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I was pretending to be a hedonist – but I was actually the opposite

Catching up with old friends this week and talk turned to a party we had between 2020 lockdowns. In the rented beach house there was dancing on tables, jugs of cocktails, late-night swims and lots of singing.

“How about you?” said my friend Oli, turning and pointing at me. “How about your form?” There was an accusatory edge to her voice.

I tried to remember what I had done – something disgraceful? Did I break something while dancing? Say something off? Throw up in the shower?

“You went to bed early on the first night and then texted us from upstairs telling us to turn the music down!”

The others corroborated this. Someone even put on a baby voice: “Turn it down, turn it down – I’m trying to sleep.”

“I was tired,” I said defensively. “It was a Friday and I’d had a long week.”

“It was 9:30pm!” said my friends. “You were pissy.”

“You sent a text,” said Oli. “You didn’t even tell us to shut up, you texted us!”

The next night I had dinner with my friend Jo and her dad. After dinner the tennis was on, a postprandial G&T was offered, there was a bowl of Haigh’s chocolate aniseed rings on the table and I was given the good chair – one that reclined and felt like lying in a giant baseball mitt.

The household settled in for a night of tennis, but I couldn’t relax. It was only 7.30pm and still high light outside – but I wanted to go to bed.

The chair was like a bed … but still, it wasn’t the same. I waited until 7:45pm before announcing that it was time to go back to my motel.

“So you can go to sleep?” asked Jo. “It’s not even dark yet.”

On Jo’s 40th, she rented a house in Port Fairy and we had a big party. I snuck off – I’m not sure what time – and found a bunk bed in a dark corner of the house and tried to sleep. A few hours later I was discovered by some of the guests – outraged that I would go to sleep in the middle of a party.

They turned on all the lights and grabbed each end of the bedding, picking me up like I was a possum in a hammock and swinging me round in the sheet for a terrifying 15 minutes. After I untwisted myself, I went back to the party and danced wearily until it was safe to slink back to bed unnoticed.

But I was beginning to make a name for myself.

This Christmas night, I told my brother that after dinner we should watch something on Netflix and he just laughed and said: “But isn’t after dinner your bedtime?”

Catching up with friends before Christmas, they compared notes on how much I slept when I came to stay. One lot of friends had a particularly comfortable foldout couch that they kept in their kitchen/lounge.

It was the only other room in their place beside their bedroom – and so when I stayed and wanted to go to sleep early, it meant they also had to go to bed. Sometimes, they found it to be painfully early – sent to their rooms before 8pm because their guest was tired.

There is something shameful in this – not the going to bed early part, but the forcing others to go to bed early too, in their own house. I had become a tyrant guest – demanding that not only I sleep nursery hours, but that everybody sleeps.

In 2012, I wrote an essay for a magazine about being a hedonist. I was living in New York at the time and went out a lot. But my favourite thing to do was go to a dance party each Sunday in Brooklyn called Mister Sunday.

It was fun – there were DJs, a dancefloor set up in a disused lot near Gowanus Canal, coloured lights strung across the trees and pop-up bars selling cocktails and $1 Pabst Blue Ribbons.

Now it strikes me that going to Mister Sunday each week and partying during the day didn’t make me a hedonist. It made me someone who wanted to be home by 9pm so she could go to sleep.

Kurt Vonnegut said, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

I was pretending to be a hedonist – but perhaps it was time to confront the fact that I was actually the opposite and had been for some time. In my head I was the last to go to bed. I knew all the places with the late licences, was active between the hours of 3am and 5am, and photographed dawns on the way home – not on a morning run.

But just as people keep a wardrobe full of clothes that no longer fit, that they haven’t worn since their 20s, we keep an idea of ourselves that is from the past. Everyone else can see you’ve changed but you think you’ve stayed the same.

Maybe this takes the form of thinking you are progressive, even radical, politically – but then find yourself agreeing with editorials in the Australian, or arguing with your friends about the need for personal responsibility or judging people who receive Centrelink. Or maybe you think you’re the type of person who knows all the good bands before they become mainstream but then listen to the Hottest 100 and don’t recognise a single song. Or maybe you thought you were a night owl, but in actual fact you are a sloth.

After being mocked this week for going to bed early, I could no longer ignore the mounting evidence that I was not who I pretended to be.

  • Brigid Delaney is a columnist for Guardian Australia

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