Contemporary history is dotted with intellectual and artistic couples who are held up as icons of non-traditional connubiality. While it is perhaps expected that those of age or indeed royalty may sleep in separate rooms (Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinbugh for instance), the likes of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, and most recently Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton, represent the rather glamorous exception as opposed the quotidian, same-bed norm.
For us common folk, sleeping separately is often considered the beginning of the end in terms of what a modern committed relationship should entail. When I tell people that the Doc and I often sleep in separate beds, I am usually met with looks of consternation. In our case, this is perhaps warranted as it’s no secret that our relationship is fraught with incompatibilities. Moreover, the advent of separate sleeping was in fact borne out of argument, as opposed to rational choice. I am notoriously adept at picking a fight just as the lights go down; not because I want to spoil the ambience or sabotage any attempt at intimacy, but because it is usually the only time of day when I can actually grab the Doc’s attention and as such, due to my inevitable exhaustion, I tend to let rip every aspect of every thing he has done (or indeed, not done) that has provoked my riled state. The result? A huffed walk on my part downstairs and into the spare room, an accompanying shout of “I can’t even stand to sleep next to you I’m so angry” trailing down the hall in my furious wake.
The Doc was always relatively phlegmatic about the whole situation; if sleeping in different beds meant a more peaceful existence between us both and a more restful evening for each of us, then what was the problem? I, on the other hand, bemoaned the whole phenomenon, viewing it as a great gaping black hole where romance and companionship should be. He even emailed me links to convincing articles on the merits of separate bedrooms (not so much to encourage it, but to quell my anxiety about the deficiencies of our relationship), which I invariably threw back in his face. Virtually, of course.
But after a particularly sustained cold war between us which began a couple of weeks ago, I have subsequently come to rather enjoy the solitude and comfort of whole bed ownership. Despite the stand-off having since dissipated and our exchanges more or less returned to a modest congeniality, I still tend to gravitate downstairs at bed time, rather than entering my pseudo marital bed. The Doc now seems to think this rather silly and can’t help but feel slightly rebuffed.
But I, on the other hand, have never slept better. It’s one element of single life that I seem to have rather relished returning to, albeit begrudgingly at first. For instance, I have always been a centre-bed sleeper, followed closely by diagonally; an impossible need to satisfy in a bed-sharing dynamic. Other obvious benefits include reading until whenever with the light on, not having to fight for the duvet, no weird sloping in the mattress because of the other person’s weight, no other person’s restlessness, und so weiter, und so weiter… With all the compromise and space-grabbing that being in a relationship necessitates, it feels good to colonise an autonomous space once more.
Despite these purported advantages, there is a lingering, nagging thought that keeps creeping into my mind. I am not Simone de Beauvoir nor Frida Kahlo; I do not engage in an immensely passionate, creative or deeply intellectual way with my partner that would somehow ameliorate or perhaps even justify the nocturnal separation. Our separation demonstrates a more worrying trend, wherein two different people increasingly occupy two different worlds.
In light of this lurking doubt, I find myself frequently taking mental trips to the house where my mother grew up. I never saw it, but she tells me that my grandparents didn’t share a bedroom. Rather my grandmother slept in the bedroom with my mother and her sister, while my grandfather shared with my uncle. I doubt this was so uncommon fifty or more years ago; I seem to recall many an older person’s room being inhabited by twin singles as opposed to a single double in my childhood. The way my mother recalls it though suggests that it was not so much a pragmatic choice between my grandparents, particularly as they were still sharing space – just not with each other; but rather one of diminished intimacy.
So as much as I would like to carve out a room of my own and a bathroom to boot, the reality is that, certainly in our household, space is constrained by income and flat-living. If we were wealthier, in a country estate with six bedrooms, perhaps some of these needs could be satisfied with greater elegance. But if the Doc and I continue on our trajectory, we will resemble more my grandparents than Bonham Carter and Burton, our children sharing our respective rooms and vowing to use their parents’ relationship as the antithesis and not the template of their own.
Thus, the spare mattress must go and with it, my love affair with sovereign slumber.
Image Kahlo and Rivera source
Image de Beauvoir and Sartre source