My ex-girlfriend once relayed a story about Steve, a friend with whom she had maintained a long-standing, non-sexual friendship. Problem was, Steve wanted more. He would lavish her with attention, gifts, and long-winded romantic overtures. Once, after she rebuffed his advances, he thanked her for not running away in horror. He thanked her.
I remember laughing. My ex became angry. “No!” she had said. “I love Steve! He’s the sweetest, nicest guy! I would take a bullet for him!”
I turned to her. “Wait, so you would rather die for Steve than sleep with him?” She considered this for a moment before responding, “Yes.” Then, we laughed – she at Steve and I at humanity’s eventual doom.
Women are mercurial. Poets (and my high school gym teacher) tell us that these creatures of mystery are, in their own way, beautiful. I guess that’s one way to look at it. I find it terrifying and endlessly tiring.
I thought about Steve (and our doom) during a recent screening of Nora Ephron’s punishment to us all, Sleepless in Seattle. The film follows widower Sam Baldwin (Tom Hanks) and his attempts to raise his son Jonah while navigating through the paralyzing emotional landmines of grief. During a weak moment (and at the behest of his son), Sam agrees to discuss his romantic inertia with a radio psychologist who dubs him “Sleepless in Seattle.” Women across the universe, including Annie Reed (Meg Ryan), are enthralled. Annie is so enamored with this man’s voice (and pain), that she sacrifices her dignity, her career, and her boring fiancée Walter (read Steve) to track him down.
This movie is terrifying. If a human being acted this way in real life, she would be hauled away via butterfly net; yet, whenever I point this out at parties or funeral processions, I am accused of being cynical, unromantic, or worse, a jerk.
So, for all of the Steves out there, I’m tossing Sleepless in Seattle into this week’s Fiction vs. Reality. Just how would this horrifying film play out in real life? Let’s find out.
Scenario # 1
What Happens: Annie and (boring, allergy-prone) Walter announce their engagement. Annie and her mother have a heart-to-heart conversation about love and marriage.
Hollywood Version: The audience is enchanted. The romantic music swells as the mother and daughter speak the following lines of dialogue:
Annie: “Walter and I met when we accidentally received each other’s sandwiches!”
Mother: (speaking with the certainty of an 8 year-old) “It’s destiny! How many people in this world like lettuce and tomato?! It’s like me and your father. He held my hand and I couldn’t tell which fingers were his and which were mine. I knew. It was magic. I knew we’d be together forever and that everything would be wonderful!”
Women in the audience clutch their hearts. I press buttons on my remote control hoping that one of them will contact local mental health authorities and they will haul women away in large butterfly nets.
Reality # 1: “Annie and her mother are clearly deranged,” says Dr. Michael Simynds, psychiatrist and author of Ransom/Love Notes. “Love requires sacrifice and hard work. A love based solely upon magic cannot sustain itself. Also, love is not the result of a woman’s inability to distinguish between two sets of fingers – this is more indicative of cataracts. Let’s be thankful she didn’t hold hands with a chimpanzee, although they would probably be on the same level of emotional maturity.”
Reality # 2: “Unfortunately,” says Ralph Maruem, supervising manager of Au Bon Pain, “we handle a flood of sandwich requests during a lunch day. As a result, we often make mistakes. I would apologize and offer to refund the customers their money. The mix-up is not a function of destiny; it’s a function of our line-prep Steve, who has been terminated.”
Scenario # 2
What Happens: Annie talks but says nothing at all.
Hollywood Version: After hearing Sam unload his emotional problems on a radio call-in show, Annie relays the story during her editors’ meeting. That’s not all. She also rambles on about cows, the etymology of “widows,” and statistics about terrorist attacks (and their occurring more often than women over 40 finding husbands). Also, I check my watch hoping for those butterfly nets.
Reality # 1: According to Khalil Muhammed, terrorist, “It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is true that terrorist attacks occur more often than women over 40 finding husbands; but, it’s probably because most of the terrorists in our cell watched this movie and it inspired such hatred of Americans, that there was a huge spike in terrorist attacks.”
Scenario # 3
What Happens: After seeing her fiancée with a tissue in his nose, Annie has doubts about their pending nuptials.
Hollywood Version: Annie sneaks downstairs to have an emotional affair… with a radio. The audience condones this behavior – how can she be with a man suffering from (boring) allergies?! If only she could break free from her own life choices.
Reality: “Annie is suffering from a case of ADHD and denial, “asserts psychologist Harper Allen. “When faced with the reality of a real-life marriage, she instead lusts after a voice on the radio. Because of her severe mental illness and immaturity, the only relationship she should have is between her and her anti-psychotic medication.”
Scenario # 4
What Happens: Looking to reignite his sex life, Sam asks for advice from resident sexpert, ahem, Rob Reiner.
Hollywood Version: Reiner proffers the following advice: “You have to be friends first, then you neck – this could go on for years -- then you get tests, and if you’re lucky you can have sex with a condom.” Then, he tells Hanks to “figure out” tiramisu. I begin to wonder if Rob Reiner or his character has ever had sex.
Reality: According to Steve, “This is advice on how remain a sexually frustrated friend! I’ve been following it for years and it has led to nothing but sadness. I have filed a lawsuit against Mr. Reiner and the producers of this film.”
Scenario # 5
What Happens: In the midst of a full-blown psychotic episode, Annie uses her connections and travel budget at the Baltimore Sun to track down her prey, Sam.
Hollywood Version: The cute music swells as Annie performs background checks on her victim – she even hires a private detective to spy on/harass the poor guy. Women in the audience squeal with delight (and knowing). Haven’t we all been there? I watch in disbelief and terror. What about Walter/Steve?
Reality: According to Reginald Eulid, Managing Editor of the Baltimore Sun, “Each of our reporters is provided a small travel budget with which to pursue stories; however, they are not allowed to use this money to locate and traumatize potential suitors. I would fire Annie immediately. Ironically, the story of her decent into madness would make the front page and possibly earn us a Pulitzer.”
Scenario # 6
What Happens: Jonah, Sam’s son, reads Annie’s letter and immediately connects with her. They agree to meet atop the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day just like an agreement made between the characters in An Affair to Remember.
Hollywood Version: Despite the fact that kids can’t vote, drive, or understand algebraic equations, they are apparently endowed with a deep wisdom about love and human nature. If only Sam would listen to his son.
Reality: “This is truly the love story between Annie and Jonah, Sam’s 8 year-old son,” says Fred Pieot, clinical psychologist. “They connect on the same level of emotional maturity – they both write simple-minded letters to each other and they both ‘act out’ due to their lack of adult tools of communication. I would recommend that Annie wait until Jonah is 18 to pursue him. Unfortunately, by that time, Jonah will have outgrown Annie.”
Scenario # 7
What Happens: Annie lies to Walter (and his allergies) and flies to Seattle to spy on Sam.
Hollywood Version: She lurks behind corners and literally stops traffic to stare into the eyes (and soul) of Sam and us all. Later, when she asks her friend if lying to her fiancé to fly across the country in pursuit of a man (she heard once on a radio program) is crazy, her friend responds, “No, it’s not! That’s the crazy thing about it.”
Reality: “No,” asserts Dr. Allen McCaluey, chief resident at Bellevue. “I can assure you that this behavior is, in fact, the textbook definition of crazy.”
Scenario # 8
What Happens: Annie (finally) tells Walter she is leaving him for a voice on the radio.
Hollywood Version: Walter, who spends the film’s length lavishing gifts, affection and patience onto his fiancé, is dispensed without any thoughtfulness. Annie (and the audience) doesn’t care; she wants to pursue her delusions. After hearing of her betrayal, Walter smiles and wishes her well.
Reality: Walter, furious at being left for a voice, throws battery acid into Annie’s eyes. Before leaving, he yells, “The only thing I am really allergic to is whores! I’m glad I finally see who you are… and now you can never see again!”
Scenario # 9
What Happens: Jonah flies to New York to meet Annie. Sam follows. I mail angry letters to Nora Ephron signed, “Murderous in Manhattan.”
Hollywood Version: Sam and Jonah reunite atop the empire state building and take the last elevator down to the lobby. Annie wanders alone on the roof and rifles through Jonah’s bag, possibly in search of more voices. The audience is sad for poor Annie. Somewhere in the distance, Walter/Steve commits suicide.
Reality: “There is a code even we follow,” asserts Fred Smith, NYC homeless man. “We will go through garbage cans or dumpsters, but we frown upon people who root through children’s backpacks simply because they stumble across them. This is deeply disturbing.”
Scenario # 10
What Happens: Sam and Annie finally meet and mistake their re-awakened libidos for true love.
Hollywood Version: Even though Sam and Annie share the screen for less than two minutes during the entire film, they (and the audience) feel “magic” and know theirs is a love that will last for the ages… or at least until Annie listens to another radio program or falls for the guy who announces specials over the loudspeaker at Home Depot.
Reality: Annie and Sam have a heated discussion about abortion rights and realize they have nothing in common. Annie decides to go back to Walter. Sam reveals that his wife didn’t die of cancer – he murdered her. Then, he pushes Annie off the empire state building. He tells the police it wasn’t him; it was “magic.”
Final Thought: Someone once told me that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. I did some research. This is not true. Although if women existed on Venus, I’m pretty sure the guys there would be just as beguiled by them. The reality is that relationships growing out of mutual depression and desperation do not last, incorrectly received sandwiches are not part of your destiny, and if you ever want to keep the love of a good woman, Steve, stock up on Benadryl.