I Love You, but I Don’t Want to Sleep With You
Last spring, as Valerie Weisler was preparing to move to New York City to live with her partner, she realized she wanted her own bedroom. She’d been living alone while in graduate school in Ireland, and the idea of sharing a bedroom, even with a partner, filled her with dread. But the alternative filled her with self-doubt.
“Is there something wrong with me for wanting this?” Ms. Weisler, 24, recalled thinking. “You meet someone, you fall in love and you move in together. And moving in together means sharing a room. And that’s just what life looks like.”
Her partner, Ky Dates, 22, who was at the time finishing college in Pennsylvania, had assumed they’d sleep in the same bedroom — isn’t that what couples do? — and felt blindsided by the suggestion that they change course. “I was totally freaked out,” said Mx. Dates, who worried that this could be a sign of a relationship in trouble. “It was a lot of fear responses, for sure.”
After Ms. Weisler explained how she had come to value personal space during her time living abroad, Mx. Dates warmed to the idea. And in September, the couple moved into a four-bedroom apartment in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, sharing it with two roommates. Everyone has their own room.
Sleeping apart is more common than one might think: One in five couples sleep in separate bedrooms, and almost two thirds of those who do, do so every night, according to a January survey of 2,200 Americans conducted by the International Housewares Association for The New York Times. And interior designers have reconfiguredhomes to transform separate bedrooms into adjoining ones — an arrangement that more couples are demanding, according to designers who have seen an uptick in requests from couples that sleep apart and want to make a secondary room feel as thoughtfully decorated as the primary one.
Perhaps these couples have found the secret to domestic bliss: a room of one’s own. Everyone gets a better night’s sleep, undisturbed by a partner’s incessant snoring, penchant for blanket-stealing or devotion to late-night TikTok scrolling.
Plus, add a little space and you make room for more spice.
‘A Mild Pink Flag’
Sex therapists and marriage counselors have their doubts. Katherine Hertlein, a professor in the couple and family therapy program at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, worries about the motivation behind the decision to slumber in separate quarters. Is it really because a partner tosses and turns too much? Or is that an excuse to avoid talking about bigger problems at home? Or a nonconfrontational way to escape an unhappy pairing? “What are you pretending not to know?” she said. “I have people say things like, ‘I moved to that other bedroom because of my back,’ and I’m like, ‘Did you? Did you?’”
Few metaphors better convey a relationship on the rocks than a couple sleeping apart. “Anna Karenina,” the ultimate ode to marital discord, opens with a philandering spouse cast out on a couch, the defining symbol of an unhappy family. While the aristocracy has long kept separate boudoirs, often portrayed alone in their grand privatebedchambers on shows like “The Crown” and “Downton Abbey,” they are also a class that tends to marry for money or title, not love. Couples who marry for love double up. Even Lucy and Ricky Ricardo shared a room on “I Love Lucy,” despite their famous twin beds.
Take away the guaranteed together time, not to mention the easy opportunity for sex, found at the end of each day curled up in bed together, and lovers could morph into glorified roommates.
“I get a little bit of a mild pink flag,” said Dr. Cheryl Fraser, a clinical psychologist, sex therapist and the author of “Buddha’s Bedroom.” “It’s not a big leap from healthy solitude to a little bit of distance.”
In her surveys of 3,000 couples in long-term relationships, Dr. Fraser has found that roughly 33 to 40 percent report that they are in a sexless relationship, clinically defined as having sex together no more than six times a year. Take away the snuggle time that happens in a shared bed and the sex might soon go, too. “When you sleep in the same bed, sex naturally happens,” she said. “We marry for love and therefore we want to be in the same bed and have sex with each other.”
But according to the International Housewares Association, a trade organization, 31 percent of surveyed couples who said they sleep apart reported that the arrangement had no impact on their relationship, and 21 percent said that their relationship improved because of it. (Granted, the remaining half of the respondents did not see the setup in such a positive light.)
Designing a Room of One’s Own
Rich Newhart said he feels closer to his wife — and more eager to be intimate with her — precisely because they have their own bedrooms in their house in Burlington County in southern New Jersey.
“You’re no longer trying to figure out ways to break away from your family and get your alone time,” said Mr. Newhart, 31, who works for a health insurance company.
The couple started sleeping apart at the beginning of the pandemic, when they were home together 24-7 in a house in Houston with an open-concept floor plan. All the family time was more than his wife, Cara Newhart, could take.
Ms. Newhart, 30, moved into a guest room.
“I’m an introvert and I need alone time to recharge,” said Ms. Newhart, an interior designer and the host of a podcast called “Make Space.”
Once she made the move, she loved it. She realized what she had missed, having only lived alone briefly in college and becoming a mother at 24.
With her own room, she could express herself. “We had to be thrown into being parents, we both lost ourselves. As our daughter gets older we are re-emerging and asking, ‘What are my hobbies? Who am I?’” Ms. Newhart said. “Having physical space for that process has helped a lot. We don’t feel like we’re just stuck with somebody.”
Last June, the couple decided to make the sleeping arrangement they had in Texas permanent when they moved to a three-bedroom house in New Jersey. Ms. Newhart designed her room with burnt orange and navy hues, light natural wood tones, and a bold, patterned statement wall behind the bed. She designed Mr. Newhart’s room with cool blues, grays and darker wood tones. Their 6-year-old daughter sleeps down the hall. “I want my space to look like my personality and that’s really important to me,” she said. “I wanted a room where we don’t take our design styles and mash them up.”
You don’t have to do that much to make two rooms feel equally special. Rodney Lawrence, an interior designer in Manhattan recently worked with a young couple on the Upper East Side who wanted to make a secondary bedroom feel more like a primary one so the wife could sleep alone because her husband kept her up late. Mr. Lawrence selected furnishings and colors for each room that complimented the couple’s overall aesthetic, and resulted in two spaces that felt equally significant, so one partner did not feel relegated to the guest room. “I think it’s way more common than people think,” he said.
Costs for a major overhaul of a living space can add up, said Artem Kropovinsky, a Manhattan interior designer, who reconfigured the top floor of a five-bedroom home in Scarsdale, N.Y., to create two primary bedrooms connected by a shared sitting room for a young couple with conflicting sleep schedules. The project took six months and Mr. Kropovinsky said such designs can cost around $400 per square foot. “It’s a big investment,” he said.
For some, uninterrupted rest and privacy are worth every penny.
About 46 percent of the people surveyed who said they had called the shared bed quits blamed a partner’s snoring or tossing-and-turning for the change, according to the International Housewares Association. The survey found other common culprits, too, like different sleep schedules or conflicting wind-down routines. Almost a fifth of respondents said they sleep in separate quarters because they simply want private space. And 22 percent of respondents said they made the change in the last year, raising the possibility that the arrangement is becoming more common, not less so.
‘He Prefers His Room and I Prefer Mine’
In the 13 years that Laura Perna and Geoffrey Glass have been together, the couple has never shared a bedroom. They currently live in a four-bedroom house that they share with a roommate in Austin, Texas. Ms. Perna, 40, the communications director for a disability rights organization, likes that she has a neat, tidy space all her own. And Mr. Glass, a veterinary technician for the City of Austin’s animal shelter, prefers his space full of knickknacks and cozy.“He prefers his room and I prefer mine, but the important thing is that we’re with each other,” Ms. Perna said.
Occasionally, they’ll spend a full night together, like when they watch a scary movie, or during times when they need comfort, like after one of their cats died a year ago. “There are definitely times when we do sleep together for emotional support,” Mr. Glass, 47, said. “It’s often something we just don’t even discuss. If we’re going through a tough time, oftentimes that is what will happen.”
Like many couples interviewed for this article, Mr. Glass did not see sex and sleep as two activities that were necessarily connected. “As far as flirting, cuddling and making out, we do that quite a bit, and that is very spontaneous,” Mr. Glass said. “But usually, if we’re going to the bedroom together, that’s it’s own thing and there is a more deliberate aspect of that level of intimacy.”
Ms. Weisler and Mx. Dates in Brooklyn sleep apart during the week, with sleepovers in each other’s rooms on the weekends, which they find romantic and playful. “It adds spark to our relationship,” Mx. Dates said.
Ms. Weisler loves walking down the apartment’s hallway and seeing the door to her room at the end. She decorated the door with confetti stickers and a sign from an Ireland thrift shop that says, “Joy.” The space feels like her sanctuary, one she enjoys sharing with Mx. Dates.
“When Ky comes into my room, it’s like, ‘Do you want lavender or green tearoom spray on your pillow?’” said Ms. Weisler, who offers her partner snacks from the mini-fridge in her room. “It’s kind of like hosting each other within our home.”
Before they found their apartment, Mx. Dates worried that finding one with separate bedrooms would translate to higher rent in a city where housing costs are already impossibly steep, particularly for young people. But they each pay around $1,000 a month for theirmodest-size rooms. They estimated they would have incurred similar costs for a different apartment with a bedroom large enough for two.
“Sometimes people just need a little bit of space. No matter how big your apartment is, it’s never big enough,” said Jacqueline Newman, a Manhattan divorce attorney, adding that the pandemic has changed how couples interact, particularly as they settle into years of hybrid work arrangements, spending far more time together than they ever did in the past. “It’s all about what works for you.”
Ermelinda and Jay Wood have been married 40 years. For the last 20, they have slept in separate bedrooms because Mr. Wood snores loudly and crowds Ms. Wood out with all his pillows. Ms. Wood can’t tolerate it.
“You have to be practical with marriage if you want to stay married,” said Ms. Wood, 67, who lives with Mr. Wood, 66, in a two-bedroom apartment in Pacifica, a coastal town south of San Francisco. “You have to understand that you’re not always going to be on the same page and you’re not always going to be lovey-dovey.”
But Ms. Wood worries about the social stigma associated with a couple sleeping apart. (When her mother was still alive, she used to give Ms. Wood grief about it until she once heard Mr. Wood snoring. Then she relented. )
“It’s almost like a dirty secret,” Ms. Wood said. She worries that if she told friends about their living arrangement she and Mr. Wood would be judged for breaking a cardinal rule of marriage: married people sleep together.
But, Ms. Wood has come to cherish having her own room, starting to wonder if it’s a space she’d ever relinquish under any circumstances. “Why wait until someone is dead to get a good night’s sleep?” she said, adding, “Maybe the question is: What is a bedroom? Is it a place for you to have sex? Is it a place for you to go read your book? For me, the bedroom has always been the place where I go to rejuvenate and sleep.”
And sometimes, sleep happens best alone.