11 Life Lessons From ‘You’ve Got Mail’ That Still Hit Over 25 Years Later

Let’s face it: 1998’s You’ve Got Mail was ahead of its time. Using just the dial-up majesty that was America Online, two lovebirds met in a chat room and became soulmates. Falling in love online? Unheard of! But this rom-com classic, even though now absolutely riddled with outdated technology, is still a gem. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan kill it in this enemies-to-lovers storyline, and we as the audience will never be the same. In fact, there are still things you can learn from the classic all these years later.

Accept that online dating is a perfectly valid option for falling in love.

Okay, we all know that Tinder sucks. There have been countless TikTok accounts devoted to the absolutely atrocious profiles you’ll find on dating apps, so it can be easy to write them off as a no-go. You’re probably saying to your screen right now, “but I want to meet people the old-fashioned way!” Yeah, me too. But have you? Hey, if it can work for Tom and Meg, maybe online dating isn’t so bad. Sure, you have to sift through trash, but that’s the case “in real life,” too.

Surround yourself with books.

Meg Ryan’s Kathleen Kelly and Tom Hanks’ Joe Fox are both booksellers. Their entire existence revolves around the written word. Honestly, it sounds like a dream come true. So fill up your empty shelves with well-loved tomes. Sit in parks with your favorite stories and read in the afternoon sunshine. Join book clubs. Work at the library. Most of all, make friends with people who love books, too. Y’all are a special breed.

Fight for what you love.

When a big-box conglomerate bookstore opens up near Kathleen’s small independently-owned bookshop, it’s a big problem. Her business is in danger, but her mysterious-yet-sexy penpal has some advice for her: “Go to the mattresses.” A Godfather reference, it’s an encouragement to go to war, to fight for what you care about. And that’s exactly what she does. Even though it ultimately doesn’t work out for her in the end and she loses her business, the fight is worth it. Fiercely fight for what you hold dear.

Fall in love with your city.

You’ve Got Mail is an ode to Manhattan, showing all the best parks and historic sites in the city. Even if you live in the middle of nowhere, you can still romanticize where you live. Go out and enjoy the little places that no one has even noticed. Hey, if you can’t have your own Joe Fox, at least you can be in love with your city just like Kathleen Kelly.

You can make friends from unlikely scenarios–but only if they’re legit awesome.

Kathleen and Joe are enemies, rivals. They hate each other. Right? While their first IRL meetings were fraught with tension–and rightfully so–they still managed to transition that hate fest into a real friendship. Listen, it’s easy to stick with people who are just like you. They’re the built-in friends. But sometimes you can find people who aren’t so easy at first, and it’s all the more rewarding. Just make sure this new enemy-turned-friend is actually worth your time. Joe turned out to be a caring guy. Don’t fall for your opposite unless they have a hidden heart of gold.

Don’t let failure ruin your life.

With all that “going to the mattresses,” Kathleen still lost The Shop Around The Corner, her totally adorable children’s bookstore. It was an especially big blow since it was her late mom’s store. But we can learn a lot from how she handled the defeat. She let herself wallow in it a bit, then looked on the bright side. Sure, change is hard, and failure is never fun in the moment. Still, it helps us move on from what we were doing and into something new, like Kathleen’s job offer to work in publishing. I hate to say the “closed door, open window” saying, so I’ll just stop right here.

Ditch your significant other when they don’t feel right for you.

Okay, it’s totally shady that Kathleen and Joe have this online relationship when they’re both committed to other people. I can admit that. Luckily, they both ditch their significant others before finally being together. It became clear to them both that they weren’t with people who were right for them. Even if their SOs weren’t pretentious as hell–which they totally were–they just didn’t have that magnetic attraction and deep love that you need out of a partner. Take Kathleen and Joe’s lead and ditch the duds. Even if you don’t find your Joe Fox right away, it’s better to be single than with someone who isn’t right for you.

It’s often better to be friends first.

Joe could have admitted right away that he was NY152, the man Kathleen had been falling for for ages. Instead, he decided they needed to be good friends first. Honestly, smart move. Some of the best real-life romances started out as friendships. Just make sure that isn’t the only reason you’re friends with someone.

Embrace the slow burn.

Most rom-coms have the couple getting together as soon as they’re able. It makes sense: there are only 90 to 120 minutes to establish the couple, have them fall in love, and finally get together. In real life, it doesn’t always work that way, and that’s reflected in You’ve Got Mail. They could have gotten together as soon as Joe found out that Kathleen was Shopgirl. Or they could have made it happen when they both broke up with their significant others. Or when Kathleen closed her business. Nope, they waited until it was the right time. Waiting doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and sometimes an epic love is worth the wait.

Wait until everyone’s ready before you make your move.

One of the main reasons why they waited so long was because Joe was holding out until Kathleen was ready. After all, she’d just lost her business–and it was his fault. She had to grieve the loss of The Shop Around the Corner. Plus, at this point she was still seeing him as a bit of an enemy. He stayed friends with her while she worked through all of this. You might feel ready to get together, but if that’s not the case for the other person, it’s best to wait. And if you don’t want to wait, this isn’t the right person for you anyway.

Accept love from unlikely sources.

Whether its from online or from your supposed rival, you can find love anywhere. It can be easy to have a fixed idea of where and how you want to fall in love. Maybe you dream of a chance meet-cute at a local coffee shop or you want to be set up by friends you trust. Cool, don’t stop trying for those perfect moments. But don’t close yourself off to other options as well. Who knows? You might find something epic.

About the author

Trisha Bartle

Trisha’s your resident tarot reader, rom-com lover, and horror connoisseur. In addition to using her vast knowledge of all things cinema for Thought Catalog’s TV + Movies entertainment section, she also offers her astrological and tarot expertise to Collective World. Trisha splits her time between making art and being awesome.