We all have that one object that tethers us to another place and time. Whether it’s a favorite college sweatshirt or a cherished book, the object helps us remember a time when afternoons were long and carefree and adult responsibilities were minimal. For some, the object or item may even represent at time when they were thinner, less wrinkled and obsessed with Jon Bon Jovi (I’m looking at you moms with bedazzled jeans jackets dating back to high school).
For me, it’s the movie Can’t Buy Me Love.
From the time the movie hit the theaters in the late 1980s, I was obsessed with main character Cindy Mancini, played by Amanda Petersen, and the unlikely teen romance that develops between her and Ronald Miller, the geeky nerd who mows her lawn. For those who either slept through the 80s or don’t watch quality 80s movies, Can’t Buy Me Love centers around Ronald’s desire to hang with the popular crowd in school. He devises a plan to “pay” Cindy to date him for one month under the premise that in doing so, he’ll be popular.
Oh, and by the way, Ronald Miller is played by a very young and yet undiscovered Patrick Dempsey. Swoon.
As a result of an unfortunate incident with a glass of wine, Cindy finds herself having to replace an expensive outfit that she borrowed from her mom’s closet without permission. Ronald, having saved enough money from mowing lawns, offers to replace the outfit if Cindy agrees to date him. Naturally, hilarity ensues and while the premise is cheesy, the message is clear: no one in high school ever feels like they totally fit in with the “In Crowd.” And, sometimes, the Geek gets the Girl.
Over the years, I’ve watched the movie as a newlywed, while breastfeeding at 2 am and on rare evenings when my tired yoga pant clad mom hips have the couch to myself. No matter what stage of life I’m in, the sounds of the music, the story and the characters always bring me back to my high school days. And I’m not ashamed to admit that, some days, I still feel like the nerdy girl who didn’t fit in with the cool crowd.Can’t Buy Me Love reminds me that good things come to those who live authentically, regardless of the mean moms at the PTA meetings.
In the movie, Cindy drives every teenage girl from the 80s’ dream car: a white VW Cabriolet convertible. Go ahead, ask anyone who loved Can’t Buy Me Love about the car and they’ll gush about wanting to own that little white dream when they were sixteen. I begged my parents for a Cabriolet when I was sixteen. I was given keys to the family station wagon.
Several years ago, after my 700thviewing of Can’t Buy Me Love, I confided in my husband how the movie helped me connect to a time when I spent long afternoons shopping in malls and talking with my friends for hours on end on a pink princess phone.I told him that the little Cabriolet represented being a “cool kid,” as corny as it sounds. And then I promptly forgot about the conversation.
But he didn’t.
Unbeknownst to me, and for many years, he scoured internet auctions and car sites, looking for a little white 1985 Cabriolet. He’s a man who is obsessed with cars and engines and parts that make cars do things that I don’t understand: cars are his love language. He may not swoon when Patrick Dempsey is on the screen but a classic car makes his heart go pitter patter.
And last year, he made mine go boom when that little white VW Cabriolet arrived to our driveway on a cold February morning.
My husband made my teenaged dreams come true.
When I eased myself into the white leather of the driver’s side, my teenaged self started to cry. The girl with the with glasses, braces and acne who was always the new kid in town thanks to constant moving, was shedding tears. Until that moment, I’d never realized how much the character of Ronald represented how I felt about myself as a teen. I might not ever make it to the “cool crowd” but this car makes me feel like the popular cheerleader (sans the perfect blond hair, of course) every time I fire her up to run errands.
So, while it’s true you can’t buy love or happiness, this little VW Cabriolet has made me make peace with the awkward, geeky teenaged girl I used to be. And on sunny days, as I tool around town with the top down and my hair whipping at my cheeks, I can almost see her smiling in the passenger seat as we leave our awkwardness in the dust.