Last week, I read a superb essay titled “The Nora Ephron We Forget.” In it, author Rachel Syme makes the acute observation that Ephron’s films “suggest that language is at the heart of romance.” Reading those words was like sliding my foot into a perfect-fitting shoe. I apprehended, immediately, how true it was, and how much it explains my obsession with Ephron’s script-writing, especially in “Sleepless in Seattle,” “You’ve Got Mail,” and “When Harry Met Sally.” Somehow, I had never contemplated their inherent literariness: the epistolarity, the centricity of text and verbal exchange, that runs through them all. In “Sleepless in Seattle,” Meg Ryan’s character is a writer by trade, and an exchange of letters between herself and Tom Hanks’ character’s son leads to their romantic entanglement. In “You’ve Got Mail,” two strangers (who turn out to not be strangers) fall in love via anonymous email exchange, quite literally falling in love in and through language. Both of them own book stores and so there are persistent atmospheric motifs of text, reading, and interpretation. Of “When Harry Met Sally,” perhaps the least “ostensibly” literary, Syme writes: “Throughout the movie, [Sally is] exacting in her word choices, even when ordering pie at a restaurant. (“I’d like the pie heated, and I don’t want the ice cream on the top, I want it on the side, and I’d like strawberry instead of vanilla if you have it. If not, then no ice cream, just whipped cream but only if it’s real. If it’s out of a can, then nothing.”) Romance, here, is a man telling a woman that he likes her for, and not in spite of, her exhaustive language. “I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich,” Harry says in the film’s climactic speech.”
The summer Mr. Magpie and I were first dating, he went on a wild month-long excursion through South America with a buddy of his. We weren’t able to talk much while he traveled, as this was pre-cell-phone-and-ubiquitous-wi-fi, but he called one night while I was cooking dinner at my parents’ home, likely spending a small fortune in the process. I remember cradling the phone against my shoulder as I stirred tomato sauce on the stove, and I was keenly aware of my mother’s eavesdropping across the counter. I was young – just-twenty – and I performed a polite and chaste conversation. At the end, Mr. Magpie said, “OK, baby. I love you.” I managed to get “I love you, too,” out and then spun back around to the stove, my cheeks burning.
My mother didn’t say anything for awhile – I could sense she was working at the cutting board – and I relaxed, assuming the moment and its uncomfortably public display of affection had passed us by.
Then, a good two minutes later –
“He calls you baby?”
Ephron is a genius and Syme is, well, a cipher. The essay was a revelation, as I now understand exactly why I find those films so powerfully, irresistibly romantic: because they hinge on the intimacy of a well-turned exchange. I mean – is there anything more seductive than a meaningful volley? Or a shared subtext? Or a private joke? Or the feeling of being truly listened to? Or the things we whisper to one another when no one else is listening?
Mr. Magpie’s voice in my ear that night all those years ago sprang to the surface as I reflected on this truth, as though blood drawn from a finger prick. There was something about my mother listening in, annotating our conversation, that made me newly or more deeply aware of our relationship status. I suppose I hadn’t thought it idiosyncratic, or juicy, or particularly interesting that he called me “baby” but suddenly I saw myself in a new light. I was his pet name; he was mine. What we said to one another was ours alone. I found this suddenly, thrillingly romantic.
Yes, Ephron was right.
Language is at the heart of romance.
+I am in love with this Doen top. So fun with jeans for fall.
+I know it’s early, but Target has released some of its tree collars for the holidays, and they always sell out! And! This is the tree topper we’ve used the last few years and it also sells out yearly. It is super lightweight (papier mache) so easy to put on the top without tilting!
+How FUN is the jewelry from new-to-me label Timeless Pearly? Like an affordable Brent Neale!
+Will for sure be ordering these $20 Target loafers for micro again this year. They are SO good for the price — the top velcros closed, so very easy to get on/off.
+I’ve been getting a lot of work attire requests — these pants are perfect, especially in the burgundy (for something a little different) and I love the way they’re styled on the site with a chunky loafer.
+Loving the rich red of this La Ligne dress. Holiday parties, here we come?
+A cute rattan table lamp for under $70.
+This tartan dress is calling my name…would work with bump! Great holiday option.
+This peplum jean jacket is perfection.