Separate but equal–worth another shot?

Don’t get me wrong, doing away with “separate but equal” thinking was entirely appropriate, necessary, and too long coming in terms of race relations (and I actually remembered it was Brown v Board of Education that did away with it — shout-out to my constitutional law class). But I think it might be worth another look in that other even more longstanding and volatile vortex — gender relations.

I ask you females-who-live-with-males, does separate but equal sound like a good thing in terms of bathrooms?

Is there a woman alive who doesn’t long for her own bathroom? (And if you have one, are you eager to give it up?)

And, dare I say it, doesn’t the idea of separate (but equal) beds — even bedrooms — sound good once in a while?

My sister sent me this article earlier this week — don’t ask me what prompted her to send a 3½-year-old article, but so be it. I was particularly drawn to this passage:

“Dr. Neil Stanley, a sleep expert at the University of Surrey, said: “It’s not surprising that people are disturbed by sleeping together.

“Historically, we have never been meant to sleep in the same bed as each other. It is a bizarre thing to do.

“Sleep is the most selfish thing you can do and it’s vital for good physical and mental health.

“Sharing the bed space with someone who is making noises and who you have to fight with for the duvet is not sensible.

“If you are happy sleeping together that’s great, but if not there is no shame in separate beds.”

So practical, this Dr. Stanley. And as you’ll see, the gist of the article is that sharing a bed is even worse for men than for women.

It’s a topic my sisters and I have discussed many times before. That it’s just so darn hard to share these spaces with men. No matter how much you love them (and yes, I love my husband to pieces).

Consider the “olden days.” Visit Clayton, the Henry Clay Frick mansion here in Pittsburgh, or Biltmore, the Vanderbilt mansion-to-end-all-mansions in Asheville, and you’re treated to a tour of the separate (but equally lovely) bedrooms of Mr. and Mrs. Frick and Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt — and of course their separate but equally lovely bathrooms.

Too Victorian, you say? Too prudish? Too upper-class? Too convenient for midnight dalliances with people other than one’s spouse?

Let’s come a little closer to home (and social stratosphere). Ever see the episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where Deborah, with Ray’s blessing, claims their bathroom for her own while he shares with the kids? Within hours, she transforms the space with soft lights, candles, rugs, until it oozes with femininity. Even her constant nemesis, mother-in-law Marie, is delighted for her (and jealous). Unfortunately, and naturally, the new arrangement doesn’t last long (not because Deborah wanted it to end, mind you).

Or how about even closer to home, when, a couple years back, Mike’s parents were thinking of selling their home to move into something easier to maintain and on one level. After visiting one possibility, my unenthused mother-in-law confided, “I don’t know about you, but the idea of sharing a bathroom…”

Fifty-plus years of wedded bliss can’t be wrong.

I even remember reading somewhere that director Tim Burton and his wife, actress Helena Bonham Carter, actually live next door to each other in separate, but connected, homes.

I have to say that thought has come up in my sisterly discussions as well — sort of the Holy Grail of living arrangements to some of us. (Not me, honey. Really. Hardly ever.)

Now, of course, I know what a pipe dream most of this is — who has the spare bedrooms and bathrooms to accommodate “his” and “hers”? Although a friend of my husband’s recently completed his dream home — including separate bathrooms for him and his wife, that lucky, lucky woman. And a king-size “sleep number” bed in the (shared) bedroom — nice compromise!

But if there was the opportunity, ladies…if there was: Would you want your own? (Go ahead, tell me, it’s completely anonymous.)

How about you, gents? This is a (separate but) equal opportunity forum. No one’s saying that women are ideal to share with either. (I come from a long line of female snorers, sad to say. And I might not keep my side of the sink tidy all the time.)

What say you? It’ll be fun to find out.

Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other.
Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.
~ Katharine Hepburn


  1. Facie said,

    Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    I hate to admit this, something which I have never done on my own blog, but Brian and I, for the most part, sleep separately. His snoring kept me awake or woke me up, and with my off-and-on insomnia, it was too much.

    I LOVE sleeping alone, which makes me sound like a bad wife, in a way. However, when I admitted this to some friends, I was amazed at how many said they wish they could do it, but it seemed shameful, embarrassing, etc.

    Once when the cable guy was here, Jordan announced to him that “Daddy sleeps on the couch.” I was mortified, b/c it was not for the reason I am sure he thought, but what can you do! Unlike a lot of suffering spouses, I get eight hours of sleep most night, so there is that.

  2. WritingbyEar said,

    Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 10:19 am

    You are not alone, Facie! I know a lot of couples who sleep separately, which usually means one of them sleeps on the couch, which is a real drag. Why don’t people just admit that because of snoring or restlessness or different internal clocks (e.g., morning person vs. night person) or insomnia or TV/reading habits that you just sleep better apart? It shouldn’t have anything to do with love. I say it’s time to take the stigma away and build those “master suites” to include more separate but equalness!

  3. RL said,

    Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    In spite of the obvious bizarreness of this couple, I think Woody Allen and Mia Farrow had it right. Separate households across the street from each other, where they could wave at each other and gather at one or the others’ place as needed!

  4. chappy said,

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 11:08 am

    boy women certainly are from venus! as a male-who-lives-with-male, i share the bed with my mate and a pussycat. no problem with the partner but could definitely do without the cat. in 24 years have never once thought of sleeping without my mate. we are happy sleeping together.

    even the bathroom is no problem, we have separate sinks and vanities. what is all the fuss? bathrooms with double sinks, separate shower, separate tub (what guy likes soaking in his own generated “dirty water”?) and of course, a water closet are ideal.

    though i am confused by the “separate but equal” nonsense…sounds like some power issues? and what is with the idea of “shame” as put forward by the dear doctor?

    what is stopping you from decorating the spare bedroom to suit yourself, creating a little respite from the communal bed when needed? and do you not have a lovely dressing room (with sink)?

    this is such a modern issue. in “olden days” whole families once huddled together in bed to keep warm…kings held court from their beds….. the greeks believed men and women should live separately and come together to procreate then return to their gender based quarters….and yes those separate bedrooms in the victorian days made bedhopping much easier for the country house weekend guests as well as hosts….

    all too soon (considering many men die before women) you will have the bed all to yourself, as well as the bathroom, and what will your complaint be then?

  5. WritingbyEar said,

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 11:19 am

    Oh but chappy, I think you prove my point. It’s a GENDER issue — not a love or companionship issue. I would certainly expect two males (or two females) to have less trouble sharing. The convention is for men and women to share these private spaces, and when they don’t care to, society looks aghast (hence the shame factor). I’m not trying to do away with my mate, just advocate for the luxury of personal space in the living areas where the sexes differ most.

  6. barbie said,

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    OK – of course – it all depends…. There were times I longed for my own side of a duplex, my own bathroom, my own bedroom. The duplex idea and the separate bathrooms were all about only having to clean up after me and wanting some relief from the constancy of someone else, but I really didn’t want it permanently, only when I was feeling particularly unappreciated or overwhelmed. The separate bedrooms for me is really all about not being able to sleep because of the snoring – if there was some good way to deal with that – all would be fine.

  7. WritingbyEar said,

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    Good point, barbie. I didn’t “go there” but the “cleaning up after someone else” element certainly factors in. Although, with separate accommodations, I think a lot of women would be doubling their cleaning chores…

  8. victorian days said,

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    Let’s return to those great country house days! Then I think women would want to keep a watchful eye on their men – in the same room and bed. And if we returned to those Greek days, women would just give up completely. Who can compete with Adonis?

  9. 2nd sister said,

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    interesting. I do think it is a gender issue – Mars – Venus issues. But I also think it’s wanting to have both solitude and togetherness. After being solo now for quite a long time, I don’t know that I would want to share a house or a bathroom or a bedroom again on a regular basis. But I’d never say never. At this point in my life I like the separate house idea and to be together when you choose to be. One benefit of being together or getting married when you are young is that you are more adaptable. I think you are less so about many things as you get older.

    Culturally, we’re very spoiled with space. That’t not true in most other cultures where you live very closely with others and with multiple generations. The family bed came out of necessity and sleeping closely together was also for security reasons. But that closeness also has many benefits of being part of a family that is constantly interacting. The way we live now is certainly a loss and a gain in that respect. Nicholas Kristof had an interesting article that talks about that a little bit regarding space and togetherness in one of his columns “What Could you Live Without”

  10. WritingbyEar said,

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 10:36 am

    Interesting 2nd sister! As an aficionada of all things related to HGTV’s house-hunting programs, I can say that almost none of the lookers have “small” on their list, though that is often a necessity in areas where real estate is very expensive. Seems everyone longs for s p a c e. But we’d likely need less of that if we just had less stuff! (says the clutter collector)

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