When my husband and I were newly in love we went to sleep with our faces smushed together and woke up in the same position. We worked together and had lunch together every day. Neither of us had ever been so rapturously in love, so our lives were, essentially, in lockstep.
Needless to say, this only lasted so long. First I started falling asleep while he stayed up reading. Then I got pregnant and started passing out at 8pm in front of Homeland. Once we had the baby, I was up all night while he slept — you get the picture. So long, Days of Constant Togetherness!
Our baby is now six, but we’ve never really managed to get back on the same “togetherness” schedule. And I love it.
Here’s the thing: During the early part of a relationship you lean toward some middle ground, often subconsciously doing whatever will make the other person — or the couple — happiest. Yes! is your guiding principle, even if later you think: I can’t believe I let him convince me to eat that/ go there/ do that.
Over time, however, you are, for better or worse, revealed to still be entirely yourself, with tastes, predilections, hobbies, patterns of behavior and desires that might be of zero interest to your partner.
Case in point: My husband is a night owl and I’m an early riser, a fact that we managed to glide past for a good year, during which time we stayed out later than I’m used to and woke up earlier than he prefers. Once we became parents, I thought we’d both get on the baby’s schedule — early to bed, early to rise — but that didn’t work for my husband. He once admitted that if left to his own devices he’d work from noon to 3am (as he did in graduate school). This is, let’s be frank, impossible if you are co-parenting.
We tried myriad arrangements to accommodate us both and most of them backfired: we fought because he couldn’t get up early enough, because he wanted to have deep conversations at 11pm and I wanted to sleep. We fought because we were both exhausted and wanted the other person to live our decidedly better way.
Eventually, once the baby started sleeping through the night and waking up at a reasonable hour, we realized that we worked best on our own schedules. This doesn’t mean we don’t see each other! We are a Venn diagram with a lovely little overlap right there in the middle: we have breakfast and dinner together every weekday, and spend big chunks of the weekend together.
But in the evenings, after our daughter is asleep, we most often split: He works deep into the night. I read for a bit and then fall asleep on my own, no night light keeping me up. I get up an hour before him and our daughter to read and drink my coffee in peace.
Some families might find this odd or disjointed, and, yes, there is an argument out there that families benefit more from any time together than quality time, and for a long time I fought like hell to make this happen in my house — but it was a little like herding cats. And then I realized the truth: I actually liked time to myself, and so did he.
So much of family life is about tending to others: does everyone have enough, food, underwear, attention, love? Do we all want to go to the beach, the movies, this particular restaurant? It’s endless. But it is vital to the family’s survival for the adults to carve out a tiny piece of space for themselves alone. This is very hard to do when you have small kids, careers, community commitments, and social lives. When do you find that pocket?
My husband and I have managed to carve it out at the very edges of the day. Yes, there are cozy weeks when we binge watch The Crown and fall asleep side by side. There are mornings when I roll over and wrap my body around him and instantly flash back to our days as newlyweds.
But before long, I’m up, drinking my coffee in the utter silence of my kitchen, gloriously alone.