You would have thought I’d announced we were separating when I posted a photo of my husband’s and my new bed linens on Instagram. Wait … what’s going on here??? Tell me more about this bedding … Do you each have your own blanket?????? The questions flooded in. On the surface they seemed relatively benign, but the excess of question marks seemed to imply an underlying question about our relationship: “Are you guys OK?”
We were OK. We were great, actually. In our new house, in our new city, we had purchased two twin-size duvets for our queen-size bed. I could have gone on, explained more, but there wasn’t enough room in the comments. This bedding was the latest plot point in the nearly twenty-year narrative of where, how, and with whom my husband and I have slept.
When we met, I was eighteen and he was twenty-three. We didn’t live in the same city, and spent the first year of our relationship living in the words we exchanged on our screens and the sound of each other’s voices on the telephone. I moved across the country and into his apartment a year later, to begin my junior year of college at a new school. We married soon after I graduated. We never had a dating phase, or the pretense of separate apartments, of spending some nights at his and some nights at mine. There was only ever an ours.
Five years into our cohabitation, after 1,826 nights in our queen-size bed, we could no longer sleep together. I mean this both literally and figuratively. Even though I was only twenty-five at the time, I’d begun to have night sweats and wanted nothing to touch me, while he was cold and wanted extra blankets. I also wanted to sleep with a woman, and he agreed to let me explore this desire as long as I didn’t actually sleep with anyone else. I could go on dates. I could fool around, as long as I returned home at night to sleep in our bed. Sure enough, the distance created by this arrangement brought sex back to our bed, too. But the sweating continued, and as the open relationship began to produce jealousy and hurt feelings, the sweat commingled with tears. Our bed was saturated with frustration and loss.
And so we began sleeping in separate beds in separate apartments in separate cities. It was all in the present tense: separate. We told ourselves it was what our careers demanded. We refused to say we were “separated.” Semantics aside, we were sleeping better.
My husband moved to New York, and I stayed in LA. The bed that had been ours became mine. But even when I dated other people, I rarely invited them to sleep in my bed. I kept it sacred, an altar to the religion of long-term relationships, in which I was still a believer. In New York, in my husband’s windowless bedroom, a wardrobe that had been left there by the prior tenant took up so much space that he only had room for a twin.
In America we call the smallest bed a twin, whereas in England they call it a single. Calling it a single makes a lot more sense, since it’s a bed for one person. Calling it a twin assumes there should be two identical beds. It seems to imply that you should never be sleeping alone. And yet there is a chasteness to twin beds. They aren’t for sex, they’re for sleeping. In fact, during a particularly Puritanical period in American broadcasting, the Hays Code forbid even married couples to be shown onscreen in bed together. That’s why Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz — who were married in real life — slept like brother and sister in their twin beds on I Love Lucy.