In 1989, I was 14 years old and I didn’t know what kind of woman I was going to be yet. It felt like a crapshoot. Would I be the kind who gets married and has kids right away, like my parents did? Would I be a career woman like Melanie Griffith in Working Girl, wearing business suits and white tennis shoes, living in New Jersey, and listening to a lot of Carly Simon?
I really had no idea. And no one was telling me, either, which was both a blessing and a curse. My parents had divorced a few years earlier, and they were still very young. My mom was 34 and my dad was 36. (The same age I am now. Let me just trip out on that for a minute…)
They had barely grown up themselves. How were they supposed to guide their daughter into adulthood? They were just glad I didn’t join a cult or get pregnant.
That was the year that When Harry Met Sally came out. I don’t recall exactly when or where I first saw it, but I would guesstimate that as of June 27, 2012, approximately 2200 hours, I have viewed it more than 50 times.
Let me be clear. I FUCKING LOVE THIS MOVIE.
First off, I thought that Billy Crystal was the funniest man alive. And I wanted a sassy best friend like Carrie Fisher who whored around with married men. I wanted to get dumped and watch Casablanca. And I wanted Meg Ryan’s hair.
But when I see it now, I notice other things. I appreciate that both Harry and Sally are mourning a loss—not only of a relationship, but the loss of who they thought they were. At one point, Sally says that she doesn’t miss the real Joe as much as the “idea of Joe.” To which Harry replies, “maybe I only miss the idea of Helen” …pause… “nope, I pretty much miss the whole Helen.”
Though their circumstances are similar, they respond in opposite ways. Sally tries to think her way out of it. Harry sleeps with every woman in New York. That they fall in love seems to surprise them both. But they accidentally stumble upon one of the secrets of happy relationships: embracing each other’s flaws . By the end of the movie, we know Harry really means it when he says he loves that it takes her an hour to order a sandwich. He loves her, not in spite of her imperfections, but because of them.
Sally: All this time I’ve been saying that he didn’t want to get married. But the truth is, he didn’t want to marry me. He didn’t love me.
Harry: If you could take him back right now, would you?
Sally: … No… but why didn’t he want to marry me? What’s the matter with me?
Sally: I’m difficult.
Sally: I’m too structured. I’m completely closed off.
Harry: But in a good way.
Sally: No, no, no. I drove him away… And I’m gonna be 40.
Harry: In eight years.
Sally: But it’s there. It’s just sitting there like this big dead end… And it’s not the same for men. Charlie Chaplin had babies when he was 73.
Harry: Yeah, but he was too old to pick ’em up.
Two years ago, I saw Nora Ephron speak. She was so inspiring. She talked about being a young female reporter in New York in the 60s, and about becoming a screenwriter and director. She talked about her failed marriage, and about her body, about aging, about Hollywood. I thought about trying to find her after the talk to tell her how much I love her writing, but I didn’t do it. So now seems as good a time as any.
Dear Nora Ephron: Thank you for giving me permission to be difficult. And for showing me what kind of woman I want to be.