My favorite actress of the 1990s is Drew Barrymore. There’s just something about her unique blend of endearing awkwardness and cool confidence that has always resonated with me. And there’s no better movie that captures this winning combination than 1999’s Never Been Kissed.
For the uninitiated (you’re really missing out), here’s the basic premise of this quintessential ‘90s rom-com: Barrymore’s character, newspaper copy editor Josie “Grossie” Geller, tries to prove herself as a reporter by going undercover at a local high school to document what life is like as a typical American teenager. Naturally, because of her frumpiness, nerdiness, and the fact that she’s never been in a real relationship, Josie has difficulty pretending to be a normal, friend-having teen—because she never was one.
But after earning the respect of the cool kids (who include early-career Jessica Alba and James Franco) and undergoing a magical makeover that boosts her desirability (funny how life’s problems can be fixed with a makeover), she finds career success and a true love of Shakespearean proportions.
Josie and I have a lot in common. Neither of us have had much luck with relationships. We’re both 20-somethings living in a big city. We’re both naive. We’re both optimistic. We’re both doe-eyed reporters hoping to make a difference in the world through our writing. And, much like the film’s title suggests, neither of us have ever been kissed.
The main difference is—unlike Barrymore’s character—I’m perfectly fine with that.
You’d be hard-pressed to find any 23-year-old readily admit that they’ve never done anything sexual with another human being, let alone reveal they’ve never been kissed. But here I am, owning up to what many people would consider an embarrassing personal failure because for years I thought that was exactly what it was: a failure.
But nothing was wrong with me. What was wrong was my perception of a “normal” 20-something.
But nothing was wrong with me. what was wrong was my perception of a 'normal' 20-something.
The dominant media portrayal of a young urbanite is someone who hits the town with a large group of hip, trendy friends every night, consumes hip, trendy cocktails, and has tons of hot sex with other hip, trendy people. At least that’s what the movies will have you believe.
But reality can be quite different—especially for a person who spent most of his formative years as an admittedly awkward, introverted homebody who would much rather sit at home eating pizza while watching Drew Barrymore films, than go out and party.
By the time college rolled around, I wanted to change all of that. I made it my mission to meet certain milestones in order to have a satisfying love life. I wanted to drink more. I wanted to go out more. I wanted to meet new people. And I wanted to have my first kiss from a man I loved. All attainable goals, right?
I managed three out of four, and it wasn’t easy. After having my heart broken by a handsome fuckboy who was more concerned with working out and getting a good lay than my feelings, I realized that my “failure” to conform to societal standards wasn’t the problem; rather, it was the pressure I put on myself to achieve them.
Why must I stress out over something I believe should happen naturally? Why do I feel the need to validate my existence and self-worth over something as trivial as a kiss? Why should I settle for someone who doesn’t value me for who I am? Because a movie told me so? Because popular culture says I’m a late bloomer?
Much like my strongly held conviction that no one should be shamed for the choices they make and how frequently they indulge in sex, I shouldn’t be shamed for the reverse. I refuse to hold myself to an arbitrary standard just because others have had different experiences. And I won’t let a movie—no matter how much it appeals to the helpless romantic in me—warp my perception of what love is, when it should happen, and what I need to do to get it.
Although I’ll always admire Josie’s intelligence, drive, and spunk, unlike her, I won’t ever change myself mentally and physically to fit in (fabulous makeover be damned), and I sure as hell won’t lower my standards for one “perfect” moment with the “perfect” man. I’ll let that happen in its own time.
By the end of Never Been Kissed (minor spoiler alert), Josie learns a valuable lesson. She realizes that although she’s now conventionally prettier, more popular, and on the verge of getting her dream guy, she’s essentially living a lie—and that other people can see right through it.
After living life as a faux club rat with a knack for falling for the worst men, I realized the same thing about myself.
Today, I love who I am, and know that one day—fate willing—I’ll find someone who does, too.
Raffy Ermac is a writer from sunny Los Angeles. He works full-time for The Advocate Magazine, and writes a lot about the relationship between popular culture and social issues. Find him on Twitter and Instagram.