The Nicholas Sparks Guide to Romance

Make this year’s Valentine’s Day unforgettable with ten simple romantic tips we learned from the world of Nicholas Sparks.

Over the past week, Overthinking It readers and contributors rose to the Nicholas Sparks challenge. Ten of you signed up for memberships on February 1, so we collectively watched ten Nicholas Sparks movies and recorded a two hour podcast delving into every corner of this body of work.

The Sparkscast is only available to Overthinking It members who have signed up for access to our digital library, but we have learned so much about love during the course of the last week that we needed to share the highlights with the world before Valentine’s Day. Follow these ten steps that take place in every Nicholas Sparks property, and we guarantee that you will have not only a romantic weekend, but a transcendent romantic eternity.

Spoilers follow for EVERY CURRENT (AND FUTURE) MOVIE BASED ON A NICHOLAS SPARKS BOOK. True insight requires great sacrifice.

1. Let your blue-collar roots show…

longest rideWho’s to say that a simple carpenter can’t find love with an heiress? (The Notebook.) Who’s to say that a simple bull-rider can’t find love with an art student? (The Longest Ride.) Not Nicholas Sparks, that’s for damn sure. Note:  this particular piece of advice is only applicable to men. As far as we can tell from Sparks, blue-collar women are not, like, even a thing.

2. …But don’t forget to show off how cultured and sensitive you are.

last songYou know what’s romantic? Apparently, talking about William Jennings Bryant’s attempt to convert America to the silver standard. (Dear John.) Or pretending that you’ve memorized the opening line of Anna Karenina in the original Russian. (The Last Song.) (As it turns out, though, all Nicholas Sparks movies are unhappy in pretty much the same way.)

3. Surround yourself with old people…pickup

Hollywood worships youth, as is well known. There just aren’t that many good roles out there for actors (and especially actresses) of a certain age. But Nicholas Sparks never got this memo, which is why his supporting casts are littered with AARP members that can act circles around the protagonists: Blythe Danner (The Lucky One), Richard Jenkins (Dear John), James Garner and Gena Rowlands (The Notebook), Darryl Hannah (A Walk to Remember), Alan Alda (The Longest Ride)… we could go on like this for a while, but let’s not stop before we get to PAUL FREAKING NEWMAN (Message in a Bottle), in his antepenultimate feature film role.


Why this helps with romance is anyone’s guess. Maybe the wacky grandma takes on the burden of keeping up the conversation, so that you can focus on standing around looking pretty.

4. … but remember that you yourself can find true love at any age.

That goes for you, 17-year-old Miley Cyrus in The Last Song! It also goes for you, 58-year-old Richard Gere in Nights in Rodanthe! (Not, like, with each other, though. Gross.) The biggest differential is between 40-year-old Josh Duhamel and 24-year-old Julianne Hough in Safe Haven: 16 years.  Which would be creepy, if Duhamel didn’t have some kind of freakish anti-aging gene.

safe haven

5. North Carolina is the most romantic place in the world. Go there now.


beach walk

60% of the Sparks canon takes place on the North Carolina coast. Louisiana comes in second, with two; South Carolina and Georgia account for one a piece. So pretty much the whole hurricane belt is fair game. And once you’re there…

6. Pray for rain.



If The Notebook taught us anything, it’s that romance works better when you’re soaked to the bone. You know who else got this message? The directors of all of the other Nicholas Sparks movies. People kiss in the rain, under showers, in lakes. They share meaningful glances while walking through the surf. When that fails, they settle for being water adjacent: the young lovers in The Best of Me make out on top of a water tower. There are exactly two movies where this kind of thing doesn’t happen at all, and they were his first two:  Message in a Bottle and A Walk to RememberThe Notebook was the third, and we’ve been trying to catch that lightning rain in a bottle ever since.

7. Write sappy declarations of love, by hand, on paper. Lots of them.

Dear John

Write them in notebooks. (The Notebook.) Write them in letters that you send by post. (The Longest Ride, Dear John, Nights in Rodanthe.) Write them in letters to be opened in the event of your death. (Safe Haven, The Best of Me.) Write them in letters that you toss into the ocean. (Message in a Bottle.) Ideally, your letters should reveal you to be a rough-hewn modern poet, but this is optional:  it’s paper and ink that does the trick. If inspiration fails you, just write “swipe right” on some nice stationary.

lucky one

8. Perform feats of romantic strength.

sea turtlesThis is another one just for the guys. You know what women really like? When you make huge, extravagant gestures. Like, build her a telescope by hand, you know? Or save a nest full of endangered turtle eggs. Or leave gifts on her lawn in the middle of the night. Or impulsively use the money you won in a bull-riding contest to buy her a painting. Or build her a house (again by hand). Note that of the movies referenced, maybe one of them bothers to show the leads having a pleasant conversation. The Sparks man doesn’t charm his woman:  he wins her.

9. Make grandiose sacrifices.

you deserve better

“Love requires sacrifice. Always.” This is an actual line of dialogue from The Longest Ride. (They don’t call him Nicholas Subtlety.) Although only men are supposed to perform feats, sacrifice is appealingly unisex. Bye bye, wealth and social standing! (The Notebook.) See you later, my dead dad’s priceless coin collection! (Dear John.) Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, career-making internship in New York! (The Longest Ride.) There’s also, like, six of these where one of the characters decides that he/she is no good for his/her love interest, and tries to perform the ultimate romantic sacrifice by walking away from the relationship. So if you really want to turn up the heat this Valentine’s Day, sell everything you own and tearfully file for divorce.

And then, to really seal the deal…

10. Die.

There are specific gendered versions of this, mind you. If you’re a guy, you want to die suddenly in a last-minute heroic sacrifice that has nothing to do with the plot of the film. (Message in a Bottle: drowned while saving some total randos from a boating accident. Nights in Rodanthe: suffocated when a mudslide hits his Doctors Without Borders clinic. The Best of Me: shot with a sniper rifle by his abusive father just in time for his heart to be transplanted into his love interest’s dying son, and yes this is the plot of an actual movie that had key grips and a theatrical release and everything.)

a walk to remember

If you’re a woman, you want a lingering death from cancer — or every once in a while, just to keep it fresh, from unspecified pregnancy-related frailness. (“Die from cancer” works for a surprising number of the standard Cosmopolitan cover teases. “How to leave your man wanting more!” “How to finally lose those last ten pounds!” “Ten daring sex moves that will leave him speechless!”)

As Dan Savage is fond of pointing out, the only outcome for a romantic relationship that counts as successful in our society is for one of the partners to die. So why not cut to the chase?

Want even more insight about the world of Nicholas Sparks? Sign up for a “Well, Actually…” or “Full Harvey” membership and download our two hour Nicholas Sparks Challenge Podcast today!  

5 Comments on “The Nicholas Sparks Guide to Romance”

  1. Tulse #

    Thanks for taking one for the team, guys.

    While all the snark is fun, I was struck by this:

    60% of the Sparks canon takes place on the North Carolina coast. Louisiana comes in second, with two; South Carolina and Georgia account for one a piece.

    Isn’t it fascinating that these group of films are set in a region that is otherwise pretty much ignored by Hollywood? Seriously, apart from these films, name a movie that was set in this part of the US. Sure, Louisiana gets some love now and then, but largely as a character in itself, and not just a place that people live. And when else will you see the Carolinas depicted in film? I’d be curious to know what you think the significance of the settings are, and whether the Sparks films at least have the virtue of showing off a part of the US that is all but invisible in cinema otherwise.


    • Stokes OTI Staff #

      So Cape Fear, just top of my head, but you make a good point. It would be interesting to see if Sparks’s popularity is in any way regional. This kind of thing does sometimes happen: consider the UK vs. US opening weekends for The Force Awakens (50 million vs. 250 million) and Spectre (63 million vs. 70 million). And the UK has about 1/5 of the US population, so per capita, UK Star Wars attendance is about equal and Bond attendance is way, WAY higher.


      • Stokes OTI Staff #

        As to whether the setting is a virtue in Sparks… nnyyyeeemaybe?

        Most of the films don’t create any real sense of place, at least not to me. It comes through in architectural details and the occasional landscape shot (and they always make a point of telling you), but the cultural demographic feels more like “generic whitebread small-town.”

        But that in itself is a different picture of the south than the one you usually get (which is basically just Gone With the Wind). And I wonder how I’d feel about it if I was from one of those places: maybe there’s local color in the background that rolls right over me because I don’t know what to look for.


      • Tulse #

        Bull Durham! Of course!


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