When Harry Met Sally; an ode to the situationship

One of ‘When Harry Met Sally’s’ most iconic frames perfectly captures the pair’s dynamic. Publicity artwork courtesy of Columbia Pictures. 

“You may be the first attractive woman I have not wanted to sleep with in my entire life.”

Harry Burns, When Harry Met Sally

1989’s When Harry Met Sally follows two friends, Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan). After college, the pair carpools from Chicago to New York, each planning to start a life there. The two immediately butt heads, and decide to go their separate ways when Harry makes a pass at Sally. After being rejected, he explains how men and women can’t be friends, because sex will always get in the way. Years later, they end up sitting next to each other on a plane. Harry is engaged to be married to Helen (Harley Jane Kozak), and Sally is in a flourishing relationship with a man named Joe (Steven Ford). They continue to bicker, and assume that they will never see each other again after their landing. The two continue to live their lives, Helen eventually leaves Harry, and Joe and Sally break up. Six years after their flight, Harry and Sally meet again in a bookstore. They catch up and take a walk around the city, at the end of which Sally asks Harry if he would like to go to dinner with her. This begins a 12 year friendship between the two, while they both still struggle to get over their previous relationships. Eventually, Harry and Sally sleep together, jeopardizing their friendship, and causing them to go their separate ways. 

Sally has been proven wrong, and they both immediately regret the night spent together. 

“But I’d like the pie heated, and I don’t want the ice cream on top, I want it on the side, and I’d like strawberry instead of vanilla if you have it. If not, then no ice cream, just whipped cream but only if it’s real. If it’s out of a can, then nothing.”

Sally Albright, When Harry Met Sally

Now, as February 14th approaches, boyfriends, husbands — and friends — are buying chocolates, flowers, stuffed animals, cards, making reservations, all for their special someone. 

With this in mind, I want to discuss how When Harry Met Sally provides a perfect snapshot into a time when the dating scene was beginning to become what it is today, with a new informality and reluctance to assign a label to two people who may very clearly be in love with each other. Instead, we use terms like “the talking stage” or “situationship”, phases that can last for months, without a guarantee of exclusivity or a true label. This can often complicate or ruin relationships, with unclear boundaries causing confusion, and often heartbreak, when really the purpose is to get to know each other before committing to a full-blown relationship.

When Harry Met Sally is riddled with talking heads from older couples telling their stories; how they met, their wedding usually following soon after. Harry and Sally, however, did not follow this structure. With 12 years of friendship under their belts before even realizing they love each other, Harry and Sally needed to know one another before they knew they wanted to spend their lives together. 

We tend to be picky with those who we choose to spend our time with, just like that apple pie.

“When I buy a new book, I read the last page first. That way, in case I die before I finish, I know how it ends. That, my friend, is a dark side.”

Harry Burns, When Harry Met Sally

Spoilers ruin everything. We can sometimes go to great lengths in order to avoid spoilers, avoiding social media, plugging our ears, evading anyone who may accidentally ruin the surprise. 

Harry Burns, however, loves a good spoiler. 

Harry does not miss a beat — especially with women. Even with Sally, he wanted to read that last page before ever getting to know her. When he realized they could not be together after first meeting, he gave up, and planned to never see her again after their road trip. Luckily though, Harry had to actually know Sally before understanding how their story ends. 

Nobody can predict the future.

“When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

Harry Burns, When Harry Met Sally

So, when it comes to dating, maybe slower is better. Get to know a person. Become friends. Maybe this new reluctance to rush into courtship or even marriage will create more lasting relationships. Understand what you love about a person before you commit to them. These “situationships” provide opportunities for people to form stronger, and hopefully, healthier relationships. 

Don’t try to force it — let your relationships play out. When you realize you want someone, you’ll find yourself doing everything you can to commit yourself to them. It won’t be forced, but genuine and easy. 

We all start somewhere. For Harry and Sally, it was a trip from Chicago to New York. Neither of them could have predicted where they would end up. For most, it’s the confusing, and sometimes stressful, talking stage. 

Jackson Wezeman is a staff editor for Oswego East’s online news magazine The Howl

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