Do all presidential couples sleep in separate bedrooms?
There are two types of couples in this world: Those who sleep in separate beds, and those who do not.
Actually, there are thousands of types of couples in this world, plenty of whom distinguish themselves according to much more nuanced factors. But nonetheless, the “separate beds” clause remains a divisive one. While twin beds may sound, to plenty of us, deeply antithetical to romance, that narrative is fairly recent. For nearly a full century, from the 1850s to the 1950s, separate beds were actually considered to be the more modern, posh option. Victorian doctors were adamant that diseases were best spread by bedfellows, while also famously proclaiming that shared beds would lead the stronger sleeper in a couple to “drain the vitality” of the weaker (if you’ve ever found yourself sharing a mattress with a prolific snorer, this will surely make sense to you).
From a more cultural point of view, folks in the 19th century viewed separate beds as a signifier of contemporary marital balance––nocturnal apartness provided a healthy counterforce to daylight togetherness. Plus, largely in Britain, the ability to retire to two entirely separate rooms was a sign of wealth.
Sometime around the 1950s, when sexual intimacy had grown more normalized, and commonplace medical advice has superseded “sleep separately,” the whole twin bed phenomenon began to lose its cachet. But even as happy couples graduated to queen sized sleeping quarters, in more traditional, regal, historic buildings, separate beds remained en vogue as a nod to an earlier era. If you’ve ever visited Buckingham Palace or watched an episode of The Crown, you’re likely familiar with the ornate, dual bed set-up. The same is true of our very own White House.
These days, there is no catch-all explanation for twin beds. When it comes to sleep hygiene, sufficient rest is a must, no matter how much you might enjoy spooning with your partner. If that means separate beds, so be it –– it need not be the sign of your relationship’s eminent demise. Famously, in the last white house White House administration, the president and first lady retired not just to separate beds but to separate floors. While this has remained true for plenty of presidents throughout history, most sources close to the White House claim that presidential couples since the Nixon era have, in fact, slept together. That said, the master bedroom has certainly undergone its fair share of reconfigurations. Since 1902, the “southwest suite” has been cemented as the president’s bedroom. Beds, however, are a different story. The Theodore Roosevelts shared the Lincoln bed (a four poster installed in the building’s 1902 renovation), but the Tafts put it in storage in favor of a set of twin mahogany beds (which were also used by Woodrow and Ellen Wilson––who allegedly died in this room). Wilson’s second wife brought the Lincoln bed back before the Hardings did away with it again (in favor of twin beds). The spot has an adjoining sitting room which has supposedly been used as a separate sleeping den for the occasional presidential couple, but we have little information, there. Which is all to say, the president and his wife do, in fact, have jurisdiction over the bedding in their master bedroom. And it remains to be determined whether or not President Biden and the first lady will maintain the same sleep quarters as they’ve been left to them.
In any case, there are plenty of famed couples in recent years who have opted to maintain disparate sleeping arrangements. To name a few: Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter, Victoria and David Beckham, Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker. On the one hand, this might make bidding your partner goodnight feel slightly more akin to high-fiving your roommate before bedtime. But more broadly, it would seem that sharing a bed is not a prerequisite for romance. On the contrary, if you’re in desperate need of a good night’s sleep, the arrangement might just be your saving grace.