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Everything I Need To Know About Relationships I Learned From WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING

😴 Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream...


1994's Speed was the movie that introduced us to Sandra Bullock (we don't talk about Demolition Man) but it was 1995's While You Were Sleeping that made her a household name. And it is my favorite holiday movie. Forget Die Hard--this is what I watch at Christmas, and it has been for years. And not just because I'm still harboring a decades-long crush on the lead actor. It's smartly written, full of hilarious performances, peppered with quotable lines, and more than anything else, resonates with me. When I was 15, I spent the week between Christmas and New Years watching this movie almost every single night. Seriously, I'm here for this movie.

And, thankfully, the lessons it imparted on my then-hopelessly-romantic 15-year-old brain were actually pretty worthwhile. So here are a few of the takeaways from this movie that I still hold to today.

Love = Laughter

This is a really big one for me. The film sets up a love triangle between Lucy and the Callaghan brothers Peter and Jack. Early on, Lucy describes being alone as not having "anybody I can laugh with". This is a convenient storytelling shorthand, because a few scenes later she has an extended scene with Jack in which they spend a good two minutes laughing together and this is how we, the audience, know that they're the one true pairing for this movie. Later, when Peter describes what he wants from a relationship, he talks about not having "someone I could want to have a son with". It's a pretty stark contrast. And again, this is all just storytelling shorthand. And yet...

It was the first depiction of "falling in love" that made sense to me. I'd heard the standard yarns about love feeling like butterflies in your stomach and your heart racing and weak knees and other flu-like symptoms, or how you would be willing to die for someone, and none of that ever felt real. But the idea of laughing with someone... that described platonic relationships I had, why couldn't it apply to romantic ones as well? Maybe being in love isn't about mooning over someone, it's about enjoying spending time together. Again, this is pretty basic, but at 15 is was revelatory. And to this day, when my wife and I start cracking each other up by riffing on some dumb joke, every time I think back to this movie and say to myself "yeah, we're doing this right."

Don't Let Religion Get In The Way

Religion isn't brought up a ton in the film, but the handful of times it arises it's in the context of something that seems like it could be an obstacle, but don't worry about it. We know that the Callaghans are Catholic and that Lucy isn't--there are a few vague hints that at some point the character was intended to be Jewish, but nothing conclusive. Peter Callaghan's godfather Saul is Jewish, which shouldn't be allowed because he's not Catholic, but don't worry about it. The Callaghans fudged it over. Late in the film, Saul says that he'd propose to Lucy himself "if she'd convert", which he then admits is a joke. Again, here's how religion might come between us, but don't worry about it.

This is, at best, an extremely minor element in the film, and yet it's another thing that resonated with me, probably because it was in sharp contrast to everything I'd heard before. I was raised evangelical, and one of the things they indoctrinate you with teach you is that you should marry someone who has the same faith as you. (Which, ironically, I did. Me, a former zealot turned atheist, married a preacher kid--so we're very much on the same page there.) But I dated a lot of people whose religious values didn't align with mine, and that was an important step. Dating is about figuring out the kind of person you want to be in a long-term relationship with, and that means exposing yourself to lots of different types of people. If you're limiting yourself to only people of a specific religious background, then you're limiting your ability to figure out what kind of relationship you want to be in.

You Don't Marry a Person, You Marry Their Family

This may not be as 100% always-on of a truism as people pretend, but it's pretty dang true. And thematically, it's at the heart of the entire film. There are a number of romantic plots and sub-plots going on, but the primary one isn't between Lucy and Jack or even Lucy and Peter, but it's between Lucy and the entire Callaghan family. Her slow inclusion into the family and the associated drama therein follows the beats of a romantic comedy pretty closely. She spends more time with the family than she does with either of her suitors. And, indeed, Lucy is the one who makes the grand gesture at the climax--she even goes so far as to declare "I fell in love with you" to all of them, and at the very end, it's the entire family that's there to take her back.

It ain't subtle, is what I'm getting at.

So anyway, those are a few of the things I latch onto when I think about this particular rom-com that I am especially fond of.

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