1. Life & Culture

The romantic appeal of separate bedrooms

With age came change, but that’s not where their story ends.
For this couple, separate bedrooms works quite well.
For this couple, separate bedrooms works quite well. [ Shutterstock ]
Published Jun. 23

Now that my wife, Karen, and I have been married for 50 years, we are often asked about the secret to an enduring relationship. I can’t speak for her, but my answer would be separate bedrooms.

This must seem like history’s most unromantic response, and it is nothing we ever planned. Tough circumstances drove us into different rooms, but now that we have the choice to share a bedroom and a bed again, we have chosen to stay apart, a separation that turns out to be more romantic than you might think.

As I have written before, almost seven years ago Karen was diagnosed with breast cancer, with two recurrences. I won’t labor over the routines of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, except to say there were times when her immune system was compromised, when we were told to take precautions against any infection.

Years before the pandemic hit, Karen and I were staying out of crowds, washing our hands and sleeping in separate bedrooms. The move was not just to avoid infections. Chemo produced all kinds of devastating side effects. It turned out that having a bed and a bath to herself offered Karen better rest than she got when I slept beside her.

But there is an important, humorous BC (Before Cancer) story to share. As we aged into our 50s, Karen and I both developed annoying sleep habits. We both rolled over restlessly. We both made more than one trip each night to the bathroom. And we snored.

Karen denied that she snored. I denied that I snored. Our daughters will testify that we both sawed wood like lumberjacks. She denies this was possible, but I once told Karen that she had awakened me with her snoring — from the other side of the house!

I plead guilty to a sleep problem to which my wife once fell victim. When I have the occasional nightmare, I will try to escape by kicking the covers off. One night I dreamed that a vicious creature was biting my foot off. Turns out, as I was kicking, I hit our Jack Russell terrier Rex, who liked to burrow under the covers. He DID bite me, and as I yanked my foot away, it swung around and caught Karen right under the left eye. She had every right to send me to the doghouse — that is, the back bedroom. She spent the rest of the night cuddling the dog.

Now there is a bit of a problem with my new bedroom. It was once occupied by three daughters and maintained an ambience I could not abide. It took some time, but I slowly added my man power: a rugged bedspread, a set of musical instruments, pelican art on the wall, a Beatles poster, my collection of 52 sports caps.

The advantages are clearer than ever. We have separate beds and mattresses and pillows to individual preferences. Our own closets and bathrooms. Our own television sets, so she can drift off to a Hallmark movie, and I can watch a midnight episode of “Seinfeld.”

If you have read me before you must be wondering when I am going to get to the sex part — and here it is. When I was 22, I had a single burning desire: to sleep in the same bed with this woman for the rest of my life. But Shakespeare knew that romantic love meant young love. For newlyweds, sleeping in the same bed offers accessibility and a spontaneity that sparks passion.

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When you get a little older, the spontaneous can feel unreliable and overrated. I will spare you the embarrassment of my being too specific, but separation encourages a return to dating, to the romantic rendezvous.

The magnetism of physical proximity gets reversed with aging and illness. My mom lived to 95 and got to spend years comfortably in her own bedroom as my dad snoozed in what we called the TV Room.

Karen goes to bed earlier than I do, and I tuck her in with a kiss. She gets up to make coffee and pitter-patters into my bedroom and wakes me up with a kiss. These are wonderful rituals for us. They celebrate a good night’s sleep and spark an eagerness to start another new day together.


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