I love Winnie Cooper. This is exactly what happens when you spend 48 hours watching The Wonder Years on Netflix. At 7.99 a month, it’s the best bang-for-your-buck nostalgia anywhere. And that’s no lie. The emotional therapy of resurrecting good times of the past costs big bucks. A Tamagochi from ’98 is like $500 bucks right now. Like GI Joes? The ’83 series will set you back $800 a pop. At these rates, nostalgia that reignites the romantic flame of a late 80’s TV crush should require no less than the deposit of one human soul. But really though, if you’re a guy and the 12-year old inside of you isn’t still hopelessly in love with Winnie Cooper, you’re probably gay—which means you’re in love with Kevin Arnold.
As I sat in front of my computer screen, watching the details of my own adolescent hormone experience play out, what guilt I had about loving a 12-year old girl as a 28-year old man was completely overridden by the sheer enjoyment of how simple it was to love her. If you’ve ever watched the show, Winnie barely says a damn thing. The girl might as well be a mute—especially in the earlier episodes. But when she does speak, it’s perfect; the words, tone, and facial expressions with which she speaks make for a nearly religious experience—revealing just enough for you to let her be, but leaving mystery enough to never want to let her go.
That’s the thing though: it’s not Winnie that I’m in love with. It’s the innocence and simplicity of a love uncomplicated by the rules of adulthood that make her so appealing. I remember that kind of love. I remember sleepless nights spent anticipating the following school day, when just seeing your crush was enough to keep you high for days and motivated to go to bed early. I remember feeling like I might burst if I couldn’t be near the girl I liked. It’s probably the reason why my 3rd grade teacher had to make an example out of me, scolding me in front of the entire class because I had committed a run-by cheek kiss after school the day before. My crush had been waiting for her parents to pick her up when I casually walked by her, smooched her on the cheek, and went into a full sprint down the sidewalk and around the corner. Those were simpler times, when simpler minds made love pure, efficient, and rewarding. There are so many reasons to fall in love with the girl next door. Here are just a few.
Good friends can make even better lovers. So, it’s no surprise that one of the perks of falling in love with the girl next door is that you’re more likely to become friends first. There’s something so intoxicatingly seductive about the natural evolution of friendship into romance. To say the transition is exciting is an understatement. The details of how it plays out may differ, but there’s always a moment of pure surprise when it does happen, when you turn around and realize that there’s something more going on between you and that girl you thought was cool for snapping bubble gum louder than you. It’s the kind of thing you can’t prepared for, but because you know her well as a friend, everything just feels right; you just slip into it really. I remember that moment well.
When I was young, I maintained a high school friendship with a girl I had known since middle school. At one point during our sophmore year, she had entered a talent show and I found myself backstage helping to calm her nerves. I put my hand on her shoulder, rubbed her arm, and spoke closely into her ear up until the very moment she took the stage. She was such a nervous wreck that I had to convince her go through with it; I wouldn’t let her back out—especially after some b*tch had just sang the exact song she was going to sing. And that’s when it happened. After her performance, alone in the music room, we hugged for what felt like years before pecking each other on the lips. In the months that followed, I would sneak in through her bedroom window and stay out past my cerfew, risking a beating from my step-father in the event that he found me out. Eventually the romance ended, but that time period remains one of the most cherished of my memories.
The thing that makes Winnie Cooper so lovable—in fact one of the most lovable things about Winnie Cooper—is that she’s familiar. The Wonder Years captured the perfect girl next door. In seeing her for the first time ever, you can’t help but feel that you’ve known her for so long, that this struggle of love between the two of you had existed long before you even had a television to witness it. Falling in love with the girl next door means falling in love with someone who knows you; your history, your family, your hopes and dreams. Someone who knows where you come from is more likely to understand where you’re going, and whether or not they want to be with you on the way there.
Some of the worst parts of starting a new romanctic relationship is trying to explain why your family is so messed up, and why you’re probabaly screwed up too. The girl next door doesn’t need to hear your horror stories—she already knows them, and she doesn’t mind. There’s a huge advantage to having a historical point of reference, of having lived through the events and changes of life’s landscape: you appreciate things more. Remember 28.8k modems? Remember AOL? Me too. Having grown up in a time period that allowed me to watch the evolution of Internet has helped me understand and appreciate it that much more.
Ugly Duckling to Swan.
I don’t know who’s responsible for setting this up—God, the universe, maybe Zeus—but the girl next door almost always ends up being a knockout later in life. A word of caution here, too: there seems to be no limitations regarding how many points this girl can move up over time. I’ve seen girls jump from a rating of 2 to a phenomenal 10 in under 5 years. That’s a return rate of just over 20% a year. Insane. Simply put, being nice to the girl next door is probably the smartest thing you’ll ever do—but like any good payoff, you’ve gotta get in on the ground floor. Treating the girl next door like the awesome chick she is serves to establish a good line of credit for later withdrawl. That early investment pays off later on, when that flat-chested eyeglass wearing girl grows up to be a five foot five stick of walking sexual dynamite.
Distance sucks. And that logic doesn’t only apply to your 12-year-old self, back before you could drive a car and had to walk and bike everywhere; it’s pretty much a universal axiom for the times. It as an adult, if I’m in the car for more than 20 minutes it’s too long. And so, having a cute girl within close proximity to you is probably one of the biggest perks of falling in love with the girl next door. I remember knocking on the bedroom window of my friendship love affair at two or three in the morning. Whenever I felt lonely—or crazy—I’d just run up the block and wake her up for no good reason. A lot of those things were unplanned; there was a wildness about it all. Sometimes I’d be walking home from hanging out with other friends, and I’d swing by her block just to see if she was home. Though it doesn’t sound all that great when you say it out loud, no one can deny it: A convenient love is a strong love.
The combination of friendship and continuity with the girl next door makes for a power cocktail of long lasting love. The value of those assets are more likely to yeild love that is more resilient than the kind of feelings you get for that tramp down at the local tap and cap. There was a study done that examined the live activity of people’s brains as they looked at photos of loved ones. When setting eyes on the photo of a long time spouse, a small area deep in the brain would light up. This was deemed the “long-term love” area, which would only light up if the person observed a picture of someone they claimed to love unconditionally: children, spouses, and close relatives. The people responsible for lighting up these parts of our brains are often linked to time, relation, and frequency of interaction. With the girl next door living so close to both your heart and home, get ready to light up that damn machine like the fourth of July for years to come.