I had my own room growing up, but was indoctrinated to believe that when I married, my shared life with my husband would mean a shared bathroom, and a shared bed.
This set-up resulted in my husband using my brush when he had greasy product in his hair and swigging mouthwash from my bottle. I found my toothbrush wet on a number of occasions.
My husband likes to get up before the sun rises; and for years, his alarm, the lights and noise would wake me. I thought this was just part of the deal.
And then, he started to snore. I’m talking piercing, guttural sounds that could wake someone in a coma and smooth, heavy, breaths that annoyed like a drop of water hitting the same spot on your skin, over and over again. At first, I’d gently nudge him so he’d roll onto his stomach, which sometimes helped. But eventually, my light taps stopped working, and frustrated, I’d resort to yelling and even, kicking. This was obviously not an effective way to engage. Slowly, hostility built.
After being up for three or more hours a night, I’d wake, defending my behavior by reciting studies showing that sleep deprivation ensured moodiness and was used as a form of torture. But my husband thought I was being a bitch. Things were not going well. There was many a time we were already in a fight before we said good morning.
One day, I heard drilling. My husband, tired of my complaining and wanting to have a comfortable space of his own, hired a handyman to install a television in a newly empty bedroom down the hall. I must admit my heart lurched, my abandonment button pressed, because before we married, I used to say to him, I can’t wait until I can fall asleep in your arms every night and wake up with you every morning. Now, here we were 20 years later, separating. It felt like defeat.
My husband was embarrassed and reluctant to reveal that we were sleeping in separate bedrooms. Even though I’d come to see our new setup as practical, if not positive, I soon realized why he had been hesitant. Our friends looked at us sadly, and with judgment. They were making conclusions about us as a couple based strictly on the fact that we no longer slept in the same bed — a move that was indicative, it seemed, of a marriage on the rocks. It didn’t matter that he’d gone through a medical procedure (where extra-long needles were required) and participated in an overnight study to stop his snoring. It didn’t matter that I wore earplugs, bought a noise machine and took Ambien. There was little empathy.
It’s true that my grandparents, and my husband’s grandparents, slept in separate beds; in those cases, it was representative of marriages failed. After the sexual revolution, the marital bed came to symbolize something new, a blessed union full of spontaneous, hot, protected, monogamous sex. At the same time, we were spoon-fed the idea that our partner should be our “everything.”
We know better now. We’ve learned that couples need lots of people in their lives, and that no one person can be everything. Times change. Ideas change. And I’d changed, too. But that didn’t stop the judgment.
Until one morning recently, when two friends sent me the same link from a Wall Street Journal article, The Secret to a Happy Marriage? Two Master Bedrooms, as if to say, look you were right. Or, at the very least, you’re not alone.
It turns out that as of August 2010, according to the National Sleep Foundation, 25% of couples sleep in separate rooms. Like vaginal dryness and herpes, the shame kept people from talking.
Honoring sleep doesn’t just affect married couples. A friend of mine is single. She and her partner have amazing dates and lots of great sex, but at the end of the night, they part ways, each choosing a good night’s sleep over an old convention.
I’ve learned to accept my circumstances. I don’t spend as much time as I used to lamenting what I don’t have. Sure, there are nights I’d like to fall asleep in my husband’s arms, or squeeze my frozen feet between his warm legs, but now I focus on, and am grateful for, the fact that I can watch Big Little Lies, Girls or what ever else I want, until whatever time I want, without having to take into account his schedule or sleep habits.
I watched an interview on this topic recently, and the reporter said, if someone is that hard to be with in bed, maybe you should find someone else to be with.
After decades of marriage, five children and six grandchildren, I should look for someone new to share my bed with because my husband snores?
I don’t think so.
Maybe I’m a trailblazer. Or maybe, just maybe, I really like it when I go to use my deodorant and there isn’t a kinky black hair curled across the top.
Illustrations by Maria Jia Ling Pitt.