When an owl is in a relationship with a lark, not everything is easy
For a long time I thought I was an unmitigated night person, pure and true. I am definitely a “hate getting out of bed in the morning” person, and also a “hate getting dressed in the morning” person, and despite those rumors that when you get older you start popping up at the crack of dawn fully dressed in a spiffy suit ready to get busy with your day and make it to the senior citizens’ turkey gravy dinner, that has not been the case with me.
It might be that I’m simply a bed person, for which, given the world around us, I could not be blamed. Still, I admit to enjoying a midnight lights-out time on the reg, and in wilder moments, not sleeping until 2 or 3 or 5 a.m. I definitely feel pretty foggy when I wake up, until I’ve had my requisite coffee(s). All of this makes me an “owl”—someone who’s alert at night and goes to bed long after dark—as opposed to a “lark”—one of those early to bed, early to rise types. This designation is your chronotype, and most people are kind of a mix, known as a “hummingbird,” but we don’t talk about them as much because humanity and blog posts cleave to the extremes. “Around 10 per cent of people qualify as morning people or larks, and a further 20 per cent are night owls—with the rest of us falling somewhere in between,” writes Linda Geddes for New Scientist. Scientists have found “nearly 80 genes associated with 'morningness' and 'eveningness,’” which is mind-blowing. We may adapt, but we don’t change our stripes.
As a night person, I’ve long considered the morning types to be judgy and hyper-actively attentive to health and work and other dull things. Blair Koenig, who writes the blog STFU Parents, confesses, “When people get up with the sunrise I feel jealous of them like they’re early to everything. But I don’t actually want to be that person because I’m just not!” Night people (at least anecdotally) waver between guilt and self-justification and occasionally fully embrace of our wiles: After all, we are free to see what the day—or, rather, the evening—will bring. And we are probably all freelancers without 9-to-5 jobs or babies because a 9-to-5 job or a baby will force the functional, if not natural, lark into being. Meanwhile, I’m sure morning people are far too reasonable and productive to care when I’m getting up, unless they are my parents and I’m visiting for the holidays.
As a night person living in New York City, I’ve managed to date pretty much exclusively other night people. Maybe NYC is full of owls? Maybe dates tend to happen at night, so it just seems that way? Or maybe it’s that we adjust to one another’s schedules, to some extent, and who in the beginning of a relationship wants to jump out of bed and go for a run and eat breakfast and run all their errands before 9 a.m. on a Saturday? (Morning people, if this is your dream, keep it to yourself.)
What happens, though, when night people fall for morning people, or when your best friend has lived an entire life before you even get up and glance at your Twitter? Can these May-December relationships of the clock ever work?
The fast answer is yes, but there’s some compromise. Glynnis MacNicol, a writer with whom I am friends and the morning-est person I know—she gets up at 6 a.m. by choice, though I’ve forced her to stay out well past midnight at least once—told me, “Ha. I may also be the morningest person I know! But that's always been the case, so I don't find it strange or difficult when I'm with people who are the opposite. I'm so accustomed to being the only person up at a certain hour, and having that time to myself, that when I'm with another morning person I get super resentful that they are encroaching on my quiet time. I think I may actually prefer being with night people.”
Huh. While a lot of us nights are walking around feeling like slackers in comparison to the larks, they kind of like that they have alone time! Indeed, another friend of mine has long espoused the value of getting up very early while her husband sleeps. (All that ended when they had a baby, but she remembers the time fondly.)
Morning person Christopher Doll (no relation), tells me, “I am a morning person, heck, it's 3:46am now and I just woke up! And my wife rarely goes to sleep before 1am.” They text during the day to stay close and, he says, “I can stay awake for certain events” and on the weekends; he also takes naps to prepare for later nights. It works fine for them, and there’s an added benefit: “[Having] different schedules works out pretty well in terms of one of us always being on the clock to watch our son.” Doll says he doesn’t look down on night people, but “I do think [about it] like that old commercial for the military. I can get more done by 11 a.m. then most people get done in an entire day.”
Jeff Sharp, on the other hand, is an unrepentant night person married to a lark. “I've always been a late night person; it's when I'm most creative and ideas come,” he says. “[My wife] Andrea has always been a morning person and is best before noon. There have been several times when I was going to bed as she was getting up.” While this has limited their shared awake time, “Over 21 years we've both accepted that I'm not great in the morning and want to talk as little as possible, and that she feels like she's crawling out of her skin if it's past her bedtime and the show's not over yet but she wants to see the finale.” Lark and author Kevin Smokler is very aware of his predilection to the extent that he tries “like hell to not fall backwards into that self-righteous view us morning people fall back into so easily about how getting up earlier makes us better people than people who don't. But I am aggressive in that I know when I work best and I am an angry den mother towards myself in making sure I am working during those hours.”
Understanding makes the world go ‘round, and in terms of coupling issues, sleep differences certainly can’t be as bad as marrying someone who only listens to Musak, or who cuts their toenails in bed. If anything, perhaps it’s a version of the “absence makes the heart grow fonder” aphorism: It makes shared awake time that much more interesting. If we owls can stop looking down on the mornings for being less fun, and if the larks leave our beds quietly and without disruption at sunrise, perhaps our happy futures can be cemented for all times. As for the night people who are struggling while romantically or platonically involved with a morning person, keep in mind that the whole “early to bed, early to rise, healthy wealthy wise” thing has never been proven. Fast Company has a whole piece on why it’s great to be an owl (along with some reasons why it’s not). Read and share with your larky loved ones in the few hours you’re both actually awake..