Can Men and Women Be Friends? After 30 Years of When Harry Met Sally, We Still Don’t Know

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Can Men and Women Be Friends? After 30 Years of When Harry Met Sally, We Still Don’t Know

Illustration: Akshita Monga

I swear to god, Meg Ryan taught me how to fake it. I bet she taught a lot of women how to fake it with that symphony of purrs, moans, and screams of pleasure in that unforgettable deli scene in When Harry Met Sally. It was a growl that reverberated around the world. The battle cry of women who just can’t muster the energy to tell the man that the treasure is buried one inch east of the crest, not two inches north. Sigh.  

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Nothing can be standing in the way, and it can still take two people 11 years to click into place.

Castle Rock Entertainment/ Nelson Entertainment

We’re almost as old as each other, the movie and I. It’s the rom-com that launched my first teenage crush. I was 16, he was 17. It was as if my heart would spontaneously decide to bungee jump every time he dimpled in my direction. Without a safety harness, that too. Obviously, our brains and bodies were being attacked by hormones from every direction. He had managed to finagle a DVD of the film from a video library. R-rated English film DVDs were hard to come by in those days. Then came the harder part of procuring a laptop with a DVD slot. He spent a month’s pocket money in holding on to it until we could work out the kinks of our romantic plans. A friend took pity and opened up her home to us. There would be hell to pay for, if her parents found out that a boy had sneaked into the home while they were at work. They didn’t, thankfully. Love was hard, in those days. It required effort, meticulous planning, fairy godmothers and a great deal of risk-taking. By the time Harry was postulating over how men and women can never be friends, we were shyly holding hands. I had my first kiss at, “When you realise you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” I’d probably have kissed him even if he didn’t make my heart do somersaults. That dialogue was made to make you melt into a puddle of emotion. The kiss was inevitable, really. 

Love was hard, in those days. It required effort, meticulous planning, fairy godmothers and a great deal of risk-taking.

That was half my lifetime ago. At 32, I have a relationship-weary, battle-hardened heart. And yet, I’ve come to accept that secret twinge every time Harry tells Sally he’s not lonely, he’s in love with her. Perhaps it really does work that way. Perhaps, every once in a while, the universe does find a way for the neurotic girl who agonises over her sandwich order and the man who fumbles with his feelings to keep crashing into each other until they find each other. Like really find each other. Without Harry, Sally isn’t adorably eccentric, she’s annoyingly “high maintenance”. And without Sally, Harry isn’t satirical, he’s just crotchety. Maybe the secret sauce of romance is the alchemy of mutually compatible prickliness. Jagged edges that somehow, magically, fit. You know? Maybe, when you realise you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you really do want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible. But men and women can be friends. The sex part doesn’t always get in the way. Does it? Oh, who the hell knows.

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Without Harry, Sally isn’t adorably eccentric, she’s annoyingly “high maintenance”. And without Sally, Harry isn’t satirical, he’s just crotchety.

Castle Rock Entertainment/ Nelson Entertainment

Anyone who’s seen When Harry Met Sally as many times as I have will tell you this: its genius evolves and matures as you (hopefully) do. Nora Ephron’s masterpiece — I truly believe that between When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless In Seattle, and Julie and Julia, Ephron has said everything that needed to be said about the kind of love most of us are yearning for without always knowing it — swirls in the corners of your brain long after lofty ideas of love have left the building. Harry and Sally’s unlikely romance tale stands the test of time not because of an animalistic attraction, but because of the tango of words and the very right kind of silences they find themselves locked in, from the very start. Wonder schlongs are all well and good, but when you’re bawling in the middle of the night over the ex who finds his forever in the person who comes right after you — oh, the wretchedness of realising that their “transitional person” is actually The One — you need someone who can tell you you’re challenging, not difficult. And mean it. It’s a special kind of magic when the person you can argue all night long with over who should have stayed with whom at the end of Casablanca is the same person you can sit with contentedly, without having to talk. Sometimes that person is balding and a bit ornery — or punctilious and kooky — and nothing like you ever imagined. Sometimes, the road to love is not so much filled with obstacles as it is meandering. Nothing can be standing in the way, and it can still take two people 11 years to click into place. To realise that they’re meant to be. That they were always meant to be. Harry and Sally are lovers long before they have sex, they’re just the last ones to know it. In a world that feels like you’re only ever swiping without pause, perhaps it’s a story that helps us hold on to that last remaining kernel of hope in your own meant to be. 

I’ll have what she’s having, too. 

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