I Just Rewatched ‘The Notebook’—Here’s How Adulthood Changed What I Think of It

How much of our love lives have actually been influenced, perhaps even defined, by the romantic movies and shows we watched growing up? For me, there was one love story that became practically a requirement to watch over and over again. It was a movie that I thought about many times in my own dating life, even years later. The year I discovered this movie was 2004. The very last episode of Friends had just aired, and it was the end of an era. But then I heard that a book that I recently read, written by Nicholas Sparks, was coming to movie theaters. This movie was called The Notebook. It was a time when you had to go to the theaters if you wanted to see a movie right away, so off I went with friends. I vividly remember watching the movie, completely engrossed, as I ate an entire bag of popcorn without looking away from the screen. I left the movie theater with a full heart and tears streaming down my face. All I wanted was a relationship like Noah and Allie had. To me then, it seemed like an example of true love and commitment.

It’s been 20 years since 2004, and a lot has happened. Back then, I thought love was Ryan Gosling jumping onto a Ferris wheel. Today, after decades of living life and experiencing my own relationships, I have some different opinions on love. So, I couldn’t resist revisiting the now-classic movie to see if it still holds up. In my mind, it was one of the greatest love stories of all time. But is it still a great love story now that I’m older? Here’s what I discovered:

The “meet cute” is not as cute

As referenced in the movie The Holiday, a meet-cute is when two characters happen upon each other in an amusing or charming way, which leads to the development of a romantic relationship. In The Notebook, Noah and Allie meet at a carnival when Noah asks Allie if she wants to dance, which Allie quickly declines. When she later rides the Ferris wheel with someone else, Noah climbs it and dangles in front of Allie until she agrees to go on a date with him. I once thought this moment was the perfect meet-cute, but now I see it as an incredibly stressful and impossible situation.

First of all, it’s wild to climb a moving Ferris wheel—that’s a given. I’m a little more afraid of heights than I used to be, so I was very concerned for Noah in a practical sense. But more importantly, if someone pulled a Ferris wheel move like that on me in real life, I would totally see it as a red flag. What I would find more romantic now is if that Ferris wheel moment didn’t happen because Noah listened to Allie and respected her space. Perhaps they would meet again later when they were both on the same page. Or, perhaps it would mean the end of the movie. Regardless, listening and healthy communication are romantic to me now.

In a subsequent meeting, friends set Noah and Allie up at the movies. When they walk home together afterward, we see the iconic scene in which Noah eventually convinces Allie to lie down in the middle of the road under the stoplights in their small town. This leads to them dancing to no music. Once again, I’ve now learned to recognize a red flag, and in this case, a red street light, when I see one. I actually still loved the dancing moment, as it felt like a genuinely sweet connection between the characters. It reminded me of being a teenager in love and living for the moment. However, when it comes to lying down in the street, that’s a pass for me now. I might have done it as a teenager or perhaps would do it in a town without cars, but it doesn’t sound romantic to me anymore. Dancing: cute. Ferris wheel climbing and street laying: not as cute.

I paid more attention to the hidden third option in the love triangle

We’ve all done it with movies and love triangles: taking sides on which person we want the main character to end up with. Jacob or Edward? Dean or Jess? Noah or Lon? I was definitely Team Noah back in the day because, well, the rain scene (which I’ll get into later). But nowadays, if I had to choose, I’d probably be Team Lon, who was a lot more emotionally mature when Allie was working through her feelings. However, I think ultimately the person I was rooting for the most was Allie. When I first watched the movie, it seemed like Allie had two options: Noah or Lon. Now, I clearly see that there was always a third option available: neither, or in other words, Team Allie. This brings me to the proposal between Lon, played by James Marsden, and Allie.

In this rewatch, I was struck by the fact that proposals aren’t always moments of pure joy. We’ve all seen movies, or frankly engagement ring ads, where the happy couple is crying as someone says, “Yes!” What we don’t see is that tiny moment when the person who’s just been proposed to pauses before their answer. The moment that that person knows their life might change. And if it’s a surprise, maybe, like Allie, they weren’t ready to make that decision. Many movies like The Notebook raise the stakes by forcing the main character to decide who they want to be with forever.

We learn that Allie thinks of Noah when Lon proposes to her, but she accepts because she loves Lon, too. But what if she took more time, on her own, to decide? What if Allie was Team Allie? While the love triangle in The Notebook makes for a great story, in my current adult life, I see the value of taking a step back and taking time to make big decisions. Sometimes, not choosing between what appears to be only two options is also a strong choice.

I wanted to see the in-between part of the story

In the first scenes of their romance, we see Noah and Allie falling in love but also fighting constantly. This is the throughline in their relationship that carries them to their reconnection years later. We are led to believe fighting might just be the nature of their relationship going forward. I once thought this was the way of passionate, true love. I now think that it’s possible to have a passionate love that’s still respectful. While conflict is inevitable, there’s a way to face it that’s healthy for both parties. When we meet older Noah and Allie, Allie sadly is suffering from dementia, and Noah is retelling their story to help her remember their lives. Their relationship has clearly grown into one of warmth and devotion. I found myself wondering, as Noah and Allie grew older, did they work through their conflict?

We do learn that the couple had four kids and some grandkids, but we don’t really learn much else about what happened in their lives. Did they keep fighting all the time? Did Allie keep painting? How did her relationship with her parents turn out after she chose Noah? Did they have any incredibly awkward run-ins with Lon when they visited the city? (Hoping this is a yes because I love an awkward run-in between characters.) These are things I’m more curious about now because I’ve learned that real life is about the in-between moments—not just the big iconic movie moments.

I felt conflicted between loving and resenting the story

Not going to lie, I still love a good “row boat in the rain” scene, but I also don’t want to love it as much as I do. In fact, I have a little bit of resentment towards it. For example, I loved that Allie and Noah got trapped in the rain, forcing them to face their feelings for each other. It’s dramatic, it’s fun, it’s beautiful. The resentment comes in because that scene gave me an unrealistic view of how love works. When I first started dating, I was constantly looking for my row boat in the rain in the face of conflict, and it never did show up.

On the other hand, there’s something to be said for living in the moment with someone you love and throwing caution to the wind. So you see, when thinking about the movie overall, I feel a little bit like Allie when Noah says to her over and over again, “What do you want?” I have learned through this rewatch that it’s OK to love romance movies and also to simultaneously be annoyed by them. Ultimately, I do want to watch more movies like The Notebook, but I also want to see fresh movies where the main character doesn’t get stuck in a love triangle.

Yes, I still cried at the end

I knew it was coming. And yet, the ending still got to me. The Notebook is nothing if not consistent. “If you’re a bird, I’m a bird.” Younger Noah proclaims this to Allie when she says she could be a bird in another life. What I did not remember is that at the very end of the movie, after the older Noah and Allie are found in their bed, the scene cuts to birds flying away, and that’s how the movie ends. I literally screamed, “No!” at the screen and burst into tears. Even though I probably watched this movie close to 10 times in the early 2000s, those last five minutes came in hot and struck my heart.

But is it still the greatest love story ever? For me, it’s not because I don’t want the relationship that Noah and Allie have anymore. But do I think it was the greatest love story ever written for me in 2004? Yes, yes it was. And I still treasure the movie for that reason, even though it did set me up for some early disappointment when no one rebuilt an entire house for me. And while I did want the in-between story, there is something powerful about the cyclical nature of love and the notion that all young lovers eventually grow old. It’s a reminder to care for the people we love and have gratitude for the time we’re given together. That theme still does and always will stay with me.

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