What If ‘When Harry Met Sally’ Had Took Place Today? (Essay)
Words by Alex Hanson.
When Harry first meets Sally, he tells her that men and women can’t ever be friends because “the sex part always gets in the way.” The 1989 romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally…, starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan as the titular characters, follows the protagonists’ 12-year relationship between the time they meet to the moment they act on their love. Their friendship is built on a few chance encounters that eventually turn into a deep friendship, and yes, the sex thing “gets in the way,” but they don’t surrender their friendship by trading it in for a relationship. Harry and Sally fall in love because of their strong friendship, not in spite of it.
The film is filled with phone calls, walks in the park, and picking out Christmas trees, showcasing the sweet moments that build their friendship and lead to them falling in love. But what if Harry and Sally had met in 2016 instead of in the ’80s? Would this movie be able to tackle the story of good friends falling in love in the same way had it included the Internet and social media?
Here’s how When Harry Met Sally would have gone if written for today:
Before Harry and Sally first meet up to drive from Chicago to New York together, Sally, being the planner that she is, adds Harry on Facebook and messages him the driving schedule ahead of time. Harry’s responses, comprised solely of Tuzki stickers, make Sally laugh even though she’s annoyed by his minimal use of words. Typical. Either way, she’s excited to meet him because he’ll be the only person she knows in New York.
For most of the actual trip, Harry snacks on Doritos, not offering her any, and scrolls through apps on his phone. A few hours into the road trip, Harry starts scrolling through Sally’s Instagram and bluntly admits that he finds her attractive, initiating a conversation about whether men and woman could ever be friends. Sally says yes, but it seems to go in one ear and out the other, as Harry daydreams of them hooking up.
As the road trip to New York comes to an end, Harry and Sally remain Facebook friends with no interaction other than liking each other’s profile pictures. This goes on for a year until Sally does a social media cleanse and deletes him. Harry doesn’t notice until he sees that his friend Joe is “In a Relationship with Sally Albright.” He’s a bit upset once he goes to Sally’s page and realizes they’re no longer friends. When did that happen? Had he posted something offensive? He can’t remember the last time he even talked to her, but he feels betrayed.
Harry Googles Sally and finds that she’s now a journalist, just as she’d planned. He stumbles upon her Twitter account, where Sally posts mostly links to her articles and occasional polls asking her few thousand followers whether certain food habits and being “high-maintenance” are correlated. Harry follows her and votes “yes” on this one poll in particular. “I mean, he didn’t at me though,” Sally says to herself, noticing Harry has followed her. “It must be a fluke.” But when Harry runs into Sally and Joe at the airport, Harry is too embarrassed to bring up following her on Twitter because she never followed him back. Petty wins.
A few years later, while at brunch, Sally reveals to her friends, Alice and Marie, that she and Joe have broken up. Against Sally’s will, Marie is quick to pull out Sally’s iPhone, download Tinder, and swipe right on every profile that pops up. “Who cares? Why not?” she asks with each swipe. Sally messages some of these guys in order to appease Marie, who is also trying to recover from a break-up. The married man that’s kept telling Marie he’s going to leave his wife for her has cut it off with Marie after she obsessively posted and tagged photos of him on Instagram, exposing his affair to 496 Instagram followers, including his wife. Sally, however, ends up ghosting every guy who messages her back—aggressive flirting doesn’t do it for her.
Harry and Sally become good friends after running into each other in the bookstore, where they catch up briefly and agree to meet up for coffee. The minute that Harry turns around to walk away, he opens up Snapchat to see what Sally’s been up to. Let me lurk real quick, he thinks. Later that night he sends Sally a photo through Snapchat of his laptop screen—he’s on Netflix watching ‘Casablanca,’ their favorite movie. He doesn’t tell her that he’s only watching it after scrolling through her Facebook page and seeing that she had re-posted a Memory of her at an outdoor screening of it last year. Sally laughs, knowing he was probably lurking beforehand. She responds with “same,” and spares him the embarrassment.
They gradually become close friends, sharing with each details of their dating life, or lack thereof. Harry tries to treat his post-divorce loneliness with a string of one-off Tinder hookups, reaffirming Sally’s relief of never hooking up with him. Over brunch, Sally nonchalantly performs an impromptu, over-the-top fake orgasm to prove to Harry that any woman can do it convincingly, and that a good portion of his Tinder dates have probably faked it. Harry, sitting paralyzed from across the table, is both embarrassed and turned on. He’s left flustered. A woman films Sally’s performance on her iPhone and posts it directly to Twitter with the caption, “I’ll have what she’s having!” The video, of course, goes viral. After someone recognizes Sally from the video, and tags her, her Twitter following increases dramatically. She soon becomes the subject of a slew of click-bait articles like Buzzfeed’s “You’ll Never Believe What This Woman Did In A Diner!”
Ultimately, the most crucial moments of When Harry Met Sally would remain the same regardless of the role technology played. Whether Sally had heard about Joe’s engagement over the phone or on Facebook, she probably would have been equally upset and asked him to come over, leading to their friendship be intertwined with sex. Their fight at Jess and Marie’s wedding and them making up at the New Year’s Eve party would have happened, plus sad scrolling during the time they weren’t speaking.
The push and pull of whether to remain friends versus surrendering to love would have been supplemented by lonely sessions of lurking through timelines. Despite these dialogues and the constant reminder of each other through social media (not letting them hide from their feelings for too long), Harry and Sally’s bond would have culminated in the same New Year’s kiss at the end of the movie no matter what year they were ringing in. And, that’s what makes When Harry Met Sally special: their timeless friendship made their love inevitable.