The secret I’ve been carrying around all summer erupted at a birthday party two weeks ago. Until then, I’d only discussed it with one other person: a trusted friend who, I’d learned, shared my obsession. She’ll go nameless here, as she has a career and reputation to protect. Suffice to say we have two things in common: We are local to the equator of forty, and we don’t fully understand why we’re doing what we’re doing. But we can’t stop.
Then, at the birthday party—for a fortieth—I found myself in another trusted circle. When my friends’ partners had all drifted away, I went for it.
“Is anyone else watching The Summer I Turned Pretty?”
I watched several pairs of eyes light up knowingly. There are more of us, I thought. More women who, despite being decidedly north of the target demo, have become deeply invested in the Amazon romance series The Summer I Turned Pretty, which revolves around a teenage love triangle and airs its finale today.
This is the summer I’m turning thirty-nine, but Pretty (based on the books by Jenny Han) has set my pop-culture clock back 20 years. Were you to pick up my phone right now and go to my Instagram Explore page, you’d assume I’m nineteen, tops. It is chock-full of tributes to Belly. And Jeremiah, and Conrad, and Stephen. And Taylor. And Staylor! If you don’t know what “Staylor” means, we are likely biological peers.
Then you would turn over my phone, see that I have accidentally turned and left the flashlight on, and realize with horror that something is very wrong. Rabid fans of YA romance are not supposed to be accidental-flashlight old.
Let me just clarify here that I’m not a fan of YA romance. In my twenties, I sat out Twilight. In my thirties, I let The Fault in Our Stars and all its dying-kid knockoffs wash past me in a river of tears. I am proudly ignorant of almost all famous love triangles; I have never been Team Anyone. I first fired up The Summer I Turned Pretty—which follows teenage Belly and the two family-friend boys she is romantically caught between—thinking it might make a good workout show. Ten minutes in, I was offended by my elliptical’s presence. The cast was beautiful. The music was on-point. The writing was real and suspenseful and deep. I kept thinking the show would age me out at some point—that it would betray some immaturity or sling around alienating slang—but here we are, nearly two seasons in, and I am still ruinously invested. It is late August, the time to take a sober look at unexamined summer crushes. So, I’m asking myself: Why?