A Mattress Built for Two Published in Boston Globe Magazine "Coupling" column, February 22, 2009 After 18 years and four moves, my inner-spring mattress had to go. I’d flipped it and plumped it at the requisite intervals, but the dents were too dented and the sags too sagged. My neck ached. My back ached. Even my cats slept restlessly. For a single woman just north of 50, choosing a new bed presents some interesting dilemmas. What size? Having graduated from crib to twin to futon to full, the natural choice would be queen—with plenty of room for Mr. Right. And what type? My research yielded a complex array of high-tech variables and prices. Plush or pillow top? Standard with springs? Memory foam? Then I saw an ad for those dial-a-number beds with dual-adjustable firmness for maximum compatibility. Not only did they promise pain relief and a good night’s sleep but a harmonious relationship as well. At the store, however, I waffled. I didn’t really need to spend extra for dual controls. In fact, it’s very nice sleeping in the middle of the bed, like Meg Ryan when she recovers from her breakup in When Harry Met Sally. The ultimate marker of single self-acceptance. “C’mon. You never know,” coaxed the eager salesman, adding, “and the bed is guaranteed for 20 years.” Which, at this point, is almost forever. I left the store to breathe and think. After a few spins around the mall, I returned and signed on for slumber. On delivery day, I said goodbye to the dented double and welcomed in the harbinger of my coupledom. Two assemblers quickly snapped together a large plastic frame, then placed a foam panel down the center of the interior well and anchored it. Using a handy compressor, they inflated twin-size airbags on either side of the foam, pointing out two hose attachments, one per remote. Plunk. Whiz. Fluff. They zipped on a padded cover and voilà, new bed. Tonight I’d sleep soundly at last. No more tossing and turning and squirming and flailing. At midnight, I dialed my number, hit the lights, and lay back. Hmm. That’s odd. I’m on my back over to the right, but I’m in a gutter, leaning left. I dialed for more air. No luck. Then I let some out. Even worse. No matter my sleep number, I was atilt, askew, awake. In the morning, I called the 800 number and described my ordeal to a cheery woman named Pamela. “It’s not you,” she said. “It’s the twin air chambers—they’re meant for two. Unless you have someone on the other side creating a balance, you’re going to sag into the center.” “But the salesman said . . .”
“I know,” said Pamela, with an understanding sigh. “We call you one of ‘The Hopefuls.’ I suggest you trade the twins for our single-chamber queen, and you’ll sleep comfortably on the left or right, or even in the middle.” Just like Meg Ryan. I swallowed. My fantasy of sweet shared nights with Mr. Right, dialing our individual numbers—together but separate—shattered in an instant by a well-meaning customer service representative. Did I need the counterweight of a partner’s body just to get a decent night’s sleep? “We can ship the single to arrive in three days,” said Pamela. “And you can always exchange it if, when, you know . . .” When the new mattress arrived, I deflated and folded the twins, removed the foam center, and slowly boxed them to send back. I could keep the second remote for future use. Then I attached the hose to the compressor and, as the new mattress inflated, the second control dropped to the floor with a final clunk. That night, I planted myself securely in the middle of the bed. Hallelujah! I slept dreamily for eight solid hours, the air evenly distributed, the weight of my solo body perfectly aligned for rest and comfort. I’m sleeping well these days. It’s not that I've resigned myself to a non-dual existence. It’s more like a Buddha thing. If I try too hard to create something for the future, then I’m not really in the present. It’s about accepting what is and embracing the moment. If my singleness changes, I will change. So I got myself some 300-thread-count cobalt-blue sheets and a giant corduroy reading pillow, happily sharing the expansive space with my cats and a stack of books. And the second remote still lies under the bed, unused. For now.