Recently a friend invited me to her parent’s house. Before I came over she turned to me and whispered, “My parents don’t sleep in the same bed anymore.” I told her that’s common in my family of snorers and insomiacs, which it is, and that I would never judge her or her parents, who I’ve known for years, because of it. My extended family collectively sounds like a chainsaw and I need to bring my iPod anytime I sleep at any of their houses or else I won’t be able to fall asleep at all. Seeing married couples live together, but sleep in separate rooms has been so common in my life that I actually forgot it was uncommon.
I also felt sad for my friend because I don’t know if she was judged by other people before she told me. I didn’t ask if she told anyone else. I didn’t ask why her parents were sleeping in separate rooms because, frankly, it’s not my business. I didn’t ask why she whispered given the fact that we were alone. It’s almost if she thought someone would magicially overhear and shame her because of it.
The saddest part about this entire experience is that being together, married or otherwise, but sleeping separately still has a stigma although it’s been fairly common for decades. Ironically, the stigmas attached to this — sexless marriage and/or impending divorce — are the same attached to those don’t rush into childbearing immediately after getting married or choose to remain child-free.
Five years ago, the Washington Post published an article, “The Undercover Stories Of Happily Married Couples Who Love Each Other, Who ‘Sleep Together’ . . . But Have Separate Beds. Or Rooms.”
But what’s the big deal about sleeping together, anyway?
The weight on the marital bed is artificial and relatively new, argues Stephanie Coontz, who has written extensively on the history and sociology of marriage.
“It represents this cookie-cutter model that developed in the early 20th century that told people you had to get every single need met by this constant togetherness,” said Coontz. “It doesn’t tie in with what we know about the variety of coupled relationships that have worked in history.”
What’s more, noted Coontz, a professor of history and family studies at Evergreen State College in Washington state, that model doesn’t fit contemporary life, in which couples marry later, bringing more experiences and habits to their relationships. The notion that one should be “permanently turned on, permanently available — that if you sleep in another room, maybe you’re not very sexual — is just an unnecessary burden for modern couples,” she said.
Four years ago, the New York Times published an article, “To Have, Hold and Cherish, Until Bedtime.”
“In St. Louis, Carol Wall, president of Mitchell Wall Architects, said that three or four years ago her company began “doing a lot of these little rooms off the master bedroom where the snorer would go.” More recently, couples, including some in their 30s, have started asking for two master suites, “and we don’t ask any questions,” Ms. Wall said.
Not everyone wants to talk about it. Many architects and designers say their clients believe there is still a stigma to sleeping separately. Some developers say it is a delicate issue and call the other bedroom a “flex suite” for when the in-laws visit or the children come home from college. Charles Brandt, an interior designer in St. Louis, said, “The builder knows, the architect knows, the cabinet maker knows, but it’s not something they like to advertise because right away people will think something is wrong” with the marriage.”
Yes, the articles are essentially saying the same thing and citing the same scenarios: snorers married to non-snorers, insomniacs married to non-insomniacs, those who frequently travel for business married to those who don’t, those who sleep with the lights on married those who don’t, those who sleep with the television on married to those who don’t, etc… A pregnant friend of mine is struggling with insomnia and has been sleeping on her couch with the television blaring while her husband sleeps in bed. Is it so hard to admit that what works for some people, doesn’t work for others?