I was not a morning person when I met Andrew during my first year of college. I’d miss the cafeteria breakfast window. I’d cram my socializing and studying into the night, after afternoons of work and classes. I’d deliberately avoid the early a.m. courses even, I’ll freely admit, if their subjects neatly lined up with my interests.
For the dynamics of my new relationship, this wasn’t problematic in the least. While Andrew told me stories of how he’d wake up at 5:00 a.m. or some ungodly hour to do yoga in high school—how he just loved the feeling of starting the day fresh and early—the guy I came to know wasn’t so chipper at sunrise. He was more like me. For college, it worked out splendidly.
But then four years flew by. We moved-in together, stuck it out, graduated, relocated, and needed to get to work. I couldn’t imagine settling into a routine. Indeed, while there were plenty of articles and studies out there that questioned the durability of relationships between early risers and night owls, it seemed like we—two daily brunchers forced to retire the brand—were in uncharted territory. Though a couple that notoriously steered clear of argument, our weekday wake-up sessions were suddenly, upon our transition to the “real world,” met with barely-conscious bickering and snide complaining. My phone alarm greeted us like the relationship test we never thought we needed. We weren’t familiar with rising early and, more significantly, we had no interest in learning. (No, not even the promise of morning mating did the trick.)
Every couple gets into their own rhythms, of course. But we weren’t on different sleep schedules. Our conflict wasn’t based on clashing habits. Rather, our preferences were too similar to make the necessary adjustments without inconceivable sacrifice; something, or perhaps someone, would have to give. So I picked up the slack, grudgingly: monitoring the alarm, wandering into the shower, indiscriminately grabbing clothing items, and—the main event—waking up my other half.
That last task was never less than a 15 to 20-minute undertaking. Depending on the day, I’d be met with silence, guilt-tripping (“Come on, I didn’t sleep!”), rage (“Leave me the f— alone!”), or literal growls (somewhere between a dog and a grizzly bear—Andrew, upon hearing the description, didn’t disagree). I’d strip him of the duvet, blast clips of everything from late-night monologues to Judy Garland hits to his favorite Emmy acceptance speeches—niche, I know—all to no avail. It was exhausting and bizarrely stressful. It felt like I was shouldering an unconscionable burden.
And then, somewhere along the way, I changed my mind. Through my dogged efforts to wake up the snoring guy to my left, I became a morning person.
I developed tactics. I’d brew coffee to lull Andrew out of bed, only to realize that doing so helped to lull me out of bed. I’d pettily—nonsensically, really—bicker with him, both of us half-asleep, before we’d laugh it off and gradually drift into consciousness. And he had this odd thing where if I pulled together some impressions—a broad assortment of middling imitations that, for the most part, covered family members and acquaintances—he’d sometimes engage, chuckle to himself, rub his eyes, and cut the charade’s time by half. It became so rote that I hardly noticed the energy it all required, the way it accelerated my own return to the living. This strange, maddening chore began as a rather intensive way to start the day. It evolved into an essential tradition.
Part of it, to be sure, is mechanical—the strength I need to muster to get us both out the door is enough for a work-day and then some. But more powerful is the intimacy of the ritual. I’ve learned plenty about what it means for couples to sleep far apart, or at different hours of the night, or in various physical positions—when it comes to couples in the bedroom, there are too many points of focus to count. But allow me to hone in on another: Studies show that we’re at our closest when in bed together, right before we sleep and right as we greet the day. And for me, it’s when I wake up and play the role of bedside antagonist: the human alarm bell. It’s often irritating in the moment—the poking, the de-bedding, the pestering. But then, eventually, he smirks, maybe laughs a bit, and lets me give him a hug. He gets up to shower and brush, and emerges from the bathroom awake. He might even mumble “I’m sorry”—which, pre-9 a.m., translates as a sexy “I love you” clouded in morning breath.
Our morning grind is weird and unusual and exceedingly complicated, sure. But it’s ours. In all of its inanity, it’s turned into something irresistibly romantic. As long as I have a grumbling night owl to wake up to every morning, consider me converted to the sunny side.