My father’s parents slept in separate twin beds, which now sit in my parents’ guest room. The beds themselves are beautiful, made of carved dark wood, but the actual practice of spouses sleeping in separate beds always struck me as hopelessly old-fashioned. It was the sort of thing I wouldn’t have believed anyone really did – just something shown on TV back in the day to outwit censorship. But the evidence is there, in the guest room, neatly made up and waiting for a visitor.
The case for separate beds is also written across history. Once upon a time, European queens had their own bedrooms, even apartments, that their husbands (and lovers) entered at night only with the queen’s permission. It’s well-known that Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter live in separate, but adjoining, houses, a brilliant plan I will happily recreate when I am a millionaire. And a recent study reports up to 40% of couples sleep apart.
All of this now makes sense to me, because sleeping together, in the literal sense, is completely overrated. Yes, it’s nice to curl up together in bed for a few minutes. But in the actual act of sleeping, I don’t need any company. There’s nothing romantic about sleeping in the same bed. You’re asleep! You don’t even know the other person is there — until they roll over and hit you with an errant elbow, or wake both of you up with a cough at three in the morning.
I’m a terrible sleeper. I have insomnia that often keeps me awake even as my boyfriend, clinging to me like a koala, drifts off to sleep. My boyfriend also has the advantage of being a full foot taller than my 5’1” frame, and he’s what I can only describe as an “aggressive cuddler.” Most nights involve the elaborate repositioning of limbs to find a spooning arrangement in which the weight of his arm isn’t crushing my ribcage. After he falls asleep, I carefully push his arm off and wriggle to the empty, far side of the bed to check Twitter and fall asleep all by myself. I wake up in the morning to find he’s traversed the bed and placed his head on my shoulder – not cutely nestled against it as I sleep on my back, but laying on top of it as I sleep curled up on my side. I don’t even know how he can sleep like that, or how someone’s head can be so heavy, but usually it means my shoulder hurts for the entire next day.
Still, I realize there’s a distinct comfort that can come from sharing a bed. While I was living in France, I spent most weekend nights crammed into a lofted twin bed with an extremely lanky friend. I woke up every morning with an arm dangling in the air, about to fall six feet onto the floor below. We weren’t having sex, although I’m sure all our friends thought we were. We were just bad sleepers, both a little lonely in a strange country. Although I lived two blocks away, I almost always chose to stay over at his place, listen to music, drink another glass of wine, and fall asleep with company, rather than return to the cold silence of my own apartment.
But a lonely, half-drunk Saturday night spent sharing a bed isn’t the same as doing it every night, through insomnia and head colds and being woken up too early by someone else’s alarm. I don’t have the money to buy the house next door, or get a bigger apartment, or even buy another mattress. I could construct a wall of pillows down the center of my bed, but my boyfriend will just destroy it at 3 a.m. to attach himself to me like a baby chimp to its mother. I think the real plan is to save up for a king-size bed. And start going to yoga again, because my shoulder really does hurt.
Image via Veer