10 Things "Heartstopper" Gets Very Right About Queer Teenage Relationships

·7 min read
Screen shot from "Heartstopper"

Dating is never easy, especially when you're a queer teenager experiencing the pangs and thrills of romance for the first time. Netflix's Heartstopper, based on the graphic novel and web comic by Alice Oseman, tells the story of openly gay bookish Charlie (Joe Locke), closeted rugby-playing jock Nick (Kit Connor), and their circle of friends as they traverse the ups and downs of high school life. For queer people who had the opportunity to date in adolescence, the show does a brilliant job of reminding us of the complexities of navigating young LGBTQIA+ relationships.

Below are 10 ways in which HeartStopper accurately portrays what it's like to be young, queer, and in love. (Spoilers abound below)

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1.Crushing On a "Straight" Classmate

Nick (Kit Connor) and Charlie (Joe Lock) meet in class

Young people have a tendency to take life at face value: Up is up, down is down, and straight people are 100% straight just because they say so. When Charlie first meets Nick, the latter is presented as your typical heterosexual star athlete. "He's straight, Charlie. You only need to glance at him to know he's a massive heterosexual," remarks Charlie's friend Tao (William Gao) of Nick. Charlie's attraction to Nick is undeniable, but he cannot fathom that his feelings could be reciprocated. So many gay/bi/questioning teens find themselves longing for someone who seems out of reach, which makes the pain of rejection even greater.

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2.Hooking Up with Someone Extremely Problematic (Because There Are No Other Options)

Ben (Sebastian Croft) and Charlie (Joe Lock)

It's not easy being one of the few (or only) out kids in your community, which makes the dating pool incredibly shallow. Early on in the series, Charlie has a secret romance with Ben (Sebastian Croft). Unfortunately though, Ben is an emotionally manipulative closet case who goes out of his way to demean Charlie. It's near impossible to develop confidence and a sense of self as a queer person if your only dating options are those still struggling with their own demons.

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3.The "Other" Guy/Girl

Nick (Kit Connor) and Imogen (Rhea Norwood)

Poor Imogen. All she wanted was some gentle snogging with Nick, but unfortunately, she misread all his very obvious signals that they weren't a match. It's difficult enough being a queer teen who's working through their identity, but having a friend of the opposite sex crushing on you adds another layer of complexity. As Nick gently lays it out to Imogen, a simple "I like you as a friend, but not like that" is usually the best way to soften the blow.

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4.Discovering Your Crush Was Closer Than You Thought

Elle (Yasmin Finney) and Tao (Wiliam Gao)

Coming out opens infinite possibilities within yourself, but it also opens how you view others as well. You may discover that your childhood "pal" or "buddy" is actually someone with whom your share a romantic spark. Such is the case with best friends Elle (Yasmin Finney) and Tao, who grow increasingly close over the course of Season 1. Tao initially is highly protective over Elle (who has recently come out as trans); however, he gradually discovers that his feelings run deeper as he watches his friend embrace her authentic identity. This demonstrates how coming out not only opens us up to our true selves, it opens up our hearts to those around us as well.

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5.Finding Any Excuse to Get Physically Close

Charlie (Joe Locke) and Nick (Kit Connor) sit on a couch

Whether it's scooting closer to each other in class, walking shoulder to shoulder down the hallways, or lingering a little too long on a goodbye hug, Charlie and Nick find clever ways to initiate physical contact before they admit their feelings to one another. It's almost a game of "chicken" when dealing with a same-sex crush who may or may not be into you. You long for their physical touch, but if you're too forward in your advances, you risk causing an uncomfortable situation. Add in the complexities of teenage hormones, and you've a got a recipe for a whole lot of awkwardness.

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6.Coming Out Once...And Then Coming Out Again and Again

Darcy (Kizzy Edgell) and Tara (Corinna Brown) dance

Best friends turned girlfriends Darcy and Tara are a beacon of hope and inspiration to Nick and Charlie; however, the former pair are not without their own relationship struggles. The young ladies make the difficult decision to come out publicly over Instagram, resulting in adulations of both encouragement and homophobic scorn. While most of their community is supportive, they still have to deal with snickering mean girls calling them "dirty lesbians" behind their backs. It's a reminder that the coming out process is not a one-time deal. Queer people come out over and over and over to every new acquaintance, and the results are not always positive. In 2022, homophobia can still rear its ugly head, even amongst the "woke" youth.

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7.Being Awkward in Public

Nick (Kit Connor) and Charlie (Joe Locke) at an arcade

No matter if it's in school, the bowling alley, the park, or any public space, Nick/Charlie and Darcy/Tara find themselves modifying their behavior to match the comfort of their surroundings. Before coming out, Darcy and Tara can only display their affections in the school's music rehearsal rooms, while Nick and Charlie spend Season 1 continuously looking over their shoulders before initiating any physical touch. The sad fact is that even in so-called "safe spaces," young queer people need to be vigilant of their surroundings.

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8.Your Friends or Our Friends?

Charlie (Joe Locke), Nick (Kit Connor), Elle (Yasmin Finney), Isaac (Tobie Donovan), and Tao (William Gao)

Charlie's friends love nothing more than spending a Saturday night playing board games and watching movies, while Nick's clique would rather participate in some good old-fashioned underage binge drinking at a house party. While Charlie's gang is open-minded and accepts people of varying identities, Nick's comrades are sports-loving jocks who aren't above homophonic and misogynist humor. The two friend groups go together like oil and water, and it's up to Nick to decide whether he'll abandon his macho comrades in favor of Charlie's more sensitive pals. Being "out" not only affects your interpersonal journey, but all the relationships that you form with your peers. As the boys discover, it's easy to be blissfully in love behind closed doors, but much more strenuous amongst peers who may not be enlightened on LGBTQIA+ issues.

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9.Coming Out...And Then Going Back in

Nick (Kit Connor), Harry (Corman-Hyde Corrin), and Charlie (Joe Locke)

Coming out can be a glorious and freeing experience, and also one that can open yourself up to threats of bullying and abuse. After Nick and Charlie affirm their relationship to each other and come out to their close friends, they must still be secretive around the majority of their classmates. The boys continually need to deny their relationship to the homophobic rugby team members, who look for any opportunity to pick on Charlie. It goes to show that sometimes the exit from the closet isn't one-way, but instead a revolving door.

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10.Sometimes Happy Endings Are Possible

Nick (Kit Connor) and Charlie (Joe Lock) embrace on the beach

Season 1 beautifully wraps up with Charlie and Nick embracing on the beach after affirming their official "boyfriend" status. Nick has vowed to come out to his close friends and family, while Charlie is finally secure knowing that he is unapologetically worthy of love. There will undoubtedly be struggles for the two young men ahead (Netflix has confirmed that a second season is on the way), but in this moment, they can just relax and un-fearfully be together.

While the world can sometimes seem like a scary place, especially for members of the LGBTQIA+ community, it's vital to take a page from Charlie and Nick's book and hold close to the ones you care about. While queer relationships can be difficult to navigate, once in a while, you get a heart-stopping moment that makes them all worthwhile.

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