‘Well, at least you can sleep starfish now.’ So said my friend, trying to console me post-marriage split. At the time, it seemed little compensation for a life blown apart.
But, it turns out, sleeping alone is a massive win. I never thought I’d say it, but these days I love a night toute seule. The idea used to fill me with horror. I thought I would be lonely and frightened. Plus, in my head, I associated being solo in a superking as a sign that I was unlovable and no one wanted to share it with me.
But god, it feels good. I can now sleep, undisturbed, for eight hours. There’s no negotiation about when to go to bed. No lights-out deal to broker. I set the alarm for when I want – or not at all. There is no being disturbed by multiple loo visits, coughing, duvet purloining, body judders or sleep talking. And thus, no lying there, awake, thinking murderous thoughts about the aforementioned activities. My REM is off the charts.
Of course, it took me a while to get to this point. When my marriage was ending and my husband took to the spare room– or in extremis, the sofa – it felt like the end of days.
My bed was the loneliest place. It was torturous. The scene of my darkest moments. His move out of the bedroom was a physical manifestation of the emotional gulf between us.
Before that we had never slept apart. Bedfellows since my 20s, even in our kids’ younger years when all my friends seemed to be playing musical beds with their progeny, we somehow stayed put. (I’ll never forget my friend Tony, a pilot, saying he spent the night in his daughter’s cotbed under a postage-stamp-sized sparkly princess duvet and had the best shuteye he’d had for years.)
Anyway, I was firmly of the opinion that separate beds spelt trouble for relationships.
I was, I confess, a little smug.
But now, as with pretty much everything else in my life, I am rethinking.
There’s a growing groundswell of support for separate bedrooms among those who are in long-term committed relationships.
Recently I saw the journalist and mental health activist Bryony Gordon post about the subject on Instagram. She said she and her husband sleep apart 90 per cent of the time. After feeling shame and guilt, she is now owning it.
Actress Helen Flanagan says she hasn’t slept with her husband for seven years because she co-sleeps with their children.
Where the dominant romantic narrative used to be separate beds equals a loveless, sexless relationship, women such as Gordon and Flanagan are normalising it.
My situation is different. My boyfriend and I live apart, but sleep over a couple of nights a week.
And don’t get me wrong – I love it when we do. The skin on skin, the waking up together and reaching out in the night and feeling him there – it’s so good.
Ditto the pillow talk.
Something about the dark, the warmth and the physical closeness means you are more open, more vulnerable.
I once read that Gwyneth Paltrow had similar sleeping arrangements with Brad Falchuk when they were dating. He used to stay three times a week at his place, four at hers.
It was primarily for parenting purposes, but also to keep their nights together special. They didn’t even move in full time together after their wedding but instead gave themselves a year first to ‘let their families adjust’.
I think Gwynnie is on to something. The way my boyfriend and I do it, a night together feels like a treat.
Gwyneth’s intimacy coach told her sleeping apart was a good way to keep things fresh. I have discovered she’s right.
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