“Learning Relationships From When Harry Met Sally” Club

Last week I watched one of my favorite movies with my son: When Harry Met Sally.

My freshman year of college in 1992, as a journalism major, my first feature article assignment needed to be based on research but I don’t remember any other constricting guidelines. I know that this was pre-Internet so a Twitter poll was not an option, neither was posting something to Facebook for the entire Freshman class to pontificate about or reply with emojis. No, I did this the old fashioned ways, by writing up a questionnaire and printing out flyers, distributing them and then analyzing the results. Brick and mortar reporting, old school.

The topic for my paper was inspired by my favorite movie at the time When Harry Met Sally. It was “Can men and women be friends?” Eighteen-year-olds eagerly filled out the survey. The overwhelming response from my freshman peers was “of course.”

What’s interesting in retrospect, of course, was my collection of data, all segregated to 18 and 19-year-olds, barely “men” and “women” at all. We only understood innocent juvenile friendships. We weren’t even legal yet, we were barely having sex. Grown up friendships are much more complicated with ripples of layers like intestines. We were privileged kids at a private university in a major city lucky enough to write articles on superfluous studies. People our age in other countries were plowing rice fields or building cars or taking care of farms. In retrospect, I laugh at the luxurious life of my freshman year where romantic comedy cinema served as inspiration for academic enhancement.

25 years later I’ve watched this movie countless times. I quote along with it. My husband and I reenact various scenes as we walk along Manhattan’s Upper West Side. I know the outfits Meg Ryan wears in every scene and have always found a kindred spirit in her restaurant ordering. I realize this movie had a substantial impact on setting my relationship precedent; it planted the seeds for how I approached every future male-female relationship. Even if I had a male platonic friend, at the back of my mind I had the Harry Burns’ philosophy: even if you’re not having sex, the man will most likely think about or want to have sex with the woman.

“What if the man doesn’t find the woman attractive?” Sally asks.

“Oh, you pretty much want to sleep with them too,” Harry answers.

I’m sure millennials find this concept outrageous; many of them stylishly tout best friends of the opposite sex. And while I agree these relationships might be exemplary examples of friendships, I’d also wager to bet nature’s biological intervention inadvertently controls our sex hormones -and at one point or another, there will be a sexual thought or consideration or experiment. Sometimes sexual attraction can evolve from the familiarity and comfort of friendship as much as in unpredictable and novelty of a new partner. Friendship leads to love and as those lines blur, so do emotions, which occasionally take on a life of their own.

Ideally, I’ve always wanted to find a best friend who also “gets it off the couch” for me. (Based on Patty Stanger’s philosophy from Millionaire Matchmaker.) I’ve read articles which advised NOT to marry your best friend and others which plead the opposite. While it could be a lot of pressure on your partner to fulfill both jobs as your BFF and fuck buddy, it’s a hell of a lot more convenient.

Last week as I rewatched, this time with my 14-year-old son next to me, the evolution of time seemed more apparent. This movie became my relationship default yet now I wondered if it would feel like an obscure Casablanca reference to my teenager.

Before the Internet and Bluetooth and Instagram, a couple drove across the country together, had a conversation and learned about one another. This couple took risks, formed a sincere friendship, lived a life separate from one another, and came together, growing in love, rather than falling in love when life’s timing was right.

Maybe When Harry Met Sally was from an era before text and FaceTime, but its message is as relevant as ever. Whether it was intended or not, I received a kind of relationship tutorial, planting seeds for future interactions with the opposite sex and inspiring patience for knowing when you’ve found the one “…like you know about a good melon.”

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