Monday, July 21, 2014

A Different Take on 'The Thesis That Launched a Thousand Sitcoms'

The quarter-century that has passed since Nora Ephron's classic means that any number of When Harry Met Sally... thinkpieces now litter your interwebs like husks of failed rom-com writers. Of course, I also have a take, but I wanted to try something a little, different.

EDIT NOTE: So, I actually published this under a different title first, so if you saw that version, I'm sorry. After hitting the go button, I stumbled across a tab I'd opened while researching and never actually checked. Mark Harris, over at Grantland, wrote a mind-numbingly brilliant thinkpiece on the film here: "When Harry Met Annie". Not only is that article neuron-melting, it also included the gem of a phrase I'm quoting in my new one.

Just Another Movie Night...

"It Had to Be You" bubblegummed through the sparse, poorly lit loft that functioned as James's apartment. He tapped the start button on the controller, tossing it next to the other game peripherals.

"I still can't believe you hadn't seen it," Sarah chirped from her perch inside the twelve-year old bean bag chair. She picked her way out of the erupting cotton stuffing and around the peculiar pointy bits of indeterminate origin.

He made a noise between a non-committal grunt and a non-committal harrumph as he made his way to the refrigerator.

"Want one?"

"More zin, please," she requested.

"It's been four years. I think it's time to get over that shitty piss you call wine," he hollered even as he poured her third glass.

"How exactly," she called back, "does one create urine with feces elements?"

He gathered the drinks and returned to the couch, gesturing for her to take the end opposite the gaming gear. He handed her the wine and set his whiskey on the table as he cleared off the controllers by dumping them unceremoniously on the floor.

"Funny you should ask," he started.

"Not really," she added.

"Anyway, as it turns out, 'shitty piss' would likely stem from a perforated intestine that leaked fecal matter into the kidneys via the blood stream or directly."

"Were you waiting for me to ask that? Through ninety-six minutes of witty, heart-rending, Eighties' comedy?"

"No," he actually blushed. "I just know that sort of thing. Sometimes I think without talking."

"Not often," she quipped.

"You know what I--"

"Yeah," she settled into the single remaining upholstered cushion and pointed back at the frozen television.

"Oh, I have a notification," he said, turning his attention to the console.

"That's not," she started.

"I know, but seriously, lemme just check it real quick. Ok. Yeah. That was a waste of time. Sorry," he apologized. He paused and downed a slug of Red Label. "I dunno about the movie, Sarah."

"You liked it," she prodded him with her foot. "Don't lie."

"It's good, shit, the writing. It's good. It's good. I just, I don't know, the central premise."

"You think guys and girls can be just friends?"

He made the universal "you said it not me" and included the optional shrug. His here and there with the whiskey glass left no doubt.

"We're just friends," she said.

"And we have been for what, nine years, eight, no, nine years now."

She kicked her shoes off and set her feet on his lap. He swallowed the rest of his whiskey and turned his attention to her calves to start.

"And you don't secretly want to bone me?" she asked.

"Nope. And you've never secretly wanted to get in on all the action I literally never have to even tell you about?"

His thumbs circled her ankle, one firm against the heel. With a gun to her head, she'd admit the next sound she made was something like a whimper. She closed her eyes. She'd wear flats if only the damn things made her legs look even one-fourth as hot as heels did.

"Uh, Saja?" he didn't stop the massage, but his eyebrow was up when she looked back at him.

"Yeah, no. Of course not. Most of the time."

"Don't troll," he chided, threatening to withhold foot rubs.

She held her hands out, palms up. "I don't."

He went back to working on her arches.

"But I couldn't say I never have," she admitted.

"Why never say--"

"Oh come on. Don't even, let's talk about the movie."

"I, uh, kinda think I want to talk about this other thing."

"You made me sit through a roundtable on the relative merits of Frozen as the first ever example of the female monomyth even though all I wanted to do was talk about banging Ann's brother-in-law."

"I can't believe I wouldn't have wanted to hear more about that."

"How many negatives was that?"

"Probably one too many, but that's behind the point."


"I meant behind, I haven't suddenly forgotten all the terrible cliches I know."

"You didn't have one for that?"

"Wait, do you not think that Frozen perfectly describes the general structure of the female story as we've only ever heard or seen described obliquely?"

"I'm abstaining."

"You can't abstain."

"True, I'm really not great at it."

"Why don't you think guys and girls can be just friends when you and I are literally perfect examples of it?"

"I'm regretting my choice in movie."

"Awesome, you're getting on the bus I started driving a hundred and four minutes ago."

"Are we fighting right now?"


"Like, fighting, are we like having a fight right now?"

He shrugged and finished her left foot.

"I think we were," she crossed her arms under her chest before thinking twice and reaching for the glass instead.

"I just asked why you think guys and girls can't just be friends?"

"Why do you always say 'guys and girls' and not 'boys and girls' or 'guys and gals' if you've gotta have that alliteration?"

"Consonance, and if I never say that word in my life, it will be too soon."


He pretended to shudder.

She pursed her lips, holding a finger to her forehead while her fist closed under her pout.

She decided on an answer, "Think about it, there's only four possible outcomes in a potential romantic relationship between two people, right? One likes the other who doesn't like them that way. They both like each other. The other likes the one who doesn't like them that way. Or neither likes the other. Two out of the four, only a fifty-fifty shot, end up in a great situation for both people. Only, that's not entirely true either, is it? Cuz whenever two people meet there's also the possibility that there's no possibility of a romantic relationship at all."

"Mind," he said, throwing his hands behind his head mimicking a mushroom cloud. "Blown."

"Seriously. In that case, there's the chance one wants to be friends but the other doesn't and vice versa, both want to be friends, or neither wants to be friends. So in a total of only two of sixteen possibilities is there a relationship between people at all that could be described as totally positive."

"Unless you count the two times that end up with no relationship as positive."

"Do you, you masochistic loner?"

"In that case, uhm, no. No, I wouldn't count those that way. But weren't we talking about guys and girls being just friends?"

"Alright then. 'No man can be friends with a woman he finds attractive.'"

"Wait," he cut her off, "isn't that. You've memorized the movie?"

"How is that important right now?"

"Not the whole thing, right?"

She swung around, her legs in front so she was facing the television again.

He shrugged and mimicked her. Folding his arms to one-up her. She stifled a laugh. He gestured at his own gnarled toes.

"Seriously?" she asked, but picked up his feet anyway. "But,let's talk about that dirty secret no one likes to bring up, you pick friends the same way you pick lovers, you're attracted to something about 'em. We don't talk about it, but there's something. Maybe they agree with your irrational hatred of potted plants. Maybe their sartorial savantism makes you want to go shopping with them. Maybe you really like their hair. It's always something, and usually a bunch of somethings. So, you have this underlying, unspoken kind of attraction with your definite only-friends, and yet, you figure that won't exist if the friend has the requisite sexy bits you're looking for? Even if that attraction is not at all sexual, it's still a strong bond, and you can't say it's not the kind of thing you'd really love having with the person you've chosen to embarrass yourself in front of over and over again."

"So men are attracted to all women, is that what you're saying? I mean, I know I'm not exactly picky--"

"Men are attracted to all women they are friends with, yup. It might not be exactly the same attraction. Like, boning kind, but there's a kind of attraction that definitely builds up over time. Like in the movie."

"I noticed they never actually, really, talked about it. In the movie. I mean, is what I mean. What if you just talk about it?"

"Way to be a grown up," she curled her feet back under her thighs.

"Probably doesn't help, right? Unless they both like each other but just haven't admitted it, it's still not going to end up well for either party," he reasoned on his own. "In which case you like the movie because you agree there is always a secret attraction between friends who could possibly like each other that in situations not directed by Rob Reiner gets dealt with, how?"

"Familiarity, maybe. Culture. I don't know. Dying a little inside until that part is all shriveled and gangly."

"Huh," he muttered. "Another glass?"

She frowned at the empty space where the wine used to be. She nodded.

He stumbled over the controllers as he tried to stand, the sounds of "It Had to Be You" echoed again through the empty space.

"So what's the answer then, yes or no?" he asked as he headed back across the flat.

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