When Dawson’s Creek first premiered in 1998, I was just starting the eigth grade, one year younger than the show’s characters who would become my best friends. The day after it aired, my pals and I got to fighting about who was most like Joey. I won because we shared the same collection of Abercrombie zip-up hoodies with arms that we both self-consciously pulled down over our hands, and because I had already printed the lyrics to “I Don’t Want to Wait” off of Yahoo and hung them up in my locker.
This was before Katie became Tom-Kat and before Dawson was in on his own joke. It was just me and Joey Potter, navigating adolescence together. She taught me that if you were coy, emotionally withholding, and smiled with only one side of your mouth, then a boy would buy you a wall.
Joey was the manic-pixie-dream-girl-next-door. She was beautiful, broken and brainy and she showed us quirky chicks that over-analyzation could be cute (it’s not). She made all of us late-bloomers believe that we too could be discovered. We’d sit on park benches with nerdy books, walk solemnly past the popular boys in the cafeteria, and wait for our turn to be noticed by a brooding filmmaker with unruly bangs. If it could happen for the waifish girl with a bad dye job from the wrong side of the bay, then why couldn’t we have a perfectly story-boarded first kiss?
Dawson’s Creek made talking about feelings totally de rigueur. It taught a new breed of baby feminists that emotions should be valued, as long as they were expressed through awkwardly big words. We spent afternoons perfecting our lingering looks, our lower lip bites and our bedroom eyes, only to realize that once we started boozing in college, all of these skills would become obsolete. Dawson’s Creek gave us the training wheels we needed to wax poetic about sex without having it and gave our boyfriends major complexes because they couldn’t compete with the men of Capeside. Not even the gay guy.
When the show ended after six beautiful seasons, I cried more than I ever have at a funeral (RIP Jen Lindley – miss you, girl!) It wasn’t just that I wouldn’t have my American Eagle-clad friends around anymore (though that was a very embarrassing part of it). I went into mourning for future generations of girls who wouldn’t have the same sentimental role models I did to teach them how to feel, use their SAT words improperly and hold their booty calls to higher standards. I guess they’ll always have Teen Moms for that.