I am in no way a supporter of the current US administration. But President Donald Trump and his wife Melania shouldn't be shamed for this: Even when they're in the same city, they sleep in separate bedrooms.
So I couldn't help but cringe at the shocked tone of US Weekly's latest cover story about the first couple's bedtime routine. According to the article, "Multiple sources claim that the former fashion model – who's currently living 200 miles away from Washington, D.C., in NYC's Trump Tower while Barron finishes the school year – refuses to share a bed with Donald even on the rare occasions when they sleep in the same city.
'They have separate bedrooms,' says another Trump insider. 'They never spend the night together – ever.'" Piling on, The Cut wrote: "But even Melania's move to D.C. in June may result in the first couple keeping their distance," while Hollywood Life tsked-tsked with, "It's to the point that they allegedly sleep in separate bedrooms when they're in the same building. Uh oh!"
I'm not going to speculate about the state of their relationship.
But I will say from experience that sharing a bed, or not, is a poor relationship barometer. My boyfriend and I have slept in separate bedrooms for the four years we've co-habited – and I credit that with keeping us together.
We're not the only ones, despite a culture that makes it seem like not bedding down together should be a deal-breaker. Colleen Carney, director of Ryerson University's Sleep and Depression Laboratory, told CBC News that 30 to 40 percent of couples sleep in separate beds. "People will say they sleep better (together), but when we actually monitor their brains we see that their brain is not getting into deeper stages of sleep because they're continuously being woken up by movement or sound. It creates a lot of problems," she said.
Since publicly divulging our sleeping setup, I've talked to many people who either wish they could sleep in separate bedrooms but can't because of cost or space, or sleep separately and are happy to do so.
The biggest myth about sleeping separately is that a couple's romantic and sexual intimacy suffers because of it. I'd argue that my boyfriend and I are closer because of those hours we spend apart. We choose to get between the sheets together, rather than doing so out of habit.
For us, it's a purely practical decision: Neither of us sleeps well when we have to share a bed. He hears me snore; I feel him taking up space. I once left a $300 (about R4 000) hotel room to sleep curled up in a comforter in the bathtub rather than try to get my z's next to him.
Our schedules differ, too. I like to wake up at 5am most days and nod off at 10pm, while he stays up later and sleeps later. If we shared a bedroom, we would likely awaken each other, act crankily and wake up each morning more frustrated than rested. Instead, I pass out whenever I want to, and so does he.
I like to keep my cellphone, laptop and a few books next to me in bed, while he is a minimalist and can't sleep next to anything more than a pillow, sheet and blanket. If we tried to merge those highly different styles, there would be no way to truly compromise, and it would surely be a regular argument in our household.
When we want to have sex, we do it in his room, where we focus entirely on each other. Sure, we may miss out on spontaneous groping when one of us wakes from a sexy dream, but to me, that's a small price to pay for the comfort of having my own space.
As James Hamblin explained in a video for the Atlantic, scientific evidence shows that "most people don't sleep as well when someone else is in their bed," which makes sense to me. The other person, much as you love them, is a distraction. There may be a gender component, too. A 2007 Sleep and Biological Rhythms study found that men slept better with a mate, while women got better quality sleep alone.
So "separate bedrooms" doesn't mean a couple is on the verge of splitting. In my relationship, we've made having our own bedrooms a real estate priority. We've lived in four homes this way, and not once have we been tempted to change our setup.
Am I sometimes wistful when I see couples on TV snuggled up together as they drift off? Sure, but then I remind myself of all the other ways we bond: with silly nicknames and jokes, cuddling on the couch, saving our favorite shows to watch together. I love spending time with him, but I also love that if I have a cold or am in a bad mood or just want some personal space, I have a bed that's all mine.
There are many reasons couples may keep separate bedrooms, none of which precludes them from having sex or maintaining the romance that brought them together.