You will not be Harry Burns this New Year’s Eve. Chances are, that, unlike Billy Crystal’s slick-talking character in the Rob Reiner/Nora Ephron classic When Harry Met Sally, you have not spent over a decade inuring an impeccably coiffed woman to your prickly, if charming personality and unpopular sexual politics. It is doubtful that you have managed to perfectly balance a caustic tongue with a sympathetic ear, engendering a sense of intimacy between you and your future partner that will become the envy of potential lovers for generations to come.
In all likelihood, you have amassed neither the romantic capital nor the sheer, brass cojones to commit a gesture so grand and starry-eyed in its optimism that it has become the benchmark for iconic, romantic gestures – filmed or otherwise. No, it’s far too late for you to be Harry Burns this year. Fortunately, Harry’s behavior in this unabashedly charming, infinitely watchable romantic comedy perennial stands as an immutable blueprint for how to become the person you want to become – and not just in matters of the heart. Study his triumphs, learn from his stumbles, and, perhaps, next year at this time, you’ll be sprinting confidently toward your utmost desires.
ALWAYS BE PREPARED
Harry: When I buy a new book I always 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.
Sally: That doesn’t mean you’re deep or anything I mean… yes, basically I’m a happy person…
Harry: So am I.
Sally: …and I don’t see that there’s anything wrong with that.
Harry: Of course not. You’re too busy being happy. Do you ever think about death?
Harry: Sure you do, a fleeting thought that jumps in and out of the transom of your mind. I spend hours, I spend days…
Sally: And you think that makes you a better person.
Harry: Look, when the shit comes down I’m gonna be prepared and you’re not that’s all I’m saying.
AVOID UNNECESSARY CONFLICT
Harry: I understand.
Sally: What? What?
Harry: Forget about it.
Sally: For.. What? Forget about what?
Harry: It’s not important.
Sally: No, just tell me.
Harry: Obviously you haven’t had great sex yet.
RECOGNIZE IN OTHERS WHAT THEY MAY NOT EVEN SEE IN THEMSELVES
Harry: You’re a very attractive person.
Sally: Thank you.
Harry: Amanda never said how attractive you were.
Sally: Well, may be she doesn’t think I’m attractive.
Harry: I don’t think it’s a matter of opinion, empirically you are attractive.
DON’T LET IMPORTANT THINGS GO UNSAID
Sally: Just let it lie, ok?
Harry: Great! Let it lie. That’s my policy. That’s what I always say: “Let it lie.” Wanna spend the night at a motel? See what I did? I didn’t let it lie.
Harry: I said I wouldn’t and I didn’t.
Harry: I went the other way.
Sally: We are just going to be friends, ok?
Harry: Great! Friends! It’s the best thing.
AVOID SENDING UNCLEAR SIGNALS
STICK TO YOUR GUNS…BUT BE ADAPTABLE
Sally: I thought you didn’t believe men and women could be friends.
Harry: When did I say that?
Sally: On the ride to New York.
Harry: No no no no, I never said that. (Harry pauses, thinks.) Yes, that’s right, they can’t be friends. Unless both of them are involved with other people, then they can. This is an amendment to the earlier rule, if the two people are in relationships, the pressure of possibility of involvement is lifted. (Pauses) That doesn’t work either because what happens then is the person you’re involved with can’t understand why you need to be friends with the person you’re just friends with. Like it means something is missing from their relationship and “why do you have to go outside to get it?”. Then when you say, “no no no no, it’s not true nothing’s missing from the relationship”, the person you’re involved with then accuses you of being secretly attracted to the person you’re just friends with, which we probably are. I mean, come on, who the hell are we kidding. Let’s face it, which brings us back to the earlier rule before the amendment which is men and women can’t be friends. So, where does that leave us?
DON’T BE AFRAID TO SWITCH UP YOUR LOOK
Burns goes appropriated scruffy as his first marriage disintegrates. (Is it me or is this look strikingly similar to the cool rogue undercover get-up Billy Crystal sported in the 1986 buddy cop movie Running Scared?)
ALWAYS LOOK FOR WAYS TO BETTER YOURSELF
Marie: Someone is starring at you in personal growth.
Sally: I know him. You’d like him, he’s married.
Harry: …what’s so hard about finding an apartment? What you do is, you read the obituary column. Yeah, you find out who died, and go to the building and then you tip the doorman. What they can do to make it easier is to combine the obituaries with the real estate section. Say, then you’d have Mr. Klein died today leaving a wife, two children, and a spacious three bedroom apartment with a wood burning fireplace.
Harry: You know the first time we met I really didn’t like you that much.
…AND BE READY TO SAY YOU’RE SORRY
Harry: What’s the statute of limitation on apologies?
Sally: Ten years.
Harry: Ooo, I can just get it in under the wire.
NEVER BE AFRAID TO CUT LOOSE AND SHOW YOUR LIGHTER SIDE
PAT YOURSELF ON THE BACK FOR THE THINGS YOU’RE DOING RIGHT
Jess: I don’t understand this relationship.
Harry: What do you mean?
Jess: You enjoy being with her?
Jess: You find her attractive?
Jess: And you’re not sleeping with her.
Jess: You’re afraid to let yourself be happy.
Harry: Why can’t you give me credit for this? This is a big thing for me. I never had a relationship with a woman that didn’t involve sex. I feel like I’m growing.
SHARE THE BENEFITS OF YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH OTHERS
Sally: Do we have to talk about this right now?
Harry: Yes, I think that right now actually is the perfect time to talk about this because I want our friends to benefit from the wisdom of my experience. Right now everything is great, everyone is happy, everyone is in love. But you got to know, that sooner or later, you’re going to be screaming at one other about who’s going to get this dish. This eight dollar dish will cost you a thousand dollars in phone calls to the legal firm of That’s-Mine-This-Is-Yours.
AND, OF COURSE, IF YOU’RE GOING TO DO SOMETHING DRASTIC — AND POTENTIALLY CREEPY — MAKE SURE YOU HAVE CLEARLY OUTLINED AND DEFENSIBLE REASONS