't get upset at her not saying she loves him. He knows her well, for one thing, but he's also just a kind, rational person, and kind, rational people don't make a big fuss out of someone not saying "I love you" back to them when they just had a really vulnerable and romantic moment. (Many TV and rom-com characters are lacking in the rationality area.)
What makes the scene even better is that on top of Lara Jean not saying "I love you" back, she also doesn't even respond when Peter says, "Are you gonna break my heart, Covey?" She just almost shakes her head and then does a little shrug thing. First of all, it's wonderful that he phrases that as a question, rather than saying, "Don't break my heart, Covey." But Lara Jean's lack of response is another example of her staying true to herself. She seems like someone who wouldn't know how to answer a rhetorical question like that or even know whether she was supposed to. (And she wouldn't want to potentially lie to Peter. Maybe she will break his heart! She's an honest gal.)
At the end of To All The Boys I've Loved Before, Lara Jean and Peter stay consistent with their characters in a way that isn't always the case in rom-coms, and Lara Jean maintains her agency. There are a lot of things to be excited about when it comes to this movie, and this final conversation should be on your list.