Modern Love Season 2: Interview with Amanda Gefter

In his 2016 essay on modern love “ The girl of the night finds a boy of the day ”, Writer Amanda Gefter explains what it’s like to live ...


In his 2016 essay on modern love “The girl of the night finds a boy of the day”, Writer Amanda Gefter explains what it’s like to live – and get out of – with delayed sleep phase syndrome, a circadian rhythm disorder.

For most of her adulthood, Ms Gefter has experienced a nightlife: she wakes up around 4 p.m., works as a freelance physics writer all night, and goes to bed around 8 a.m. she fell in love with a man who kept more traditional hours.

Daniel Jones and I recently met four writers whose essays inspired episodes of the new season of ““Modern Love” TV Series on Amazon Prime Video. Below is my conversation with Ms. Gefter, whose episode stars Zoë Chao and Gbenga Akinnagbe. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You can also read my interview with Katie Heaney (“Am I gay or straight? Maybe this fun quiz will tell”) and the Daniel Jones interviews with Mary Elizabeth Williams (“A second embrace, with the heart and eyes open”) and Andrew Rannell (“During a night of casual sex, urgent messages go unanswered”).

Miya Lee: When did you notice your sleep cycles were different from other people?

Amanda Gefter: My parents noticed it first. When I was a baby, I slept until 11 a.m. while most babies, I think, woke up at 7 a.m. My mom was thrilled to have a baby to sleep in. schedule because of school and everything, and I was tired all the time.

I recently went through my diaries and found an entry for the age of 9. I wrote: “I can’t wait to grow up and live on ‘Alter Hours'”, as in “alternative”.

When was the official diagnosis of delayed sleep phase syndrome?

I didn’t have the diagnosis until I was 33 and dated Justin. It has never been a problem for me until then.

Wasn’t that a problem because you had the flexibility to live on “Alter Hours” as an adult?

Yes. College was the start of a much more natural schedule for me. I remember looking at the course catalog and choosing only the courses that met after 3 p.m. And I didn’t look weird because everyone in college was partying at night anyway.

My father and his mother – my grandmother – lived very nocturnal lives. When my father was growing up, my grandmother would prepare him and his sisters for school in the morning and then go to bed. Then she would wake up when they came home from school. So she had a very similar schedule to mine.

How did you make social connections as an adult, on your nighttime schedule?

It worked on its own for a long time. Almost everyone I dated before Justin was either a bartender, a DJ, or someone who worked late. And my friends leaned towards the people who stayed up later because they were the ones who would be there.

Does Justin work 9 to 5?

Yes. When I met people in the world, I met them at night, but I met Justin on a dating app. So it was like meeting someone from a foreign country who lived on a drastically different schedule.

Did you say you were nocturnal on the dating app?

I used the term “extreme night owl”. He saw this, but I think he interpreted it as what felt extreme to him, which to me is not. And her profile said, “Send me a message if you want to talk until the wee hours of the night.” So I said to myself: “Great! Ha. I think we each entered our relationship with slight misconceptions.

And when did these misconceptions peak?

Things got rushed a bit quickly because Justin loves to go out during the day, have breakfast and walk in the sun. I can handle this for a day or two, but then I’m exhausted and need to sleep. At first he would try to stay up late and I would try to get up early. And we found ourselves a little irritated and very tired. We weren’t sure if we could make it work.

What did it do to you?

It was heartbreaking because we are so compatible; we connect so deeply on an intellectual level. It was the only big problem we had. And it’s a weird problem to live, you know, two metro stops away from each other and feel like you’re living in different worlds.

So what did you do

When it became clear that this was going to be a problem, Justin asked, “Well, is it possible to change your schedule? For example, could you go to bed early or get up earlier? And that’s when I really started to wonder: why can’t I? What is really going on? So I went to sleep specialists and doctors. And that’s when I got the official diagnosis of Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder, which was very clear. This was the most classic case.

Do you think there are any major misconceptions about your syndrome?

I think the main misconception, even by people who know it’s a disorder, is that at some level you could change it if you just wanted to go to bed early.. After posting my essay, I heard from many people with delayed sleep disorders who felt they were seen.

It makes me realize that there are so many people who have this disorder who cannot live on their own schedule, who just have to stick to the schedule of society. And they walk around massively sleep deprived and miserable. There is a lot of understanding in the world for some disabilities, but this one is invisible.

What prompted you to write your essay?

I wrote my essay the day after Justin’s proposal. We had moved in together by then – and that had made all the difference. I give Justin all the credit for this. He sent me this wonderful email that said, “Let’s stop trying to force this.” Let’s just enjoy the times when we overlap.

And living together allowed you to overlap more?

Living together is a way to intertwine our lives and let each other live the way we need to live and love each other at different times of the clock.

He proposed on a beach and it was 2:00 am, and we were pretty much the only people there. It was so meaningful to me that he proposed for my day – that this thing that almost broke us, the biggest challenge in our relationship, had led to this beautiful moment when we felt like we had the whole universe to ourselves.

How was the life of a couple? What were your hours?

I go to bed around 9 a.m., sometimes later. He wakes me up when he’s finished his work day. In fact, we bought two wall clocks set in our day to remind us of where we are today as we often have very different energies.

We eat together – his dinner, my breakfast. I could be in my pajamas drinking my morning coffee while he’s in work clothes pouring himself a glass of wine at night. Then we hang out together until he goes to bed and I start my working day.

Because our time together is at night, we often sit outside and gaze at the stars. The other night we saw the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter through our telescope. We walk around our neighborhood in Somerville, MA and see coyotes and flowers blooming at night.

It’s quite magical, but it’s still a big challenge too. There are so many simple things we cannot do together and it can be difficult and lonely. But I’m not sure our challenge is fundamentally different from others: it’s about knowing how to love yourself and at the same time stay true to yourself.


Amanda Gefter, physics writer in Somerville, Mass., Is the author of “Trespassing on Einstein’s lawn.”Miya Lee is editor-in-chief of Modern Love and co-host of the Modern Love podcast.

Modern love can be achieved at modernlove@nytimes.com.

To find previous Modern Love essays, Tiny Love Stories, and podcast episodes, visit our archive.

Want more Modern Love? Watch the TV shows; sign up for the bulletin; or listen to it Podcast on itunes, Spotify or google play. We also have swag at the NYT store and two books, “Modern love: true stories of love, loss and redemption” and “Little love stories: real love stories in 100 words or less. “

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