Over at the Catholic Herald’s Chapter House blog, where I write a couple of times a month, I have a new column on the classic ’90s romantic comedy While You Were Sleeping. I somehow managed never to see the movie until just last week, when I discovered that, in addition to being one of the very best romantic comedies of the last few decades, many of its themes are just what we need to hear during this strange cultural moment in which we find ourselves.
Even before the coronavirus outbreak confined most of us to our homes and largely removed us from our tangible communities, we were suffering from an isolation pandemic in this country. Here’s part of how I put it in the piece:
Technological advances such as FaceTime and Zoom have been godsends, to be sure, but we all know that a video call can never replace a housewarming party, a first date at a movie or a dine-in restaurant, a real Thanksgiving dinner, a chance for grandparents to watch their grandchildren open presents under the tree. Social distancing, though a necessity in some circumstances, doesn’t come without significant suffering and costs.
We are social creatures, and though they hadn’t received nearly enough attention, social scientists had been telling us long before the coronavirus outbreak that we’re in the grips of an isolation pandemic, a cultural crisis of loneliness. It’s little surprise that the last few months of lockdowns have brought about spikes in the number of Americans reporting anxiety and depression, certainly due at least in part to increased isolation.
Which brings us back to lonely Lucy. Along with giving us more well-rounded characters than the modern rom-com typically delivers, While You Were Sleeping reminds us in our age of isolation that we are all better off when we’re knit into communities and places where we belong—even when those communities force us to accept other people’s idiosyncrasies, even when living closely with them requires patience and selflessness, even when it’s difficult and often painful to be dependent on others and have them depend on us.
If you’ve managed to miss out on this classic like I had, make some time on a socially distanced evening at home to fix that.