Harry and Sally: The Age-Old Question

Sue Edwards's picture

Through our years of talking with women about ministry, we have observed a frustration from some—working with men who don’t understand or value them.  Consider with us the question, “Can men and women really be friends,” and if so, “What would that relationship look like?”


Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan immortalized the popular (mis)understanding of male-female relationships in the hit movie When Harry Met Sally. When Harry makes a pass at Sally, his fellow coed, she turns him down with the familiar words, “No, Harry . . . we are just going to be friends, OK?” Harry responds: “Friends? You realize, of course, that we could never be friends.” The rest of the conversation proceeds like this:

 Sally: Why not?

Harry: What I’m saying—and this is not a come-on in any way, shape, or form—is that men and women can’t be friends because the s*x part always gets in the way.

Sally: That’s not true. I have a number of men friends and there is no s*x involved.

Harry: No, you don’t.

Sally: Yes, I do.

Harry: No, you don’t.

Sally: Yes, I do.

Harry: You only think you do.

Sally: Are you saying that I’m having s*x with these men without my knowledge?

Harry: No, I’m saying they all want to have s*x with you.

Sally: No, they don’t.

Harry: Yes, they do . . .

Sally: How do you know?

Harry: Because no man can be friends with a woman he finds attractive. He always wants to have s*x with her.Their argument continues, with Harry maintaining that all male-female relationships are doomed because “the s*x thing” is “already out there.” Sally remains dubious but concludes regretfully, “That’s too bad because you are the only person I know in New York.” Poor Sally! What a choice when it comes to men—romance or nothing. Why not “just” friends? Is a pure, nonromantic relationship really impossible between a man and a woman, or is Harry wrong? More specifically, how does Harry’s theory relate to men and women who follow Christ? We believe that Christians, indwelt by the Spirit, will prove Harry to be wrong. Men and women really can be friends. In Christ, they can be more than friends—they can be sacred siblings, and the implications for ministry are enormous!In our recent publication Mixed Ministry, Working Together as Brothers and Sisters in an Oversexed Society, you can find more on this topic. In the year ahead, we will discuss this topic further, hoping you will wrestle with us to bring clarity to an important issue in ministry today. We believe men and women can be friends but admit it’s a complex topic. What do you think?


This is my all-time favorite movie (although, like you, I've never agreed with Harry's point of view).

I believe that not only is it possible for us to be sacred siblings, as you put it, but that it's part of living out the victorious life over the fall. If part of the effect of the fall was a sort of relationship death, we have victory over that in Christ. We can again build meaningful community not just between woman and woman, man and man, or husband and wife (as the only co-mingling of sexes), but as the Church as a whole, which means men and women.

I'm looking forward to these discussions!

Sharifa Stevens's picture

I certainly hope that men and women can be friends, since I have brothers-in-law, and brothers from church and work without whom I'd miss out on a WHOLE lot of perspective, wisdom, humor, and line-backing.

But nope, it's not easy.

I think that many of us are so focused on the Fall, and the subsequent struggles that ensued, that we forget about examining the implications of Jesus' redemptive work on the way men and women relate to each other in relationships, at work, and oh, boy, even at church.

What if we patterned our relationships after unity in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, and God's ideal design (read: pre-Fall creation) for men and women instead?

Sue Bohlin's picture

It's been my experience that men and women can enjoy completely platonic friendships unencumbered by s*xual messiness. It helps a whole lot if the people are boundaried and self-controlled in how they handle their feelings and thoughts, not being willing to even crack open an internal door to think of the other as anything but a friend or colleague or sibling.

Taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, I think, makes it a lot easier to honor each other--and Him--in the way we relate.

Michael H. Burer's picture

Hmmm, I tend to agree with Sharifa on this. To me, a central component of the discussion lies in Harry's statement that "no man can be friends with a woman he finds attractive." Likewise, the question can be put to women: "Can you be friends, and ONLY friends, with a man that you find attractive?" Or, let's come at it from a different angle: Does s*xual tension ever get in the way? If it does, then can we honestly say that the relationship purely platonic?

I have several friendships with men that might be called "successful"--some are couple friends, others are fellow students. It seems the key in these relationships (as it is for most relationships?) is a high level of respect and a recognition and appreciation of the other person as a whole and compete human being. I hate that mixed gender friendships and working relationships have such obstacles from the get-go and am looking forward to hearing more thoughts and ideas from these posts--I think that seeing one another as "sacred siblings" is not only a great book title, but is the biblical ideal!

I think the issues and challenges in this arena might be different for singles and marrieds? In my experience, mixed-gendered friendships seemed to get easier after marriage. Thoughts?

Sue Edwards's picture


We did not research the different challenges related to the sacred sibling relatonship for marrieds as compared to

Sue Edwards's picture

Thanks, Sharifa, Heather, Brittany, and Sue B.

I hear

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