Brand building through storytelling

For bed or worse

My husband and I had just arrived at a French country inn, and Madame took a dim view of us. Our fashion crimes were bad enough– hiking gear and stocking feet, muddy boots dangling from our sweaty hands.

But the real issue seemed to be our crime against love. In the land of troubadours and Edith Piaf, we had asked for—quelle horreur!—two rooms. We couldn’t face another night in a lit matrimoniale, the quaint French term for a bed so cozy, your spouse gets an elbow in the back every time you roll over. Madame could not believe we were husband and wife, but she gave us two keys with a frisson of pity.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her the truth: we’re a two-bedroom couple most of the time. My husband snores, and the first hint of rumbling in his throat is my cue for a different kind of racket: sighing, toilet flushing, clattering of drawers while I hunt for the useless valerian pills. It’s not as if we haven’t tried to share the marriage bed.

We’ve run through all the over-hyped secrets of romantic sleep, from that snoring operation to a vast new bed where we can sprawl and thrash all night without even touching. We don’t have a mere mattress anymore; we’ve got a “sleep system” tested in hospitals and made of pressure-relieving material designed by NASA. It makes a fine marital playpen—and a perfect sleeping space for one.

Drifting off alone in my high-tech bed, I sometimes envy couples who fall asleep entwined, lulled by each other’s breathing. I can’t suppress a faint whisper of guilt for prizing sleep over the presence of my husband. I think longingly of certain North American hotel rooms, where the air-conditioning has drowned him out to the point where both of us can sleep. I ponder the benefits of white noise machines (forget ersatz rain and surf; I want hotel-room drone).

But why torment myself any further? Word is out that separate beds are the healthy way to go. In a new study of couples’ sleep patterns, researchers at the University of Vienna found that both men and women wake up less rested after sharing a bed. For men sharing seems to have a further cost: reduced mental sharpness.

The Austrian study reflects growing scientific awareness that sleep-deprived people aren’t good for much. Besides getting sick more often, they’re cranky, fuzzy-brained and erratic. Not the kind of partner you’d want to share a breakfast table with, much less a shower stall and a big fluffy towel.

I shouldn’t need science to remind me of this. If there’s anything I’ve learned in many years of marriage to my first and, I trust, only husband, it’s that we thrive as a couple by nourishing our separate selves. I remember an early spat about sleeping:I thought it was bedtime (10 o’clock), he continued to watch Monty Python. At 20, I thought we should live in lockstep. We were “sleeping together,” weren’t we? The slightest difference in habits, friends or tastes had the sting of abandonment. Little by little, we discovered that by accommodating differences and quirks, we could take more pleasure in each other.

Now we always fly in separate aisle seats, to the amazement of well-intentioned flight crews who’d rather shuffle other folks around than leave a few rows between me and my husband. (Hey, we can sit together any night of the week, and an Airbus is not our idea of a love nest.) We nurture a few separate friendships (his buddies from the baseball pool, my colleagues from long-ago jobs).

The real revelation has been separate bathrooms. My God, why did nobody tell me? The bathroom is the raging id of every home, where crazy-making personal habits vie for dominance like preschoolers on a sugar high. At last Paul can throw his wet towels on the floor, I can claim three shelves for skin-care products and we can both leave the toothpaste tube exactly as we like it.

For true devotees of separate spaces in love, all this is pretty small-time. My mother, after a mid-life divorce, embarked on a 14-year romance with a man who declined to live with her. He would visit on weekends with a fresh manicure and a gift-wrapped package of silk lingerie. Monday to Friday, she wrote books and only cooked if the spirit moved her. After 25 years of lockstep marriage to my father, a roast-beef-at-six kind of guy, she had never been so happy. My friends and I all envied her, this woman who’d created a love nest in her basement while our basements were full of dirty laundry.

I’ve since decided one home suits my husband and me just fine. If we don’t sit down to dinner at the end of the day, I miss him. When I need to refresh myself alone…well, that’s what sleeping is for.

First published in Chatelaine, November, 2006. Copyright Rona Maynard.

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