A rational defense of sleeping separately.
When my boyfriend and I first started seeing each other in college, we’d sleep in my twin bed with stacked bodies, clinging like a pair of Legos. He had a bigger bed at his place, but we preferred mine. We could be closer.
Five years later, it was as though a magnetic energy forced our bodies to opposite poles of our queen bed. We slept with our backs to one another and each of us had a designated body pillow, which we both [big] spooned. He was nearly falling off the side of our lofted bed and I wedged myself into the cold wall crack. I recalled how far we’d come—from insatiably infatuated, to this—the mere idea of touching a cringeworthy annoyance. We existed in the same space, yet somehow separate. I decided our sleeping habits were nocturnal manifestations of the state of our relationship.
The thought plagued me for some time. I was quietly convinced my cuddle-less relationship was doomed, until one weekend I traveled home to St. Louis in an attempt to sideline my worries.
I was having brunch with some old High School friends when the topic arose. Over avocado toast and egg-white omelets, our conversation had mainly centered on speculation of the, “Remember so-and-so?” and “I think they’re married now; they have two kids” variety.
One of my oldest pals, Julie, had recently gotten engaged. She described the wedding plans and showed us photos of the new home she’d share with her husband-to-be. I was tuning in and out, silently wondering what it would be like to feel secure in such heavy decisions, when I caught the tail end of her description of the house. That’s when I heard her say the words, “my room.” I pounced like a cougar in heat.
“Wait, did you just say your room?” I said, wide-eyed and incredulous.
Julie casually shrugged. “Yeah, sometimes we sleep separately.”
I immediately shot off inappropriate and invasive questions, as though it hadn’t been two years since we’d last spoken: “Wait, aren’t you like, concerned about your relationship? You’re getting married—like, entering into a life agreement to be together forever. But you can’t even sleep with him?! Isn’t that supposed to come like, years later—when you’ve given up?”
Julie remained cool (and remarkably unoffended). “Yeah, I mean, he snores,” she giggled. “Plus, I sweat a lot in my sleep. We just sleep better apart. It’s not every night, and I love him every bit as much!”
This was a couple I’d enviously watched dote on one another publicly, on more than one occasion. They were so in love, it was sickening. In fact, they’d secretly been my relationship inspiration for years…but they didn’t sleep together?
I had to know more about couples’ sleep habits. The facts I uncovered were surprising, to say the least. According to a 2005 National Sleep Foundation study, 1 in 4 couples still sleep in separate beds.
One in four! When I looked around at people I knew, suddenly this didn’t seem so shocking. Some of my friends’ parents belonged to in this demographic. I’d always considered their marriages to be sad and loveless, even while acknowledging their reasons for hitting separate sacks: snoring, back problems, strange work/sleep hours, etc. Those were poor excuses, I told myself. If they really loved one another, they’d be sleeping together—right?
But, perhaps I was wrong, after all. Perhaps these couples were just intensely comfortable in their relationships, and their sleeping arrangements were examples of their mastered compromise.
Was I was reading too far into my own relationship’s sleeping pattern? After all, there were plenty of fundamental reasons I didn’t like cuddling with my S.O. any longer.
Take the hellish heat, for instance. According to The National Sleep Foundation, a person who wants to get a good night’s sleep should keep surrounding temperatures somewhere between 54 and 74 degrees. But my boyfriend’s and my bodies acted as incubators. I’d frequently wake up SWEATING BALLS, with my hair drenched. Even when we slept unattached, I’d often wake up at 2am to drape a cold, wet washcloth over my forehead to help me fall back to sleep. And we did not skimp on the AC, people.
Speaking of heat, cuddling with someone requires both parties to be on the same sheet/blanket level—a preference that’s not always agreed upon. Sometimes I may only require a light top sheet, while he prefers to bury himself in layers of sheet, comforter and top blanket—aka a recipe for tangled-sheet midnight chaos.
Also, I’m a thrasher. I reserve the right to toss and turn freely. But there were times I knew my restlessness was keeping my boyfriend awake. I’d try to stay completely still. I’d lie there thinking, “This is a comfortable position, Paige. You like this position. You don’t need to move.” Thinking about it made it so much worse, of course. “STAY. STILL. No reason to move.” It was always after that rationalization, of course, that I decided I couldn’t go another second without repositioning my leg. I’d slowly try to creep my leg off his, but would always be met by his dramatic body rustle and accompanying light moan. It’s all I needed to know that he was aware and annoyed.
And let’s talk about blanket portions. I’m aware I’m a blanket hog. When I’m not top-sheeting it, I like to be completely burrito’d in my comforter. On the nights I woke up and looked over to see my love all naked and chilled, I’d immediately throw the blankets over him and tuck him back in. I don’t want to be a monster—I just am.
For these reasons, I declare that cuddling all night sucks. There’s too much necessary compromise. Too many unpredictable bodily requirements. And too many uncomfortable physical contortions required. Who can be expected to manage this for an entire night and sleep well!?
I hugged my old pals goodbye and drove home feeling hopeful. The pressure of my ill-fated relationship had lifted. It was freeing! To think that a couple has to sleep together every night in order to survive suddenly felt ridiculous. After all, the ancient Romans only used the bed for sex—not sleep! Who the hell am I to argue with Caesar? In fact, the concept of bed-sharing only came as a product of the Industrial Revolution. People moved to cities, had less space, and couples shacked up out of necessity, not preference! Who’s to say we were ever even meant to share sleeping quarters?
And yet, once upon a time, I had done it without qualms. During the first few years of my bed-sharing relationship I was so contented, so hungry-in-love, that the heat, the tossing, the blanket turmoil?—?all of it?—?didn’t matter. The small compromises flew under the radar, because the overarching, tangible ecstasy of being with each other consumed my boyfriend and me. All of the details were masked with joy.
My boyfriend and I broke up. Although I can’t say with any certainty that our sleeping arrangement truly was a reflection of our relationship, it’s likely my attitude toward it was. I wasn’t willing to compromise. I wasn’t willing to deal with the inconveniences or discomfort that came with being in the relationship (or our sleeping arrangement, for that matter). Because I wasn’t happy.
Sharing a bed really is the worst. Standards necessary to sleep and general comfortability prove the practice is fundamentally flawed. What was born out of mere spacial limitations and necessity has become an unfair and false-indicator of health and happiness within a relationship. If you’re a couple that can hack it—shabbat shalom, but those who prefer comfortable sleeping temps shouldn’t bare any worry or shame. Remember to look to your hearts—not your bed’s—for answers. And if your heart says they’re the one, buy a separate bed.