While I realize my recent blogging break is making me slow on the draw here, I still wanted to give my husband John props for planning a fun Valentine’s Day activity.
All by himself, he reserved us a couple of spots at this place called “The Painted Cork,” where you paint something (elephants, in our case) while drinking wine. He then packed a dinner of stuff like salami, cheese, bread, olives, and dark chocolate with sea salt, which ended up piled around our easels for the evening.
It was LOADS of fun, even if things got a bit rowdy after a couple glasses of wine and I ended up talking too much and going crazy with shadowy goth elephants because why not?
It was a tribute to our dating period, when he impressed me by taking me to an art class where we painted some apples and our apples were similarly different back then as well (his a perfect rendering of the example apple and mine a pile of shadowy ennui painted well outside the lines).
But in truth, it was bound to be an awesome time because I’m never gonna criticize a date my husband sets up all by himself because only a fool would discourage their spouse’s efforts to be romantic (or wash dishes or pick up or say nice things or bring home gifts) unless, maybe, he was taking me to a monster truck rally for the third time (I’d be game once) or giving me one of those godawful Big Johnson shirts that were popular a couple decades ago…
And frankly, I’m proud of both of us for going out at all and NOT spending the night binging on Netflix while wearing sweats and eating hot wings (despite how much we swore we’d still be Cool Parents who Still Do Stuff ) because parenthood can be so draining that you sometimes want to collapse the first second someone’s not demanding anything.
But we didn’t. We put on proper clothes, listened to grown-up music instead of Disney, drank wine and talked about world events like actual grownups on a date. Yay!
As previously mentioned, my husband and I have wildly different circadian rhythms. He falls asleep by nine, whereas I don’t even try for another five hours or so.
Partly, this is because I’m a freelance writer who must squeeze in work whenever a toddler isn’t demanding I admire her pee or open up yet another yogurt cup.
But mostly, my husband and I are just differently wired. He gets groggy by 7 PM, while I will literally have no memory of any conversation we have before 9 AM. “Write it down!” I’m always reminding him. “So I can read anything worth remembering after coffee.”
On the other hand, whenever I accidentally wake him up in the middle of the night, he jumps up, looks at me as if I’d just dumped the cat box all over his room, then repeatedly grunts while flinging the covers over his eyes to avert the horrors. He claims to have no memory of said reactions, but his disapproval is nevertheless made abundantly clear.
So my stealth skills have dramatically improved because I like a challenge (even if said challenge is just moving things around in your husband’s room so he wakes up confused).
Still, I’d been trying to stop that lately until the other night, when I realized I’d left my phone in his room and… argh… it was 3 in the morning. I didn’t want to wake him up, but I needed to count up how many Anglo-Saxon kings died suspiciously young in the Kingdom of Mercia.
Why? Because they didn’t have a lot of reliable methods to figure out causes of death back then and so many kings died within a couple of years of taking the throne, often in their early twenties, and aren’t you curious too?
Maybe not, since I’m uniquely weird like that and in retrospect, this question probably could’ve waited until the next morning. But it didn’t feel like it at the time.
Plus, I’ve now been tiptoeing around my husband long enough that I assumed I could slip in to access Google and sort out all the Anglo-Saxons without my husband ending up any the wiser.
And I approached this mission like a ninja boss: I squeezed the door knob completely before opening the door. Leaving the light off, I walked toe-heel, toe-heel to the nightstand to quietly melt my hand over my phone. I really thought I was getting away with it, when…
He suddenly lurches forward in bed with enough force to knock a pillow off.
He turns his head toward me.
He takes a deep breath, rubs his temples, and says…
“I’ve been letting her use my dragon costume again.”
He sighs in relief.
Okay, so the man was clearly dreaming. Apparently, about loaning out his dragon costume again.
Wait a minute. Who has been borrowing his dragon costume? It sounded like an admission. I try to imagine any situation where you’d be nervous about admitting this fact.
Wait… he’s obviously been loaning out his costume to some other woman and had to finally come clean about it before all the costume-swapping led down a dangerous path. I mean, a kid wouldn’t fit into a grown man’s dragon costume, right? So my husband must’ve been loaning it out to some lady on the sly. To some nefarious end.
“Who borrowed your costume?” I asked him.
“I don’t remember,” he said.
“You were JUST telling me about it.”
Like that’s not suspicious. Knowing he’ll be mindswept by full consciousness any minute now, I scramble to satisfy my curiosity via a different route:
“When was the last time she borrowed it?”
And he looks annoyed, like I’m asking him to remember what he ate for dinner two Thursdays ago.
“It was…” he starts. “Borrowed what?”
“Your DRAGON costume.”
He blinks a lot.
“I have NO idea what you’re talking about,” he says.
It’s everywhere right now: NO PILLOW TALK FOR PRESIDENT! His marriage must be hanging by a thread!
Well, maybe it is and maybe it isn’t.
But I wouldn’t pin it on whether or not they keep separate bedrooms, because my marriage is doing just fine and my husband and I…
… have our own bedrooms too.
I’ve hidden this fact for a long time, for reasons the current media explosion is making obvious: I didn’t want people whispering about how my husband and I were probably having marital problems and were maybe even headed for divorce.
Because sleeping in separate bedrooms is strangely taboo. It makes people think your marriage lacks intimacy.
So I kept it quiet until the day I moved next door to the kind of neighbor who would march through your house, taking inventory, until she couldn’t help noticing two master rooms with giant beds in them.
She’s exactly the kind of neighbor I’ve desperately needed. The kind who knows everyone in the neighborhood: where they live, what they do, how they’re currently fixing up their house and what kinds of BS problems they’ve been having with the school district. The kind whose confident, direct approach could be the perfect Yang to my Yin-like ballet of barely grasping what color car anyone drives and fretting about how anything I might say could possibly offend someone. (Did I say ‘hi’ wrong? Did they just give me a weird look?)
Well, I respect that kind of of forthright honesty and couldn’t bring myself to counter it with a bunch of lies. We were going to be living next door to each other for a long time and I could tell we were going to be friends, so why start out with some Three’s Company-style charade?
That’s John’s room, and mine is upstairs…
She looked at me sideways until I told her, “He snores, and I’m an insomniac.”
And that’s pretty much how it happened, how I came out about our separate bedrooms deal.
How it all began
My husband and I never intended to sleep in separate rooms. We slowly evolved this peaceful arrangement after our bedroom had turned into a nightly battlefield.
You see, I’m a hardcore night owl, chronic insomniac and very light sleeper. He, on the other hand, is a champion snorer who can wake you up through three closed doors, from a different story of the house.
He also considers his sleep utterly sacred. “Like a religion,” to quote him exactly, which makes him prone to extreme grumpiness whenever woken up in the middle of the night by my tossing and turning or because, say, I needed him to roll on his side because my ears wouldn’t quit bleeding.
I used to stare at him at 4:30 in the morning, irrationally resenting how easily he could just drift off like that and reminding myself how wrong it would be to shove a pillow over his face right now.
I felt horrible about being mad at him for something he couldn’t help, but I was just…
so t i r e d.
We tried everything. Earplugs, nose-strips, even sinus surgery. None of it worked. Turns out, they’d have to reset his entire jaw to fix the problem and it wasn’t worth the risks.
It finally all came crashing down one night when I was pregnant, in that brutal late period of pregnancy where nothing is ever comfortable and you find yourself overheated, aching and flipping into broken starfish positions across your bed, trying against hope for a few sweet hours of oblivion as your baby keeps digging her foot into the underside of your ribs…
It was during these painful hours of sweaty exhaustion, when his spoon-in-the-garbage-disposal snore was pushing and pulling two inches away from my ringing ears like Satan’s own accordion, that I finally snapped:
“I’m sorry, but you have GOT to GO.” (Before I kill you, darling.)
Either pitying me or fearing for his life, the poor guy relocated to the couch.
Well, the couch kept happening until it turned into a futon that turned into the office converted into another bedroom. Then we ended up buying a house with a serendipitous second master bedroom and could finally stop pretending that this sleeping apart thing was a temporary deal.
Some unforeseen perks
Although my husband and I started sleeping in separate rooms for purely practical reasons, we’ve discovered the arrangement offers real perks beyond being able to get a decent night’s sleep.
You see, one of the coolest parts of being single is having complete dominion over your own territory. Being married means companionship, but you can sometimes lose all of your personal space, which is probably why couples tend to carve out man caves and femme dens.
On the other hand, having your own room means:
You can express your decorating style without having to compromise with anyone. My bedroom involves a bathtub with peach curtains and chandeliers. I keep fresh flowers on my coffee table, next to a tea set and whatever fluffy indulgences make me happy.
My two daughters call my room the “girl clubhouse” and like to hang out on my flowery bedspread with all of our cats, purring in harmony around the throbbing pinkness of my rose-strewn monument to glittery estrogen. The whole place reeks of vintage movie stars and unicorn magic.
Meanwhile, my husband can put up that monkey-drinking-booze poster that that he finds hilarious without me giving him crap about it. His place is one big Testoster-oni treat of electronic wires, open closets, spread-out zombie comics and tiny hair shavings.
He can leave his underwear on the floor or refuse to change his sheets until they don’t bend anymore if he wants to and I don’t have to care, just as he doesn’t have to deat with having a thousand throw pillows in his way.
We don’t have to watch each other clip our toenails or nose hairs, because we have separate, private places in which to do these things. Kind of like when we were dating and didn’t have to watch every nasty step of each other’s transformation. We can still pretend to just wake up like that.
Having separate bedrooms doesn’t mean we can’t still visit. Or even stay a while.
But it’s not a given. You’re on boy or girl territory with a temporary visa.
Maybe that sounds cold, but it’s actually fun. It keeps you courting… you can’t juse scratch your butt before Dutch-ovening your partner while knowing they’ll have to put up with it. Unless neither of you minds, I guess.
Keeping a little mystery can bring dating excitement back to the marriage. You still have private territory. Your own identity. Your own refuge to think or read or do whatever without having to entertain anyone else.
Maybe we should rethink the separate bedrooms taboo. It may not be right for everyone, but it doesn’t obviously mean a marriage is falling apart.
So stop being so judgey, people. You just made me defend Donald and Melania Trump.
Anyone who’s been in a serious relationship long enough will eventually start wondering if their partner is crazy.
I think other married people will know exactly what I mean. It’s about getting too familiar with your partner’s quirks. See, we all do weird stuff we usually repress when other people are watching, but no one has the energy to cover up their crazy allthe time.
So after spending enough time with anyone else, you’ll inevitably notice odd patterns of behavior. Like, my husband John is always convinced I’m sitting on whatever he’s looking for. A typical conversation about it sounds something like this:
John: Can you get up? I can’t find my shirt.
Me (sitting on the couch): I don’t have your shirt.
John (frustrated): Can you just get up for a second? You could be sitting on it.
Me (surveying all the clutter): Have you even checked anywhere else? I’m not hiding your shirt.
John (generously): I’m not saying you did it on purpose, but maybe you accidentally sat on my shirt. CAN YOU PLEASE JUST GET UP?
Me (annoyed but standing up): FINE.
John (baffled): Huh. I guess it’s not on the couch.
Since I can’t recall a single time he’s actually caught me sitting on anything missing, I’ve struggled to make sense of this ongoing saga. Did some part of John’s upbringing make him unusually paranoid about people sitting on things?
It just doesn’t make sense, but here’s the thing: one of the most surreal aspects of parenting is watching your own strange tendencies be karmically mirrored back in your face.
Like, it’s possible that Brontë got her habit of endlessly rambling from me and I finally get why hearing someone talk nonstop can be exhausting…
But earlier today, she also had the following exchange with her father:
Brontë (with authority): WELL, I CAN’T FIND MY MINNIE MOUSE BLANKET.
She stomps over to the couch.
Brontë: DADDY, I NEED YOU TO MOVE SO I CAN GET MY BLANKET.
John: I don’t have it. You need to go look for where you left it.
Brontë: IT’S UNDER YOUR BUTT.
Frustrated, Brontë puts both arms against her dad’s side and starts shoving with all her might, saying I NEED TO FIND MY BLANKET over and over again. She’s pushing on him with the kind of desperation you’d expect if she needed to move a boulder out of the way to exit a burning building before the monsters jumped on her eyeballs.
John sighs while tilting sideways so she can check. Not seeing anything, Brontë grumbles before running to John’s opposite side and trying to push him over from the other direction.
John (standing up): I don’t have it!
Brontë (baffled by the empty couch): Hmm, it’s not here. WHERE DID YOU PUT IT?
If Brontë truly got this genetic tendency from her father, then the fact she eventually found her blanket in another room entirely won’t do anything to make her doubt he’s crouching over her stuff in the future.
Still, you have to wonder if it even makes sense for something like this to be genetic. Was there ever a biological advantage to checking for valued resources under people’s butts? Was hiding stuff under your butt ever a viable strategy?
My husband and I try to have a date night every week, which we think is important after kids. So most Fridays, John and I drop the little ones off at their grandparents’ house for the evening before going out to dinner and a movie.
Problem is, like many couples, we have really different tastes in movies. He loves superhero, horror, and action flicks, whereas I’m a fan of indie flicks, girl comedies, and painfully slow, dialogue-heavy foreign films. Early on, these differences led to more than a little bad-and-forth sniping.
But we found a simple solution: we just trade off. He picks one week and I pick the next, unless we really want to see something that looks like it might leave the theaters soon (in which case, the other person gets to pick for the next two weeks).
This method saved us from constant bickering and has a few other great advantages:
We see a broader range of films than we otherwise might
Someone once said “a camel is a horse designed by a committee,” and while this may be unfair to camels, they make a fair point.
When you have to reconcile competing goals to please everyone, it waters down your choices. Since we don’t both have to like the movie, we don’t have to stick to “safe” genres.
We get to see what we really want
Since the tradeoff started happening, there’s been a fairly predictable schedule of chick flicks one week, then dick flicks the next.
But no one’s complaining. I may not always be in the mood to watch sarcastic renegades blow stuff up, but I’ll try to rally because I know that next week, my husband will sit through two hours of people giving each other quiet, longing looks without any fuss.
Plus, sometimes you can play the odds in your favor. Movies like Ex Machina and Inception were swing votes (either one us us might pick them), so you can gamble by picking whatever other film you wanted to see.
Sometimes you love something you never expected to
I’ve ended up loving may of my husband’s movie picks, even after being sure I’d hate them. The Iron Man series, for example, and Guardians of the Galaxy, were so much fun that I respected the entire superhero genre more after seeing them.
John was crazy about Life of Pi and Phoenix, both movies he admitted he would’ve never watched if left to his own devices.
Plus, it’s easier to have an open mind about seeing new films when you didn’t throw a fit about seeing them in the first place, because it doesn’t mean admitting you were wrong.
Stepping outside your comfort zone can be a great thing. You get a new perspective. It shakes things up.
And I’m not saying we never get bored or make mild threats (“I swear if you force me to watch The Gift, I will MAKE YOU WATCH ‘THE PERFECT GUY’ THE VERY NEXT WEEK!”), but arguments are minimal.
But sometimes you discover a hidden gem.
This week was Deadpool, so I’m thinking The Maltese Falcon may be on the agenda.