If you haven’t seen Hulu’s “Pen15,” go watch it right now (well, not literally, but right after you read this very important article). It’s hilarious, nostalgic, and my friends and coworkers won’t listen to me rave about it anymore, so I need someone else to talk about it with. Set in middle school circa 2002, it follows the lives of Maya and Anna (played by the much older versions of themselves), two best friends trying to figure out this whole growing up thing. You may not think you can learn much from double-butterfly-clipped and brace-faced 30-going-on-13 year-olds, but Maya and Anna show us how easy it is to be someone’s actual rainbow gel pen in a sea of blue and black writing utensils. Inside “Pen15’s” spiral notebook, you’ll find these nuggets of dating wisdom.
1. Don’t be afraid to call someone on their shit.
After talking for hours on end on AIM, Maya boldly asks her “boyfriend,” FlyMiamiBro (his screen name), to finally meet up. She waits at the bowling alley for, like, ever but FMB never shows. Instead of giving him the silent treatment (the early 2000s version of ghosting), Maya calls him out for being a total d-bag and gets an explanation. If someone majorly pisses you off, you deserve clarity. So go get it.
2. Looks aren’t everything.
It’s easy to get caught up in someone’s undeniable attractiveness. Anna, for one, is utterly obsessed with Alex, the middle school’s resident hottie — his hair is perfect, and time slows down when he enters a room. But the only word he ever speaks is “chill.” And a relationship can’t be built on one word of slang. We all shine when we can have real conversations while dating. Otherwise, how will someone ever know you can sing B*Witched’s “C’est La Vie” like a goddamn pro or have an impressive collection of hard-to-acquire Beanie Babies?
3. Be straightforward.
Maya and Anna are the feminist icons of their generation. They are the masters of their own destiny, and their destiny is asking guys out. Just think about when Maya hears rumblings around the hallways that hot-guy-cool-guy Brandt has a thing for her. Instead of killing time until he approaches her, Maya passes Brandt a note in class that reads, “waz up les b u + me.” Grammar doesn’t matter when you’re in like.
4. Let your freak flag fly.
The girls of “Pen15” are unapologetically themselves. When Maya and Anna focus on being real and not trying to be cool, they attract some pretty sweet dudes. It’s the times they attempt to put on a show for the not-so-nice guys that things go awry. And even though it may be tough, if someone can’t appreciate you at your Scary Spice (cough, cough, Alex; cough, cough, Brandt), then they don’t deserve you at your Posh.
5. Don’t agonize over every word you say.
We’ve all had some truly horrifying texting fails and thought it was the end of our never-really-existed-to-begin-with relationship. It’s like when Maya AIM messages FMB about liking sand dunes and freaks, thinking that she ruined everything. But, to her surprise, he validates her by replying that sand dunes are hot, and all is right again in the world. Short of wildly offending someone, one overexcited slip about your nerdy passion isn’t going to make or break you.
6. Accept when the chemistry isn’t there.
After Anna has her first real kiss with Brendan, her boyfriend from band, she no longer feels the two have potential — his kissing is just way too aggressive. So beginning, middle, and end of story: She decides to end things. Life is too short to hang out with someone who isn’t your speed.
7. When you do break it off, be honest and clear.
Following the kissing fiasco, Anna writes Brendan a letter letting him know that after their three-week long tryst, “he’s just not the one” for her. And while he ends up beating her to the breakup punch, neither one tries to skirt the obvious issue or lead the other on. I know 27-year-olds — hell, I know 47-year-olds — who are less mature.
8. Rejection is a normal part of life…
At the school dance, Anna confidently walks over to Alex and asks him to dance. When he simply replies, “no,” Anna doesn’t pout or go home. Instead, she takes it in stride and focuses on her and Maya’s choreographed number to “You Gotta Be.”
9. … So be positive.
Even though she was harshly denied in public, Anna makes a conscious decision to look on the bright side of things. During their post-dance download, she informs Maya that while something didn’t happen today with Alex, it could tomorrow. Optimism is the spice of single life.