Sleep is a $70 billion industry—we throw our money at a dreamier night’s rest, promise ourselves we’ll prioritize it, and then gripe when we’re still, inevitably, so tired. Despite our collective obsession with sleep, we seem totally unable to get more of it. In fact, we’re clocking fewer hours than ever. So, this month, we’re taking a look at what’s getting in the way—and what to do about it.
When my fiancé took off to Chicago for his bachelor party weekend, my mother asked if I wanted to have a sleepover at my place. “We can order pizza and watch movies. You know, so you won’t feel so alone,” she said. I didn’t know how to respond without hurting her feelings. It’s not that I didn’t want to spend uninterrupted time with my mother; it’s that her notion that I would feel abandoned without my fiancé made me wonder if she thought marriage was more of a literal bond than a metaphorical one. “I think I’m going to use the time to get caught up on work,” I mustered in response.
In reality, “work” meant catching up on all my favorite TV shows without my fiancé’s incessant comments about how my choices of entertainment are trash. (Hello? Handmaid’s Tale, anyone?) But even more coveted than the alone time I spent in the bathroom plucking my eyebrows or making one of my favorite meals with extra mushrooms was the moment I flopped down on our king-size bed—ecstatic to be totally and completely alone.
For me, lying in bed alone means snapping off my bra and rubbing the day’s struggles off my skin with no sexual intention. It means taking deep meditative breaths and melting into the coolness of the comforter. It means quiet—a quiet that can be reached only when I don’t have someone beside me.
When I was 18, my father died in a car accident. As my family’s eldest daughter, I stepped in to take care of my crumbling family. It was only in the darkness of night when I collapsed into bed that I could quiet all that noise, that I could take care of me. Why should I—or any woman—be forced to give that up?
I finally said “I do” and joined my hands with my fiancé’s in marriage. There was a lot of joining that began even before we prepared to merge our life in matrimony: cell phone bills, bank accounts, and of course, Netflix profiles. Starting a life with someone requires a certain amount of merging—I get it. But there’s one two-become-one tradition I don’t want to abide by: sharing a bed.
While my girlfriends gushed about what type of lingerie I was going to wear on my wedding night and whether or not my vulva would be freshly waxed, I struggled to tell them that what I really wanted was to not sleep with my brand-new husband. I long for the days when I had the option of tumbling into bed solo. One weekend of bingeing The Crown will show you that, throughout history, couples often had their own sleeping quarters, but somewhere along the line, snuggling up in the same bed became the norm.
Breaking with tradition isn’t unheard-of—an estimated one in four couples sleep in separate bedrooms—but like many women, I fear that revealing this want will make others assume my relationship is broken, doomed. I imagine people will politely smile before turning their back to me to snicker. As they discuss the day’s end with their partner in bed, they will discuss the inevitable end of my marriage too. Instead of trying to force couples into a compromised sleeping arrangement, perhaps it would be better to remember that marriage is a union of two hearts, not two bodies with varying body temperatures.
It hasn’t been long since I got married and not much has changed in my relationship, though many people said such an everlasting bond would, in fact, change everything. Perhaps in one way it has. Now, when my husband asks whether I want my usual presex back massage, I tell him, “No, sweetie, just the bed—and just me in it.”
Sarah Chaves is a writer in Boston, covering health, love, and family. Follow her @sarita_chaves.