Sharing a bed with someone typically implies one of two things: you’re in a loving relationship or (congrats) you just got laid. But the shared double bed hasn’t always had such positive associations. Over the centuries, sharing a bed could mean you were either poor as hell, deranged, or really really into the person you were sleeping with; because why else would you choose to snore, fart, and bump into someone else in the middle of the night? Nowadays, however, the opposite is true: to be in a relationship where you don’t share a bed spells romantic dysfunction or pending divorce. When did we as a culture become so obsessed with falling asleep together?
Averse to sleeping under the same covers, side by side, the ancient Romans had different beds for different situations such as sleeping, sex, studying, and eating. The Romans would have found our current all-in-one purpose bed overly economical. Ice cream, for instance, would have only been allowed on the lectus discubitorius.
Later on, in 17th century France, the bed became a social space for intimate discussion. Women at Versailles would commonly receive friends at their bed for moments of celebration or mourning. This became such an important custom that they started building portable beds because hosts would otherwise consider it an offence. A drawing room discussion was for acquaintances, real friends talk in the bed.
These same French nobles would also keep their own private bedchamber, even if married. It was a sign of gentility for a husband and wife to have the space and luxury for individual rooms. Meanwhile, in jolly old England, a working class family would have to all share a bed together—little coal stained Oliver Twists cock-blocking you every single night with their coughs full of cholera. A bed of one’s own, then, was a coveted luxury item. It makes you wonder why as a culture now we have developed such a phobia towards couples sleeping apart.
Part of it is obviously financial. How many couples these days can afford a flat with enough space for individual bedchambers? Not many. But then, maybe, it’s more a question of priorities. Surely if you wanted, you could convert the living room or office into a second bedroom. It doesn’t seem to be a popular option, but perhaps it’s a better lifestyle choice than we realize. For one, no one’s going to get mixed signals doing it the Roman way. If a Roman invites you specifically to his or her allocated sex bed, you know it’s on like Donkey Kong. They also say time apart makes the heart grow fonder, so sleeping alone might make you cherish the shared moments with your loved one even more. Because let’s face it, “sleeping together” is an oxymoron; maybe you sleep side by side, but the actual act is a solitary one. So contrary to popular belief, sleeping apart could even benefit one’s romantic life.
Yet, as a life choice, not sharing a bed remains stigmatized. For all of the positives in keeping separate bedrooms, it does seem creepily over-efficient, turning everything about day-to-day life into a mere function. And that’s probably why no one is rushing out to convert their garage into a boudoir. With social media sites like Facebook and dating apps like Tinder, so much of our social interactions are being technologized, and perhaps, sharing a bed is a cultural reaction to that. With friends and potential romantic partners becoming mere pixels on the screens of our smart phones and laptops, knowing that a real warm person is actually right beside you is quickly becoming something you want to hold onto.
So snuggle up. Just ignore the ice cream stains.
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