Sleeping with my boyfriend calms me. Whether we’re at his house, my house, his parents’ house, one of the spots we find on Hotel Tonight or in the closet at my friend’s house where we first had sex hours after meeting, dozing off with him continues to be one of the sweetest, most grounding pleasures of my life.
But does that mean we should sleep together every night? After all, we’re not roommates. We don’t share a home or pay rent together. Between the two of us, we spend most of each week tending to our professional lives, hanging out with friends and family and trying to find moments where we can just chill as individuals.
In other words: There’s simply not enough time to get together every night.
Or perhaps, even though I cling to a leopard body pillow in his absence — curling up against it exactly as I would curl up against him — I actually don’t want to sleep with him every night.
“You don’t have to see someone everyday to love them and be in a healthy relationship,” a friend assured me a couple months ago when I worried that our mutual independence was a sign that our relationship wasn’t serious. This friend, like most of my best friends, practically moves in with her new dating partners upon first meeting them. She even bought property with her current boyfriend before their one-year anniversary. Another of my closest friends is set to marry a guy he’s been seeing for just a few months before the end of the year. Yet another, although still renting her own apartment, doesn’t think twice about the daily schlep across town from her office to her girlfriend’s house.
So who’s right — me or my friends?
Whether we’re talking about sleeping, socializing, working or any other facet of life, is there a certain amount of time in one another’s company that speaks to the passion and fortitude of a shared union? Especially in an era when sexual diversity — including a rich spectrum of non-monogamous relationships — is more visible than ever; when the gig economy has us juggling a few jobs at once; and when more and more people are calling bullshit on the fairytale love stories that were once the expectation.
For answers on this and everything else above, I turned to a quartet of notable sex and romance experts (all of whom also happen to be in long-term relationships):
- Dr. David Ley is a clinical psychologist, sex therapist and author.
- Nina Hartley is a legendary porn star and creator of the erotic instructional series Nina Hartley’s Guide… (She also has a degree in nursing, and in my humble opinion, is the real star of Boogie Nights.)
- Ashley Manta is a sex educator and relationship coach who mindfully combines sex and cannabis to deepen intimacy and enhance pleasure.
- Gaea Woods is a marriage and family therapist.
Here’s what they had to say…
The answer is unique to every relationship. I’ve seen couples who spend almost 24 hours a day together — they work together, they exercise together, they socialize together — and it works for them. I’ve also seen couples who live on opposite sides of the country who only get together once or twice a year for vacation — communicating the rest of the year via computer or phone — and it works for them.
Ultimately then, couples need to negotiate and communicate about these issues from a place of mutual respect and integrity, sharing what their honest needs are. The problem is when we have a mismatch between one partner’s level of need for connection and the other. This is also a fluid thing that changes over the course of relationships. Often, couples are very intense early in the relationship — the so-called honeymoon phase — but this need for intense closeness diminishes over relationship. Sometimes that feels like a loss, which needs to be discussed and processed.
More largely, I’ve found that it’s helpful to encourage couples to identify what needs emotionally they want met through closeness. That way, if they’re looking for acceptance or simply a discussion of shared interests, it’s easier to find and receive it from their loved one. For example, my wife and I had to watch a lot of Pokémon as our kids grew up. And while it might be silly, we still have a code, saying “Pikachu, I choose you” to each other as a way of saying — again and again — you’re who I want to be with. Ultimately, that kind of communication and connection means more for us than 90 minutes sitting next to each other checking our phones.
I’ve met a few couples in my life who can be together all the time. There was my uncle and his girlfriend, my aunt and her girlfriend and my parents. They all could spend every second of every day together. They worked together. They lived together. They played together. Whether they were monogamous or swingers, this sort of companionship worked for them. They liked each other’s company that much and always wanted to be together. Yay them.
That said, I don’t have an exact scientific sample, but I’d say only 20 percent of the couples I’ve known throughout my lifetime have been like this. Not to mention, I think the idea that true love constitutes spending as much of one’s time together as possible is an unrealistic model of how true love works. This idea is as much of a straight-jacket as compulsory heterosexuality or monogamy. For one, some people have higher needs for alone time or a higher toleration for being separated. These couples are like, “You hate dancing, so I’m going to go dancing with my friends.” Or: “I hate golf, but I love that you have golf buddies because that leaves me two hours free on Saturday morning.”
Some couples deal well with separation. You stay interested in the world — and thus, interesting. Then you come back to the couple and share.
People must listen to themselves inwardly, and learn how to speak that truth. This is the hardest thing to do. This is what I’m still working on myself — so when any of you figure it out, get back to me. I’m not charting new ground here when I say the goal in any relationship is figuring out how to advocate for yourself while not unduly distancing yourself from your partner or jumping into the love pond and drowning with them. That space between stone-cold isolationism and full-on codependency is what’s healthy. It’s a spectrum.
Still, the cultural narrative in the West remains: We fall in love and then we get married. However, when you’re in love, you’re chemically deranged. You can’t sleep. You can’t eat. You think about the other person all the time. You don’t care about work as much. Your life is upended for better or worse when your chemicals take over in that way. This isn’t a state in which you discuss shared values and goals. Instead, it’s, “We’re too much in love to talk about that stuff! I love you! You’re amazing! Of course it’s going to all be fine!” Love is a disruptor. We get hit in the head with a big rock when we fall in love. We see it in cartoons all the time — Bing! Wang! Wow!
It takes somewhere between five to eight months before your chemicals recede back to baseline, which is when you’re left wondering, Hmm, what is this really? Growing in love is closer to what I aspire to in a relationship. A friend once shared this with me, “We don’t fall in love, we rise in it.” So there’s this other narrative of love where people come to a slow, steady realization: “Hey, this person really works. I like it. I feel comfortable, calm, safe, secure and all the good things.” This template, of course, is very different than the one we get from fairy tales and entertainment, which is never about real people doing real things and having real feelings.
I do believe in the melding of boundaries while making love though. That’s a real thing and a very cool thing. It’s hard to achieve, but when it happens, it’s like, “Wow, that’s amazing. Souls really do merge.” But personally speaking, I think to live in that merged state all the time is unhealthy, insupportable and fairly unattainable.
There isn’t a quantifiable number of hours couples should spend together because quality time and quantity time aren’t the same thing. You could spend every single day together, but if you’re not making eye contact, talking to each other and being present with one another, that’s not quality time. That’s why I think it’s important for couples to prioritize quality time, whatever that means to them. For some people, quality time is just cuddling. For others, quality time means having deep, processing conversations. Sometimes, quality time is doing things together you both enjoy. Figure out what quality time is for each of you, and then come together and negotiate.
I’m in a non-monogamous relationship, and all of my time with my boyfriend is scheduled. There’s rarely a situation where he texts me like, “Hey, what are you doing today? Do you wanna hang out?” That doesn’t happen. We have dates twice a week, and we have sleepovers every other week. That’s it. That’s because he has a wife and a number of other lovers. He has to divide his time between all of those people, plus work, plus time for himself, plus doing errands and chores.
One neat thing about scheduling intimate time with partners is that it creates a container for pleasure, passion and intimacy that recontextualizes things a bit. Couples are busy with jobs, kids and everything else going on in their life, so knowing that between 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. every Thursday — or whatever day you can skin — you’re turning off your phones and intentionally connecting with each other can be very fulfilling. That doesn’t mean you have to bone the whole time. That doesn’t mean you have to be naked the whole time. It just means that both people choose to be present and show up during that time frame.
When talking to your partner about how much and what kind of time you spend together, you want to try to reach a mutual win. To that end, it’s important to be clear about what your wants and needs are. I tell people to have a three-tiered expectation, where you know your best-case scenario and total win; your perfectly satisfied scenario where you get most of the things you want; and the worst-case scenario where you get the least number of things you need to still feel like it was a productive conversation. When we frame our needs this way, it’s like, “Here’s what’s on the table. Here are the hard lines. And here are the things I’d love as options.” If people had a little more clarity about what their needs are and how they can best articulate them going into conversations, their partner would be able to meet them more easily.
A big key to all of this is being patient and assuming good intentions. When you’re having a conversation with your partner, assume they want things that are good for both of you. Assume that they don’t want to hurt you. Assume that they’re not being an asshole. Because if you can’t assume your partner wants the best for you, maybe your relationship isn’t super healthy. It’s about being kind and thoughtful as much as possible. After all, it’s way more fun to have someone who’s excited to be there, rather than someone who’s only there because you’ll be mad at them if they’re not.
Having personal space and time is very important. People sometimes have trouble navigating their own needs while also accommodating their partner’s needs in relationships. For example, someone who tends toward mentally and emotionally supporting their partners before tending to their own needs might feel guilty taking “me time” for fear of hurting their partner’s feelings. These people often have a difficult time asserting their own needs in their relationships. However, recognizing, asserting and enforcing boundaries around one’s time is an extremely important part of one’s self-care — and therefore, an integral component of engaging in a healthy, mutually beneficial and emotionally balanced relationship.
Hurt feelings around negotiating “me time” boundaries in relationships can be avoided if each partner speaks openly about their own needs. Speaking openly to our partners also assumes that we can trust our partners to listen and attempt to understand our unique emotional needs. If a relationship is supportive and understanding, each partner will want to do whatever they can, including allowing their partners the space they need in order to feel emotionally and mentally at their best.
If hurt feelings arise when someone attempts to take space away from their partner, this might be a sign of enmeshment. If we believe, for example, that we need to be joined at the hip with our partner, we may want to examine our thinking. Healthy relationships rely on a balance of dependence and independence. Independence is also essential to our individuality and self-esteem as well as achieving our full potential as humans.