Lesson 6: Sleep With Him. Just Don’t Sleep Over. Not Until You’re Ready.
Of all my relationship memories, the ones that stand out the most have little to do with sex, vacations, events, pizza or “real” life for that matter. The images that are firmly imprinted in my mind I have no photographs of. They’ve never been described in an entertaining story told to friends or journal entries for myself. Yet, the connections associated with bedtime and sleeping next to someone—spooning, snoring, sheet-stealing, puppy breath and all—have stayed with me longer than the length of the relationships.
I’ve always believed that your sleeping (subconscious) relationship mirrors your conscious relationship. Sleep is where all your “stuff” about yourself, and in effect your relationship, surfaces, i.e., intimacy issues, blah blah… But I also believe that sleep is where your subconscious can triumph over the conscious mind, and allow your “real” self and needs to expose themselves. It’s like when someone with sleep issues finally sleeps soundly next to a new partner.
Of course, this clearly explains the fear of “sleeping over” in a new relationship. Fear which can sometimes translate to courage as seen in my friend, Frank’s case. After the dirty deed, he would very politely ask his new partner to sleep on the couch. The mensch could never actually ask her to leave.
Many years ago I was dating Pierre, a Frenchman. After dating a little while, he finally acquiesced to the "sleep over". In our first few months sleeping next to each other, he refused to have any part of his body come into contact with mine. I remember living in fear that I would accidently graze his ankle with my foot in the middle if the night and he would scream in horror, waking the neighbors who would call the cops. I knew our relationship had progressed once his body was wrapped around mine as we fell asleep. He was finally vulnerable to me. Yet he remained the prick with intimacy issues in real life. But at least in bed, he belonged to me. Not sure if that was great, but a consolation prize I valued. I guess we spend so much of our lives sleeping that if we are cherished for that part of it, that’s a lot. Isn’t it?
Actually I find the whole sleeping together thing quite heartbreaking. For a very long time, I thought that spending the night together after sex, the most intimate of acts, was a normal, mandatory thing. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that “the spending the night together” part was actually a million times more intimate. So I eventually stopped spending the night and asked people to leave. I finally knew what it was like to be a dude.
It hasn’t occurred to me until recently that the hardest part of my breakups have been leaving the sleep relationships. In bed with a partner, I never felt lonely. The rituals were natural and always comforting. I enjoyed someone stealing my pillows, sleeping on someone else’s wrist, breathing my sweet puppy breath on someone, keeping someone up with insipid chatter…
So now I have a sleep partner I adore. When he’s sweaty, I push him over. When I pull his arm, he spoons me. When I ask him to sing me to sleep, he tells me he knows no songs and I sing the Star Spangled Banner. There’s a whole system worked out, which for me is a microcosm of our relationship.
Sleep is intimate stuff. My advice: Don’t jump into it until you’re good and ready.
I’m quoting a doctor in a recent NY Times article: “Even though we may take sleeping with our partner for granted, it’s through these kinds of shared social systems that we build and nurture our relationships, and perhaps uncover the underlying meaning of our lives.”