In the first conversation our title characters have in my favorite movie of all time, 1989’s When Harry Met Sally, we discover how different these new college graduates are in a polarizing conversation about life, work, and death:
Every year on my birthday I cry. The existential weight on that day is particularly heavy and I thoroughly dread it. I consider myself to be a Harry: cynical, plagued by thoughts of transient existence, and maybe sometimes ruining people’s positivity with my two cents on death, all at the risk of wasting my life thinking about the end.
However, the other most existential holiday of the year, New Year’s Eve, is not nearly as depressing for me. In fact, I might go as far as to say that I like it.
See, birthdays are tremendously lonely as they are a full day in which all you are doomed to think about is your life and the slow loss of it. It is a day solely meant for you to endure, face-to-face with your own, personal mortality. Alternatively, New Year’s Eve is packaged with universality. It has just the right touch of existential dread, but you share that burden with every single person. On that day, time and its passing are more of the last supper than a crushing cross to bear on your own.
At first, I will admit I did feel a sense of pressure as to how I would spend my last moments of 2021. In the hours leading up to midnight, my family indulged in a Twilight Zone marathon, though every so often I would return to my room and lay in bed, staring at my phone. “Is this a waste?” I thought. While everyone else was drinking and partying with friends, I was accompanied by the couch and my mattress, watching a show that actively upsets you (in the coolest ways) and stresses you on the idea of time passing in the wrong direction. With most episodes ending with a sad or inconclusive finale, optimism for humanity drains slowly. Though of course, it’s only science fiction, right?
We didn’t set off any fireworks, eat any grapes, and my partner was not there to kiss. An embarrassingly tradition-less NYE. But, my family and I counted down the last 10 seconds together, facing the t.v., watching classic Dick Clarks’s, but bodies turned towards each other intimately and it felt really… nice. The next day, New Years Day, I read in the local newspaper that SYFY playing a marathon of The Twilight Zone was actually a New Years’ tradition and that made me feel much more festive. I’m a sucker for sentimentality and upholding holiday conventions. We had actually celebrated in some sort of traditional way after all.
I yearn for the day when I get to dress up in a sparkling black dress and those Happy New Year headbands, get drunk with friends, and sloppily plant a kiss on the one I love the second the clock strikes midnight. But, I know that as the years pass, I will get closer to that dream and further away from those small, intimate moments with my family. It isn’t right of me to envy the nights of others when mine can still offer much to love. Maybe it is considered small for the grandest holiday, the final holiday, but it was mine, it was ours.
I enjoy New Year’s Eve because I can be my cynical self in a positive way. In my constant state of toxic nostalgia, I am allowed, just for the night, to disguise my romanticism as reflection and ponder every moment that passed me by this year. Alternatively, I can turn my obsession with “the destination” and planning into resolutions and excitement for what’s to come. I should disclose that I did find myself growing anxious at the laundry list of things I want to accomplish this year and needed the reminder from a good friend to just try to enjoy the journey. No past, no future, just present.
When Harry Met Sally ends with the ultimate Year celebration as Harry utters the iconic line “And it’s not because I’m lonely, and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” This scene, with the beautiful Auld Lang Syne playing in the background, never ceases to wreck me. Because that’s the beautiful thing about New Year’s Eve: it’s about right now. It’s about relishing those final moments and being in tune with the way you feel at this very moment and pursuing that. We can then be our most hopeful, figuring out how you want the rest of your life to look like because of those deepest desires. Mindfulness is something I struggle to practice, so a day dedicated to trying is something I am grateful for. The song Auld Lang Syne, just like the final holiday itself, brings sentiments of comfortable loneliness, just enough to make you feel like everyone must be this lonely too.
I hope that even if you hate New Year’s Eve and everything it stands for, that you at least feel less lonely in 2022 and find a community worth feeling a little cynical with.