There comes a time in every fictional love triangle when you have to choose a side. The best love triangles are the ones that make doing so incredibly difficult. The ones where you’re constantly switching your allegiance. The kind of love triangle where both options are easy to get behind as endgame. This is the type of love triangle that lives at the center of Netflix’s new teen rom-com series Never Have I Ever. (Note: Spoilers for the entirety of season one lie ahead.)
High-school sophomore Devi Vishwakumar makes it clear from the get-go that she’s on the hunt for a “stone-cold hottie who can rock [her] all night long.” Throughout the course of the ten-episode season, she gets much more than that. Never Have I Ever is, yes, about Devi processing her grief after her father’s sudden death eight months prior, and her tenuous relationship with her mother, but it is very much a teenager’s coming of age story and teenagers are horny as hell, so Devi’s story is also about boys.
The two boys who form the triangle in Devi’s love story are objective dreamboat Paxton Hall-Yoshida and Devi’s nemesis Ben Gross. Both are completely viable options, but there can only be one for Devi in the end. If you find yourself questioning who should be victorious in this love triangle — Team Paxton or Team Ben — never fear. We did a very important and highly scientific love triangle analysis which pits both options in head-to-head matchups in a variety of rom-com-related categories to figure out who really is the best choice for Devi. I hate to say it, but there is a clear winner and this choice is definitive and final. That’s science for ya.
Category: Romantic Relationship Trope
Paxton H-Y: Paxton Hall-Yoshida, your typical hot jock character, sets up the classic nerd/jock pairing for Devi. Nerd/jock love stories always play well and I’m not just saying that because my first crush was Saved By the Bell’s A.C. Slater and he fell for brainy Jessie Spano (but I’m not not saying that either). Nerd/jock pairings work because the two people push each other to be the best versions of themselves. (Have you seen Sixteen Candles, Grease, or She’s All That? You get it.) This is a great sign for Paxton’s viability as Devi’s love interest because hello, who doesn’t like watching a jock fall for a nerd? It’s why the surprise season five pairing of Sawyer and Juliet became Lost’s best coupling and I will hear no arguments otherwise.
Ben Gross: Although the nerd/jock setup is a strong one, do not count out Ben Gross, Devi’s lifelong rival. They are extremely mean to each other. Okay, fine, Ben is definitely meaner to Devi in the beginning, but she dishes it out, too, and therefore I have no qualms rooting for Ben and Devi to realize that their hatred for one another is actually long-simmering sexual tension because they understand each other in a way no one else does. “Falling For Your Sworn Enemy” is another rom-com standby in both TV and film (You’ve Got Mail, 10 Things I Hate About You, The Proposal, Ben and Leslie on Parks and Recreation) and it, too, plays.
Winner: Nerd/jock pairings are swoony, but nothing beats the heat of watching arch rivals realize they have it bad for each other. Ben Gross takes round one.
Category: Swoon Factor
Paxton H-Y: Paxton Hall-Yoshida is like, 94 percent Swoon. He gets not one but two slo-mo entrances in the first episode. Just the sight of him cures Devi’s psychosomatic paralysis. If that’s not major swoon power, what is? He also does things like: Look at Devi in such a broodily handsome way that I, a woman in my 30s, felt weak in the knees; spend an entire day helping his sister with a fashion shoot; rescue Devi from physical danger twice; warn Devi of his chest hair stubble; not be turned off when Devi uses the phrase “pleasure each other”; compliment Devi when she’s feeling uncomfortable in her sari. I mean, the list goes on.
Ben Gross: This is a hard category to judge because a person’s swoon factor is extremely subjective. Ben Gross is not meant to be typically swoony — look at his name! — but these are moments Ben Gross felt very swoony to me: When he realizes Devi’s anger toward him was about “something bigger” and asks how her date went; when he teases Devi about them both being unlikable; when he decides not to out Devi to her mom for going ballistic at the Model U.N. and instead uses puns (puns!!) to cover for her; his entire Grand Gesture (we’ll get to it); when he buys a frappuccino for Gears Brosnan, a robot who wasn’t even invited to his coffee outing.
Winner: Objectively speaking, and because Ben’s handle on Reddit is “AreolaGrande007,” this has to go to Paxton.
Category: Humanizing Backstory That Reveals There Is So Much More to Him
Paxton H-Y: Any rom-com worth its weight will eventually reveal that the hot, popular guy is more than just hot and popular — he is a human with feelings! Peter Kavinsky has his daddy issues, Mr. Darcy has his sister, etcetera. So, from the time Paxton Hall-Yoshida shows up you know that eventually we’ll learn that there is more to this “teenage Adonis” than excellent bone structure. Paxton has a sister of whom he is sweetly, if not aggressively, overprotective. Paxton is sensitive about being a less-than-average student. Finally, Paxton Hall-Yoshida has never met an Uncrustable he didn’t like, which is perhaps the most human thing about him.
Ben Gross: If you’re going to do a “sworn enemies fall for each other” love story, there must be a moment when the enemy is shown to be vulnerable and worthy of the protagonist in order for that turn to work believably — Beauty and the Beast has an entire song dedicated to this exact phenomenon. Never Have I Ever gives Ben Gross not just a humanizing moment, but an entire episode to show he’s more than just a dick to Devi, he’s a lonely kid who overcompensates for being ignored at home by being an overachieving braggart at school. Although his and Devi’s love story is telegraphed from the moment he’s introduced, (it’s all very Danny Castellano–Mindy Lahiri, come on, guys!), it’s probably not until he’s crying at Nalini’s dermatology office with a giant zit on his face that you’re 100 percent on board with Ben and Devi’s pairing.
Winner: This show is rooting for Ben Gross and so am I!
Category: Choice of Nickname for Protagonist
Paxton H-Y: Okay, even Devi admits that Paxton’s “Little D” nickname for her sucks, but he also refers to her as “Vishwakumar” and everyone knows that if the hot guy you’re into calls you by your last name he is yours forever should you want that.
Ben Gross: Ben likes to call Devi “David” and he’s also the one who decided to call Devi’s friend group “The U.N.” because they’re “unfuckable nerds.” In the words of an esteemed teen rom-com film, “that was way harsh, Tai.” His commitment to being a dick is both impressive and revealing of his deep-seated romantic feelings. He doth protest too much and all that.
Winner: Hot guys calling love interests by their last names is a rom-com cliché for a reason, people. Paxton H-Y takes this category handily.
Category: The Grand Gesture
Paxton H-Y: Paxton gets two romantic gestures throughout the course of the season: First, when Devi’s attacked by a coyote, he wastes no time running to pull her off the ground and get her to the hospital. That’s a lot of quick thinking for a teenage boy! At Ben’s birthday party, when Devi falls into the pool after embarrassing herself in spectacular fashion, he rushes to pull her out of the water. Then he gets her dry clothes and drives her home and asks her if she’s okay before planting a big ol’ kiss on her. What an astounding level of maturity!
Ben Gross: First, it should be noted that both times Paxton rescues Devi, we see Ben motion as if he wants to help Devi, but he is too slow for Paxton Hall-Yoshida. Is it because he’s scared it will reveal his true feelings? You decide! (But also, yes.) This missed opportunity doesn’t matter because Ben’s Grand Gesture, although less overtly gallant than Paxton’s, is rooted in something deeper. When he realizes Devi has refused to join her mother in spreading her dad’s ashes in Malibu because she’s stubborn and angry and hurting, he gathers her best friends to have them talk some sense into her, and then drives her to Malibu even though he only has his permit and is scared to drive on the highway. And then he waits around just to make sure she’s okay. Ben is playing for keeps.
Winner: It’s a close call because a fairy tale prince-like coyote attack rescue deserves recognition, but Ben’s gesture shows a deeper understanding of who Devi is and what she needs. Ben Gross wins.
Category: Importance of the Big Blow Up
Paxton H-Y: Every great rom-com relationship will, at some point, force the love interests into a major conflict that could potentially destroy their Happily Ever After. The best of these conflicts are the ones that force the protagonist into a self-realization moment, and that’s exactly how Devi and Paxton’s big dust up goes once Paxton learns Devi’s been lying and telling people that she and Paxton are having sex. He calls Devi out on using him. When the laid-back cool guy is calling you out, you know something is wrong.
Ben Gross: This is clearly the Model U.N. incident. It’s not the first time a rom-com has let a Model U.N. conference be upended by feelings (please also see the season four Parks and Recreation episode “The Treaty”), nor will it be the last — it’s always hilarious. Here, Devi reneges on an alliance she made with Ben after a rather vulnerable conversation and, dare I say, enjoyable adventure together, and nukes the hell out him during the Security Council discussions. You see, Devi has learned that Paxton found out she told people they had sex and she has decided to blame Ben for that. Obviously, her anger is very much about other things, as it usually is.
Winner: Although the Model U.N. stuff is great, Paxton calling Devi out on her shit is helpful in her story arc. The Paxton corner of this triangle gets the upper hand here.
Paxton H-Y: Sorry not sorry but rom-com kisses, especially first kisses, are very important to love triangle analysis! Maybe the most important!! Paxton surprises Devi with a kiss after he drops her off at home post-pool incident after a car ride full of him perhaps seeing her in a new and different way? This is a huge turning point in this relationship because although Paxton tells Devi he’ll see her at school on Monday, he shows up at her house the very next day to “return her dress” (it was soaked from the pool, remember) which is totally a “I Really Like You and Want to Spend Time With You But Am Not Ready to Say It” move if I ever saw one.
Ben Gross: Oh, boy, okay, you guys. After Ben’s Grand Gesture in which he gets Devi to the beach so she doesn’t miss spreading her dad’s ashes just because she’s being a real teenage asshole and also dealing with her grief in misguided ways, Devi walks back up to the road and finds that Ben has been waiting in his car the entire time. This blows her teenage mind. “You stayed,” she says, floored. He just wanted to make sure she was okay. Devi grabs that boy’s face and kisses him as if it is the first time she truly sees him for who he is. Anyway, my heart exploded and I’m a ghost now.
Winner: Ben Gross comes a long way from his ill-advised attempt to kiss Devi in his family’s screening room to completely take this category with zero hesitation.
Let’s hear it for the uptight asses who are actually kind and thoughtful but just scared to be vulnerable! All lovers of love triangles should be happy to see that Paxton Hall-Yoshida puts up a good fight, but there is a reason Ben Gross gets the big finale kiss: He’s the right choice. He’s the one to whom Devi lets her guard down repeatedly. She’s let him see who she really is. Although, if you’re a do-or-die Team Paxton member, there’s no reason to give up the fight: As Devi’s having her make-out session with Ben, Paxton is looking for her at her house, after admitting that he does have real feelings for the weird girl who propositioned him for sex. But until further evidence is provided, this love triangle analysis is closed: Devi & Ben 4Eva. May he rock her all night long.