I inadvertently revealed something about our home life in a recent post that caught a lot of people’s attention. I mentioned that David got in my bed a recent morning to comfort me because he could tell I was stressed. Yes, I said my bed. Mine. As in, not ours. We don’t have a bed. We have beds—one for each.
I can’t say I was surprised by everyone’s curiosity. Separate beds are not the norm for married couples—especially not newlyweds. For us, however, they were non-negotiable. When we started looking for apartments to start our married life, the most important criterion was that the bedroom be big enough to fit two full-size beds. (We don’t sleep in twin beds; we’re not Lucy and Ricky, after all.)
I remember talking about this before we even got engaged, on our first trip together. The studio where we stayed only had one bed, and no couch, so we’d been forced to share. In the morning, I asked David how he’d slept. He answered something along the lines of “OK,” or “not bad.” His lackluster answer emboldened me to say that, if I ever got married, I intended to talk my husband into sleeping in separate beds. I still remember how his eyes lit up with excitement. “Really?!” he asked. The mix of relief and joy in his voice told me he was the right kind of guy for me.
There’s something uniquely romantic about the shared marital bed. And according to the priggish censors who designed the Ricardos’ on-screen bedroom, something uniquely sexual about it, too. Sleeping in separate beds, people seem to think, is a sign of marital discord or prudishness. If you like each other, why wouldn’t you share a bed? Sometimes, it seems like half the reason why people want to find a partner is so that they can have someone sleep next to them.
I’ve never understood this. My grandparents were married for more than 60 years, ’til death did them part, and they always had separate beds. Like most couples of their generation, they were open about it. I can’t remember now if they had a nightstand in-between, or just separate bedspreads, but there was no question, when you walked into their bedroom, that there were two beds. My parents have been married 52 years, and they, also, have always had separate beds. Their generation, however, already expected married couples to share a bed, so they’ve always hidden their sleeping arrangements—they’ve traditionally had a big bedspread covering both beds, so that on the surface it looks like they just have one massive bed. Either way, to the best of my knowledge, these two couples have always liked and loved each other.
Our friends’ reactions to our bedroom setup have been amusing. Most of the time, the conversation is humorous, and it usually includes lighthearted debates over the virtues (and vexations) of cuddling. Talking to other couples about it has been interesting because, often, only one of the two is adamant about it being a crazy idea—while their counterpart coyly “jokes” that they don’t think it’s really all that crazy. And someone always asks us why we don’t just get a king-size mattress. The answer is that it doesn’t address the sheet-tucking and sheet-stealing issues, and at the end of the day it’s simply not as comfortable as having your own bed.
Next to the concerns about cuddling is the worry that if a couple isn’t sharing a bed, they’ll stop having sex. I find this one particularly myopic. David and I abstained from sex before marriage and yet every time we traveled together while we were dating we ended up having to share a bed. For our honeymoon, funny enough, we stayed at several places where we each got to have our own bed. Just like sleeping in the same bed all those times before marriage never led to sex, sleeping in separate beds since the wedding has in no way stopped us from enjoying full intimacy.
We’re not bucking tradition so much as returning to it. Despite the apparent novelty of our choice, there appears to be a segment of couples in the population who are beginning to rediscover the benefits of having two beds. Books have been written, TV segments have been aired, and articles have been published that go so far as to say that sharing a bed is bad for your health. A quick Google search on the subject yields almost 80,000 results, and, perhaps even more tellingly, there are almost 7 million search results for “what is the biggest mattress you can get?”
As with many things in marriage, this is a case where one size does not fit all. Some couples, for example, opt for separate bedrooms altogether, and that is something that David and I would not want—we’ve come to enjoy the lights-out chit chat before we fall asleep, and there is comfort in being in the same space. What matters, I think, is that couples talk about these things freely, and with complete honesty. I don’t buy the claims that sharing a bed increases your risk of divorce, but I do think that blindly accepting anything society prescribes can hurt a couple’s long-term happiness. Your marriage is yours, and you shouldn’t be afraid to tailor it to fit your preferences and personalities—even if that means going back to the practices of your grandparents.
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