Growing up changes things. Even the movies we loved then and still love now. That’s why the only person we can actually relate to now, looking back at these movies, is Daryl Mitchell as the teacher in 10 Things I Hate about You.
But the brightest side of adulthood is being able to gaze back and realize there are lessons to be learned in the truly terrible, potentially damaging lessons these movies taught us. Lessons like…
1. If you like someone enough, you’re totally deserving of and entitled to their affections.
This means you, Cameron and Preston—whom I adore, making this a hard lesson even as a grownup. This is a sub-lesson of the myth “if you just want something bad enough and work hard enough at it, you can achieve it.” No. No you can’t. Sometimes, sure. But that’s not true of everything, nor should it be. Especially when that something is a human being. You can’t just *have* one. Even if you really super like a person and you would tooooootally treat them so well and love them eternally, that’s not how it works. No one owes you a relationship or sexual encounter just for being “nice” and if you have to be told that, you’re not that nice.
2. You’re great. But if you were just a liiiiitttle bit more like everyone else, you’d be better.
While the ultimate lesson of most of these movies is to be yourself, the subconscious lesson is still “yeah, but they got popular and attractive *after* they started dressing and acting like or hanging out with people considered popular” so that lesson seeps in. Even in movies where our main characters are and remain outsiders, like The Craft, our main character changes to fit in with them. Sarah starts the movie in Keds and a hoodie. After a few months wicc-ing with Nancy and the Manon-inites, she’s dressed just like them.
Which is admittedly super hot and cool. I want to dress and be like them, too. What was my lesson again? Was it vests and suspenders? That must be it.
3. “Draw attention to your mouth.”
What works for Cher Horowitz does not work for everyone, awkward 15-year-old wannabesexbabies. When you’re experiencing high school, and even years later watching it in movies, everyone seems almost adult, but actual high schoolers are actual children and nothing is weirder or more later-in-life embarrassing than children *trying* to be sexy. When Ali Larter does the whipped cream thing, it’s hot—when teen you does it, it’s sticky and weird and presumably melts very fast. Oh tiny baby angels. You’re going to be so embarrassed when you picture yourself chewing on your pen seductively in algebra class a few years down the road.
4. You can fix your bad-boy boyfriend.
He only cheated on you because he was scared of how much he loved you! He lied to you about his reasons for dating you because he was insecure and you’ve shown him what it means to be yourself! You’ve fixed him! He’s better because of you.
No. None of those things. I don’t care if he’s ’90s Ryan Phillippe—he grows up to be 2000s Ryan Phillippe and then you have to divorce that shit after two kids.
5. Giant parties are fun and life-changing.
Ugh. Other people.
6. The silent guy in the mask is probably just your friend messing around.
This is obviously not limited to nor did it start in the ’90s, but I’m just saying if there’s a totally silent person in a mask with a knife, history (at least the cinematic kind) doesn’t necessarily side with the laughing buddies who assume it to be a pal having a goof. Err on the side of not-friend.
7. Pretty much everyone is white and straight.
Everyone else? Peripheral or the butt of a joke. And one of the few major black female character in a ’90s comedy will eventually go on to be one of the worst humans on Fox News. Neato!
8. The first time you have sex is awesome. And, ladies, you’ll totally have an orgasm, like, instantly. Also, what’s foreplay?
I believe my first words immediately after my first time began were “GET IT OUT GET IT OUT” so Fear lied in a big way.
9. You don’t actually need to get to know someone. If they’re attractive and seem kinda nice, LOVE THEM ETERNALLY.
Oh sweet stupid Preston, Cameron, and all the others.
10. The majority of your growth as a person will be done in high school.
That’s right,Daryl—bitch-slapped by life because there is still growing to do, my babies.
In the words of Buffy, patron saint of everything, high school students are cookie dough. They won’t be cookies until way later in life. In these movies, so many are self-aware, have their shit figured out, know what and who they want in life. But even in the rare moments those are true, that will change within a week or two. We’re constantly evolving, growing, changing. Hell, our favorite, most integral teen movie heroes might be totally different humans with just one listen to Neutral Milk Hotel. No one knows what they’re doing. Ever. Even at 30. So just exist and figure things out as you go.
See also: the best life lessons from ’90s teen movies.