July 23, 2019
Artwork by Serena Chen
We had been living together for four months (officially) and two years (unofficially) when my boyfriend suggested we should sleep under separate blankets. And not just separate blankets; also, separate sheets.
It had begun as a joke—“what if we had separate sheets, hahaha!”—and then as a threat—“we need separate sheets,” he’d say, sounding annoyed. His argument was that I stole all the bedding, and then, still asleep, refused to give any of it back. This was a problem because he also liked having covers. The easy and obvious solution? Get more covers.
My argument was: “No.”
It wasn’t that the idea didn’t make a certain amount of logical sense. I do like to sleep in a blanket burrito. And he does deserve adequate covers, I agree. I’d also read that people who sleep better live longer. If I felt guilty about all my sheets-stealing now, I could only imagine how I’d feel if he died prematurely. And there was no startup cost: we already had blankets and an excess of sheets, because one thing we have in common is that we never get rid of anything. Honestly, it sounded nice, to burrito myself in peace without surreptitiously shortening the life of my boyfriend. A win-win!
But the idea made me uneasy. “How will we make the bed?!” I protested. To which he astutely pointed out that we don’t, in fact, ever make the bed. (At no point in my life have I been a bed-maker, except at hotels, the one place in the world where they do it for you.) Then I cried. Then we were both confused. I tried to explain that it wasn’t just about the bedding. It was that I was afraid our not-sharing meant something. I am not saying that men do not have anxieties. I am just saying that, in this particular case, I think it is significant that only one of us was raised on women’s magazines.
I have always loved magazines—all of them, pretty much indiscriminately—which is how I spent several years of my childhood buried in back issues of a crafting magazine called Bead & Button. I read Dog Fancy. I read Food & Wine. As a child, most of the information wasn’t directly applicable, but I liked to imagine it would be. Someday, I’d be at a party and someone would turn to me and say, “quick, what pairs well with white Zinfandel!?” And I would know, and then everyone would be impressed and probably fall in love with me.
Of all of them, I was particularly taken with Cosmopolitan, which had so much information about so many things. I read them over and over. And it’s definitely weird, the things that stick with you. I had once read an article about how the way you and your partner sleep together in bed—like, the arrangement of your literal limbs—reveals deep inner truths about your relationship. I don’t remember exactly what it said, but that’s okay, because there are one million more identical articles on the internet. From Cosmo: “What Your Sleep Position Says About Your Relationship.” From Good Housekeeping: “What Your Sleeping Position Says About Your Relationship.” And from Daily Mail: “Are you snoozing your way towards being SINGLE?”
The basic thesis of all of these is that you can tell how two people feel about each other through a close reading of their unconscious bodies. Usually, it is illustrated with an infographic. It’s an appealing idea, that you can tell how someone feels about you, based entirely on their catatonic state. You cannot see into the depths of someone else’s heart, they say. That is why it is important that you know how to derive meaning from the position of their feet.
Until my boyfriend took issue with my sheet-sharing, I had not thought about any of this since I was approximately eleven—but now it was back, and it felt ominously applicable. Did it mean something, that we were so bad at sharing? Weren’t we supposed to want to sleep under the same blankets?
The articles suggested that it might be okay to sleep on opposite sides of the bed, demonstrating that “the couple is connected, secure, close, and independent in the relationship.” But our history of sheet-related conflict was a red flag. “The tug-of-war couple,” one site announced, “has some serious issues brewing that have yet to be verbalized.”
Did we have serious issues we had not verbalized? I wasn’t sure. How could I be? We hadn’t verbalized them yet.
I tried to explain a very abridged version of this to my sleep friend, who tried to explain back that his wanting separate blankets was not about me, but rather about his desire to have a blanket. A blanket of his own, like Virginia Woolf. Armed only with infographics from the internet, it was hard to argue with this, so I agreed.
And still, six years later, part of me worried. I was happy, with both the relationship and the double sheets. But the infographics haunted me. And so I turned to Laurel Steinberg, PhD, a New York-based sexologist and relationship expert, for her best advice.
“Sleeping is a really personal experience,” Steinberg says. “What’s more indicative of the general energy or rapport between a couple, is how they use their bed when they’re not sleeping.”
The way they sleep could mean something, she says—maybe sleeping with your heads at unequal distances from the headboard does reflect a power imbalance—but it could also mean nothing. “Study your partner’s behavior during waking hours,” she advises, “or you may create an idea about someone that isn’t based in reality.”
I ask Steinberg if my blanket-hogging means I’m fundamentally selfish, but repressing it. It is a question only I can answer, she tells me, sounding wise and enigmatic, like a wizard. I cannot decide if this is reassuring.
What I can say, though, is that since adopting the two-cover policy, we have not looked back. My boyfriend is still alive and well. Instead of stewing nightly in resentment, we’ve fully embraced our separate bedding, and when we fight now, we do it when we’re both awake. And you know what? It’s the best—it is exactly as luxurious as sleeping alone, except you get to do it together.