The strong case for the sleep divorce: Kiran Manral in The Married Feminist
I remember reading, a long, long while ago, about an intruder entering Buckingham Palace reaching the Queen’s bedroom, and having a good chat with her for quite a few minutes before he decided to ask for a ciggie, and that’s when she coaxed him out to the pantry and had him turned over the palace guards.
But what about that very essential ingredient that is the mainstay of all human relationships, namely skin to skin contact? And the lovely sleepy morning conversations that set the tone for the rest of the day, never mind the dog breath and the hair channeling Einstein,
What struck me, then all of 11, was the fact that the Queen and Prince Philip had separate bedrooms. Having cut my reading teeth on a steady diet of Princess stories as a child to a steady diet of tooth decay inducing mushy romances as a pre-pubertal girl, the idea of a separate bedroom was quite flummoxing to me. And this was much before carnal thoughts had even entered my head, the max I thought men and women got up to were kisses and those were what put babies into stomachs. But then, I am a Mumbai girl and multiple bedrooms were an indulgence given the abominable costs of Mumbai real estate back then and still are today.
More recently, I read that Donald and Melania Trump have separate bedrooms and that Kanye West and Kim Kardashian too slept separately when she was pregnant. Then there was Helena Bonham Carter and her partner, Tim Burton who lived in adjoining houses, fiercely protective of their personal space.
Katherine Hepburn probably got the equation between the sexes right when she famously said, “Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.” But that would be an ideal world.
In the real world, men and women live together and share bedrooms. Given our urban situation, joint families and space constraints, add to it the Indian concept of co-sleeping with children when they’re very young, sleeping alone is at best a luxury few can afford. At this point in my life, with the stars of matrimonial bedroom sharing having been harshly rubbed out of my cynical, sleepy eyes, given that I have shared a bedroom with the spouse for over 21 years now, I can see why the sleep divorce might make sense. A 2015 study by the US based National Sleep Foundation says that one in four couples sleep in separate bedrooms. In the US, real estate agents report a rise in the demand for homes with two master bedrooms. In India though, the sleep divorce is still a rare phenomenon. We still, for the most part, live in joint families and a separate bedroom itself is a luxury for a majority, two bedrooms are a veritable indulgence.
The fact remains that it is difficult to sleep together and not completely ruin a great relationship. For one, it is not easy sleeping together.
Most mature relationships are well past that stage where partners need to limpet cling to each other through the night, risking cutting off blood circulation to various limbs trapped under the other person’s sleeping body and gangrene. Also, there’s that tricky question of temperature and many pitched battles have been fought on this subject with no clear resolution. Some couples are firmly on the opposite side of the spectrum when it comes to a mutually agreeable room temperature at which to go to sleep in. With us, I am the Arctic Circle, he is the Equator, and the twain, it would seem, ne’er does meet. The AC remote is perhaps the most fought after device in the bedroom now that we have done away with the television remote. Someday we might have a mini The War of the Roses in the bedroom over the AC remote, and I know just how that will end.
I’m also not the easiest of persons to sleep with. I’m told I snore. I, of course, deny this vehemently given I don’t hear myself. The spouse snores and he too is in complete denial of the fact. The trick then is to be the first to fall asleep. Given I’m an owl who has married a lark this gets kind of tricky. Sometimes illness might mandate separate bedrooms. I go through a patch of nasty dry cough every winter in Mumbai when the pollution settles down on the city in a cloak of smog with all its toxicity. In all fairness to the spouse, I’d be better off sleeping in another room than hacking my way through the night with that infernal barking cough which not only ruins my sleep but also his. I’m also fidgety, I read late into the night on the device or Netflix on the phone, I laugh aloud when I read at times. To another in the deep throes of Lethe, these sudden bursts of laughter in a darkened room might be a trifle disconcerting. Some nights I work late on the computer in the darkened bedroom and even with the lights off (given I know the keyboard better than the back of my hand) the light from the screen could be quite an annoyance to a sleeping spouse who is not allowed to lie.
I’m also not the easiest of persons to sleep with. I’m told I snore. I, of course, deny this vehemently given I don’t hear myself. The spouse snores and he too is in complete denial of the fact. The trick then is to be the first to fall asleep.
Perhaps, we could think of a sleep divorce as a practical solution to real and present danger of sleep deprivation that most of us deal with in the urban context. Disrupted sleep in turn is a nasty demon that leads to a truck load of nasty lifestyle ailments, like obesity, diabetes, cardio vascular trouble and more.
There is hope though. A new bed warmer allows couples dealing with the war of the thermostat to control the temperature on their individual side of the duvet, and this duvet apparently even folds itself completely ending all debate over who does the bed in the morning which has had more couples reach for pitchforks than over the toilet seat issue.
But what about that very essential ingredient that is the mainstay of all human relationships, namely skin to skin contact? And the lovely sleepy morning conversations that set the tone for the rest of the day, never mind the dog breath and the hair channeling Einstein, the going to sleep together that makes it that much more difficult to go to bed angry at each other? How do separate bedrooms deal with that? And what about the unstated comfort of a heavy leg across one’s own through the night, an anchoring of sorts, a connect through the snores, the fidgeting and more that tells us here we are, the two of us, bonded in a Stockholm syndrome of the shared bedroom. And god help us if either decides to escape.