What Really Happened “When Harry Met Sally”
In the movie, “When Harry Met Sally,” a or even the key scene is when Harry and Sally “sleep together” after Sally learned that her ex, Joe, is getting married. Afterwards, Sally is quite content, even perhaps ecstatic, while Harry is anything but happy and obviously can’t wait to bolt. Sally interprets this as Harry’s typical behavior of having sex and then leaving, which behavior led Sally to call Harry “an afront to every woman” in the famous deli scene.
But Sally is wrong about what was going on with Harry after they “did it.” Harry didn’t want to bolt because he and Sally had sex. He wanted to bolt because he knew, at some level of consciousness, that they did not just have sex. They had made love. And this, lovemaking as opposed to just having sex, is what rattled Harry because, in all likelihood, Harry had very little experience making love as opposed to having sex. He had claimed that Sally had not had “great sex” in the diner scene, suggesting of course that he did. And his description to Sally about why he was getting married was as much about his being tired of the dating scene as it was about love.
Harry is unprepared for making love in part because as a graduate of the University of Chicago – as in all likelihood a political science major (he is a political consultant in New York) – he has “a dark side.” In fact, Harry defines himself and his life by this dark side, telling Sally when they meet that he’s going to be ready to die while she will not. And part of Harry’s darkness is his conviction that men and women cannot be friends because “the sex thing always gets in the way.” In the world, as Harry understands it, love and friendship are illusionary. Sex is real – or so Harry likes to think – but love isn’t. Harry knew, he says, that Helen didn’t love him and that his marriage would fail. So, when love happens, when Harry actually makes love to Sally, he just wants to turn their lovemaking into sex so “we can get over this.” Experiencing love as Harry does with Sally overturns what he takes to be reality, a dark world where men and women cannot be friends, can’t care and care deeply for one another – as he warns Jess and Marie quite forcibly – can’t be in “love, actually.”
Despite what Harry learned at the University of Chicago, the world, the real world, is open to the possibilities of friendship and life-long love. On the other hand, Sally, who is according to Harry “too busy being happy” to prepare for death, knows that she’s in love with Harry, knows that she has made love with him, and she refuses to let Harry demean what happened – “You took pity on me?! Fuck you!” [Slap!] – or to demean her: “I am not your consolation prize!”
As Harry contemplates his life alone on New Year’s Eve, he realizes – especially when standing in Washington Park where he and Sally first parted – that “it had to be you.” Harry realizes that he’s in love with Sally and has an epiphany: “I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to begin as soon as possible!” So, Harry, realizing that he’s in love with Sally, also realizes that love and friendship are possible, are real, and he’s ready not only to live but to share that life with Sally. Death is no longer Harry’s focus; rather it’s life, living, and loving.
So, when Harry met Sally, Harry becomes, eventually, what the Greeks called a “real human being” (aner, which is genderless in the Greek) and not just a character in some dark drama that holds no promise of happiness. As dark as the world might be, the real world is open to the possibility of friendship, love, and happiness.