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Girlfriend's Guide: The REAL Secret To Staying Married: Separate Rooms

03/24/2010 08:18 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Vicki Iovine Vicki Iovine is the author of the Girlfriends' Guides series of books

A couple of Fridays ago I wrote about those moments right before I fall asleep that scare me and bring up the loneliness of being newly-divorced. The responses were many and broke down into four categories.

1. Get a dog (or cat or something else with a pulse that doesn't back-sass).
2. Smoke pot, take herbs, listen to white noise.
3. Avoid pills at all costs, particularly Ambien.
4. Stop your whining and go to sleep already!

It's number four that particularly interested me because most of the people who thought I was a big fat baby were married women (and some men) who no longer sleep with their spouses. Most of my friends and acquaintances follow my blogs, which is usually great, but occasionally humiliating (I think they've organized a phone tree to make sure I don't kill myself between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 p.m. because of that last blog. (Just kidding again, you guys!) In the ensuing couple of weeks since that post on sleeping single they have been coming up to me and phoning and emailing me about their own experiences.

While I may be wondering who might share my bed in the future, a stunning number of my peers are hoping they never have to share their bed again, at least not with their spouse. I was so surprised to learn that many long-married couples don't share a bed, that I've been working on some theories why it is so much more common than I'd ever known (and I make it my business to know such things!).

One of the first people I queried was my 77-year-old mother, who has lived without a man in her bed for so long now that she has forgotten how she first met my brother and me. "They hate sex!" she shouted back at me. I was stunned by her vehemence about something she'd not seemed to have an opinion of one way or the other for four decades. Still, sex was the first thing that seemed at issue to me, too. So I wondered if separate beds were a statement that the mates no longer wanted to do it.

Still, any teenager knows that people don't need to sleep together to, well, sleep together. You don't even need a bed, or to be lying down for that matter, so perhaps this wasn't the determinative factor. Then again, sleeping apart does make coupling much more inconvenient and rarely spontaneous. Look, I'm not unfamiliar with the effects of time on romance, having been with one mate for nearly 30 years, but at least when couples share a bed the odds of rolling into each other are greatly increased.

Another issue that came up with surprising frequency was temperature. Several people complained that they couldn't sleep because their mate kept the room too hot/cold. This varied depending on whether the women suffered from internal fracas of perimenopause or the men traditionally burned hotter than their mates. So, sometimes it's age-related, but often not.

That leads us to snoring -- usually men's snoring, but not exclusively. This is the most common motivation for sleeping apart, but not by as much as I would have thought. The wheezing and gasping does seem to increase with age, but also with getting fatter. And since getting fat is an equal opportunity pastime, it can strike men and women and at any time in the relationship. And if either of the partners is turned off by fat, then we're back to, "They hate sex!"-- at least with that mate.

Since I'm not aware of anything like Sudden Onset Snoring, I've got to assume that this is a gradual process that is accepted for a certain amount of time before becoming a crisis. So when does someone wake up one day and move out of the family bed?

The people I've talked to who sleep apart, generally do it when a bed becomes available, a system employed by hospitals and rehab clinics. I'm suggesting that most people who look for a quieter, warmer, colder, lighter, darker or less intimate place to sleep find it in late August, after a kid has left for college. As the kids move out one by one, it's simply opportunity-meeting-reality for many couples. Just think how many marriages higher education is saving -- it almost makes tuition bearable if you amortize part of it as that spouse's "rent."

It doesn't take Virginia Woolf to tell me that lots of people are seeking a room of one's own, and that's rarely possible, or even attractive, during the family-building years of our lives, unless one has a nice guestroom. I have maintained for years that the secret to marriage was separate bathrooms, but if the secret is also separate bedrooms, maybe everyone who called me a whiner is right. I must be the luckiest woman in town because what everyone really wants eventually is to be neighbors with their beloved mates.

Am I right? Crazy? I'm dying to hear your thoughts on this so please respond.