The O.C. - Seth Cohen Was Wrong About Everything (& That’s Okay) | Explained

The O.C.’s Seth Cohen is an iconic heartthrob of the early 2000s. He was cute and awkward and always had a hilarious quip ready to go. But as the show celebrates the 20th anniversary of the end of its mega-hit first season, we can look back and realize that Seth was actually… wrong about a lot. His mindset hindered him in so many ways – but many of his faults were also what made him so relatable to many at the time. So let’s take a look back at Seth Cohen, what he got wrong about life, and why his growth was so important for him and us.

“Well this should be great… really great, and not at all awkward.”

Bad Boyfriend

Many viewers dreamed about dating Seth Cohen at the time – but the reality is that he was a very bad boyfriend. Even before he started dating anyone, he was clearly giving “Nice Guy” vibes – even naming his boat after Summer Roberts, who he was too afraid to even talk to. And then when he does start talking to girls… things don’t get much better.

“Do I force a confrontation or do I just continue to be whiny and passive-aggressive until she realizes what a catch I am?”

It’s not necessarily surprising that a teen who had never even really had a proper conversation with a girl prior to when we meet him on the show (much less dated anyone) isn’t immediately a great boyfriend. But Seth’s bad relationship deeds go far beyond just regular ‘figuring things out.’

“I think it’s because of me. I can’t believe I caused a girl to leave the state. The county, maybe, sure. Fine.”

So much of Seth’s behavior in relationships is full of red flags looking back, from love bombing to negging. And his biggest problem seems to be that he likes the idea of getting what he wants, but has no idea how to actually deal with it once he has it…

“No, closure is overrated. I’m more a fan of open-ended, unrequited love.”

Seth had been pining over Summer since they were kids – he saw her as the pinnacle of ‘hot girl he could never hope to get.’ But when his life gets shaken up by the addition of bad boy Ryan Atwood – who falls for Marissa Cooper, Summer’s best friend – all of a sudden he has an in. And while Summer is initially not interested, as they spend more time together she does start to fall for him. But one they do finally get together, it’s not happily ever after, because Seth can’t help but screw things up. Part of this is due to his insecurity (which we’ll unpack in a sec) but a big part of it is his ego. Even though he says he loves Summer, he clearly sees her as beneath him…

“Despite all of my best judgments, I cannot not like her.”

And once they get together it’s like that’s when he realizes other girls are out there and he wants to explore. When transfer student Anna shows up – and shares some of Seth’s nerdier interests – he can’t decide between the two.

“I don’t know. No female has ever really offered me a choice… I really only know how to handle rejection and ridicule.”

But instead of taking a step back and figuring out what he wants… he decides to just string them both along. He’s indecisive because deep down he thinks he should be able to have everything he wants – why should he have to choose just one girl?

“Let me start by saying nothing in my life, nothing, prepared me for the events of the fateful Thanksgiving Day. But I’m not gonna make any excuses for what I did. I just wanna say one little thing in my defense, which is, you can’t really blame me for wanting the company of either of you two.”

It’s not inconceivable that a teen who has gone from outcast nerd to having two pretty girls interested in him in the span of a school semester would get caught up in how nice it is to feel wanted – but the fact that he then chooses to continue to string them both along to feed his own ego is a big problem.

Seth often goes with what’s easiest rather than doing the actual work to get what he wants. He spent all of that time pining after Summer instead of actually trying to talk to her, and then when he’s torn between Summer and Anna he makes his choice not based on desire but just on who happens to show up. After he and Anna break up, then he decides to go back to Summer.

“Because the whole reason that we broke up, is ’cause for me… it’s always been you, Summer. It’s always been you, Summer.”

But even after his declaration of love, it’s not smooth sailing for the couple. They seem to finally be in a good place, but when Ryan decides to go back to Chino, Seth takes off on his boat for three months leaving Summer nothing but a note. He was understandably shaken by Ryan’s departure (and is, after all, only a teen trying to deal with a lot of big emotions) but to totally ghost Summer after they finally started to make things work was not cool. When he comes back, Summer has (rightfully) started moving on – and Seth does too, dating Alex… but even though he’s seeing someone else, he can’t stand the fact that Summer is with someone else. And so, of course, he wedges his way into her relationship with Zack until it’s ruined and she’s free to come back to him.

You would think that, after all of this, Seth would finally get it together and be the dreamy boyfriend he should be… but in reality he continues to let his attitude and poor choices cause problems in their relationship. He often puts Summer down, and when she gets a better score on the SATs and accepted to Brown while he doesn’t, he can’t even fathom it. As much as he might have desired Summer, he always saw her as beneath him, so realizing that she was actually the smart, capable one the whole time totally shook his world. But, thankfully, Seth does show growth by the end of the series. Once he realizes how important Summer’s activist work is to her – and how great she is at it – he pushes her to pursue her dreams even if it means they have to be apart.

I just wanted you to keep doing what you’re doing because I think it’s pretty amazing. So if you don’t hear from me for a while it’s not because I don’t love you. It’s because I do.


Seth was a stereotypical hipster nerd – he felt like everyone looked down on him for the things he liked, while simultaneously looking down on everyone else for their tastes. To be fair, comic books, video games, and indie music weren’t as widely accepted back then.

“This is a nightmare! I’m sweating to death, driving ten miles an hour in, like, a rickshaw, listening to this… music.” “Do not insult Death Cab.”

And many of his nerdier interests were seen as something for only the dweebiest of dweebs.

“So when you lost your virginity, I was playing Magic: The Gathering.” “You still play Magic…” “Yeah, but not as much.

But Seth was constantly prickly about matters of taste, always assuming everyone else’s must be worse than his – and if someone had the same interests or knowledge it must be some kind of trick. His assumptions led him to keep up a wall that made it much more difficult for him to realize that he actually had a lot of common ground with all of these people he felt were so different from.

“Oh yeah? Well, what about The Cramps? Sticky Little Fingers? The Clash? The Sex Pistols?” “I listen to the same music as Marissa Cooper?”

Thankfully, as he begins opening up to people he comes around to the idea that he can have friends and that he can relate to his peers in surprising ways.

“Who’s this?” “No one.” “‘I’m not no one.’” “Princess Sparkle. What do you want?” “She’s Captain Oats’ type.”

He also learns that all of those people he thought were impossibly cool also have weird quirks and insecurities just like him.

“The other night, when we had sex… You weren’t the only virgin in the room.” “There was someone else in the room? Like, filming us?” “Me, jackass.”

Bad Friend

Seth was an awkward teen who had a hard time making friends

“Do you want to play Grand Theft Auto? It’s pretty cool. You can like, steal cars and… not that that’s cool. Or uncool. I don’t know…”

But, just like with his love life, once he does have friends, we realize that the problem wasn’t always just everyone else. Because he had shut himself off from his peers for so long, he had convinced himself that he was a loner because all of his peers were too cool to hang out with him, but the reality is that he never really tried reaching out and making connections, either.

“I’ve lived next door to you forever and you’ve never done or said anything to me.” “Oh my god, you’re the one that never talks to me! You think you’re so much better than everyone.”

And even with how much he resented his own outsider status, he had no problem making other people feel left out. He was so focused on himself that he often didn’t even really realize that he was treating people the way he complained everyone else was treating him.

Even though Ryan was usually struggling with significantly bigger issues, Seth always wanted the focus to be on him. Ryan became kind of like his part-time therapist and guide through normal-people-world, but Seth often forgot that friendships should be reciprocal.

“So do you want to tell me about your night, or – since I heard about it – can we just skip to my breakup with Anna?”

But with Ryan’s help he was able to grow into a better – if not perfect – friend.

Hiding Behind Humor

Seth was constantly making jokes to hide his true feelings or avoid a difficult conversation. This is something most of us do to some degree – and it also led to some great lines.

“What about my best friend?!” “Princess Sparkle is freaking out?” “Marissa, dumbass.” “Oh. I always get those two confused. They both have really shiny hair.”

But it was also a major hindrance to his ability to form real, deep relationships and grow as a person. He leaned on his sense of humor as a crutch to the point where he kind of couldn’t turn it off.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m just having an allergic reaction to the universe.”

And this is because for a long time, trying to make a joke of things was the only way he could deal with all of the parts of his life that he was unhappy with. He couldn’t figure out how to change things, so he tried to just laugh it all off. This habit also has a sharper edge, though, because he also often used his jokes to be rather rude to the people around him, under the guise of light humor. (But then, of course, was always afraid to be honest when it really mattered.) But once he stopped using his keen sense of humor only as a shield, he was also able to use it to uplift others and build connections.

“I hate them.” “Me too. So what do you say you come with me. We’ll hang out and we’ll just quietly mock people?”

(And, to be fair to Seth, sometimes humor was the only answer to the ridiculous 2000s soap opera plotlines he was living through…)

“Me and Marissa, we could be related. I don’t know. I can’t even do that math. But the real kicker is: Julie Cooper? My grandma. My grandma wears Uggs. Think about it.”

Self-Centered & Insecure: Not a Great Combo…

Seth’s self-centeredness and insecurity made a pretty bad combination – for him and everyone else around him. He very seldom stopped to think about how his actions might affect anyone else – he seemed to tell himself it was because what he did didn’t really matter to anyone else, but really it was just because he was always the most concerned with himself.

“So I didn’t even get a review at all? Not that I read my own press. But I mean, nothing involving thumbs or stars or…”

From disappearing without telling his parents or Summer to being bored by his mother’s intervention, Seth’s focus was always Seth’s feelings above all else. Putting yourself first certainly isn’t always a bad thing, but Seth outright ignored everyone else’s wants and needs to the detriment of his relationships with them. And his self absorbed nature meant that he often didn’t even notice he was doing it… and if he did, he didn’t really see it as a bad thing.

“Please dude, I just need to talk about me for like, several more hours at least!” “I thought you didn’t do that anymore.” “That was the new Seth Cohen. I’m back, Ryan.”

He has no problem being dishonest for his own gain, even if it means lying to the people he’s closest to – though he often finds a way to justify it, like when he just doesn’t tell Summer the truth that his comic book publisher with an androgynous name is a woman who he’s flirty with. He’s also careless with things that are important to those around him that he doesn’t feel invested in personally (like when he accidentally burnt down the Newport Group building during his “weed addiction” arc.)


Despite his many, many faults, Seth became a beloved character because the good person underneath always managed to shine through.

“Hang on a second. Ryan. Um, it seems to me that what we have here is a Chrismukkah miracle.”

And while some of his quirks might have been grating, he was a pretty realistic representation of a loner teen nerd of that era (well, except for the fact that he lowkey looked like a model… but, I mean, it was Orange County.)

Sure, he was immature, but he was literally a child – given that he was played by grown adult Adam Brody, it can be easy to forget that Seth was only 16 at the start of the show.

“Shh, we’re being stealth!”

Looking back at any of us at 16, we quickly realize that we were wrong about so many things – and that’s the beauty of growing up. You get the chance to learn from your mistakes and change for the better. And over the course of The O.C.’s four seasons, Seth started doing just that. He was never the perfect guy, but he did evolve into a better (if not less annoying) person.

“Shut up, Cohen.” “Hey, you punched me. My baby’s back!”