Press Box

How the Rich Sleep

New York Times dispatches from the bed wars.

An empty bed

It’s not even the ides of March, and the New York Times has discovered two American bedroom trends this month. On March 1, the Home & Garden section revealed in “Whose Bed Is It Anyway?” the bed wars being waged between parents and their young children. Across the land, children are raiding their parents’ bedrooms to spoil everybody’s sleep. After sacking the sack, some of the invaders stay to edge a parent out of bed or drag one back to their lair for cramped slumber in a bunk bed or princess four-poster.

On March 11, Page One of the Times reported from a parallel front in the bed wars. “To Have, Hold and Cherish, Until Bedtime” finds happily married couples who are consulting their architects and builders about designing “separate bedrooms. Or separate sleeping nooks. Or his-and-her wings.”

Neither Times story qualifies for the “Press Box” Bogus Trend Story Award previously given to the New York Times(women at elite colleges choosing motherhood), Newsweek(teen-prostitution), and USA Today (“More Parents Are Leaving School Shopping to the Kids”).

The Times avoids the standard incriminating language of trend stories—more and more, many, likely, often, and trend. Instead, it constructs bogus bogus-trend stories, pieces that whisper “trend” with the scattershot of anecdote and quotations from experts but never actually commit to declaring a new trend.

“Whose Bed Is It Anyway?” pits comfortable (and sometimes wealthy) parents against their offspring, all in the service of describing fabulous beds. (Remember, this is a Times getting-and-spending section.) The children named in the story never occupy center stage to explain why they bail out of their beds. They seem pampered—pampered because none of the parents seem able to put their feet down. Harrison, age 5, edges his mom out of the “king-size, Anglo-Indian four-poster” and into his sister’s “hammered-metal four-poster queen dressed in pink paisley.” A 6-year-old ditches her “princess”-themed bedroom—queen-size bed with a “curly white wicker headboard and printed pink-striped sheets and a pink flowery duvet”—for the parents’ sleeping quarters.

Is this new behavior? Timeless behavior? Noteworthy behavior? The story nervously skirts the questions but veers toward identifying the trend that family sleep problems deserve medicalization. “Everyone I know has been to some sort of sleep center,” says one mother who has had her skull shrunk by the sleep therapist at Manhattan’s Soho Parenting. “Ben Stiller, Greg Kinnear and other Hollywood notables” have also sought the help of the sleep gurus at Sleepy Planet in Los Angeles, the Times reports, where consultations cost $295 to $395.

“Whose Bed Is It Anyway?” brushes up against trendologist Faith Popcorn at its conclusion, citing her observation that sleep trumps sex in most households. “To Have, Hold and Cherish, Until Bedtime” embraces that notion in the second paragraph.

In bogus bogus-trend fashion, the piece never explicitly states that “home-sleeping-alone syndrome” is growing. Slinking off to sleep in the screened-in porch or the spare bedroom when your spouse disturbs your slumber is as old as marriage itself. But the article nudges readers toward thinking that a new trend is afoot by citing a survey of builder and architects predicting that 60 percent of custom houses will have dual master bedrooms by 2015. That’s a pretty sloppy indicator. The next data point collected by the Times is the observation that some builders say more than a quarter of their new projects already have dual master bedrooms. Seeing as the article provides no earlier data on dual master bedrooms, how are we to judge this number?

Assume for purposes of argument that these statistics held any meaning. Why should they automatically translate into more spouses sleeping alone? In recent years, I’ve visited several new homes for sale that have three master bedrooms. The simpler explanation could be that increased wealth is making the master bedroom the new regular bedroom. Many custom homes have two of everything anyway: two eating spaces (dining room and the gymnasium-size dine-in kitchen), two socializing areas (family room and living room), and two grand entrances (front and back). That some empty-nesters who can afford a new house are asking for auxiliary sleeping spaces may reflect more about their incomes than any new urge to sleep solo.

I’m still waiting for somebody to trendspot the ultimate in bourgeois contentment: happily married couples building and occupying separate homes on the same block.

Addendum, March 14: As it turns out, the ultimate in bourgeois contentment has already been trendspotted. The Christian Science Monitor published “One Couple, Two Houses” on Sept. 2, 1999. On June 29, 2005, the San Francisco Chronicle published “One for the Price of Two.” On June 22, 2006, Newsweek published a first-person piece titled “Staying Together, Living Apart.” On Feb. 15, 2007, the Star of Homer Glen, Ill., ran “One Couple, Two Homes.”

Penelope Green, who wrote the March 1 Times piece about the rugrat bed-invasion, profiled an independent woman whose husband lives in the house next door to hers (“Our Equity, Ourselves,” Jan. 26, 2006.) (Thanks to all who submitted URLs.)


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