If the middle-of-the-night news break of President Trump’s positive COVID-19 test teaches us anything, it’s this: If you’re in a committed relationship, don’t wait until it’s too late to ask your partner whether you want to be woken up in the event of huge news.
If more couples had planned in advance for the important contingency of whether they wanted to be woken up if, say, President Trump announced he had COVID circa 1 a.m. EST on a weeknight, thousands of mixed-sleep-schedule couples wouldn’t have been caught flat-footed as the news of Trump’s status spread. As it was, countless people had to guess what their partners would want them to do, and many of them guessed wrong.
The writer Emily Gould implied on Twitter that her husband woke her up when she would have rather kept sleeping. Her husband later owned up to doing so in a tweet, presumably posted from the doghouse.
But some were damned if they didn’t: Slate staff writer Shannon Palus said her boyfriend texted her with the news in the middle of the night, but she was mad he didn’t call. (It was unclear at press time whether she told him she is mad he didn’t call or he will learn it from this story.)
Even Slate’s own professional advice giver Daniel Lavery was flummoxed by the situation, writing on Twitter that he was torn between wanting his wife to experience Twitter’s collective exhilaration at the news and letting her get some shut-eye. Chance intervened and Lavery’s wife woke up on her own, but not every couple was so lucky.
The East Coast night owls who were still awake when Trump tweeted about his positive test were the first to confront the question of spouse-rousing, but the timing of the president’s announcement meant that the same dilemma was waiting to greet two more waves of people: the up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-ers and then the early risers a few hours later. But all of these tricky situations could be avoided next time if you sit down with your partner tonight and draw up some rules. Call it a sleeping will. The sheer amount of news 2020 has given us should be argument enough that more dramatic all-hours revelations aren’t a question of if but when.
In drafting your sleeping will, the more detail, the better. You can specify that you only want to be woken up if the news in question is bad news about someone you hate, or you can stipulate that you only want to be woken up if it’s about President Trump specifically. If you only want to be woken up if he actually dies, write that down! You can also add a clause exempting political news completely, or specify a cutoff (say, 3 a.m.) after which your bedroom is a no-news-wakeups zone. Children of news-reading age can be written into the sleeping will, especially if they are likely to fight over who gets to tell another family member about said news.
Even those who correctly gauged how their partners would respond to a news-cycle-prompted wakeup and no doubt feel smug about it should still strongly consider creating a sleeping will. One correct sleep/news preference guess does not guarantee future prediction accuracy. After all, this particular news event was in some ways sui generis, one that stirred up strong partisan feelings and seemed to many people at once shocking and inevitable.
If you’re not in a relationship, you can still create a sleeping will with a friend or loved one; if you don’t live together, it’s just imperative to be aware of each others’ cellphone ringer volume and do-not-disturb settings. In a news emergency, you can always show up and knock. Whatever it takes to ensure that only you decide which news to lose sleep over.
Support our independent journalism
Readers like you make our work possible. Help us continue to provide the reporting, commentary, and criticism you won’t find anywhere else.Join Slate Plus