Dealing with sleeping alone.
March 31, 2009 7:47 AM   Subscribe

I'm having trouble going to bed alone. It's wrecking me. I don't want to be alone. Help?


I'm a pretty independent guy in college who, by choice, doesn't count a single person as his closest friend—male or female. After some experiences with friendship in high school, I decided that I would work a lot with myself on being alone.

So far, I love it. When I walk around, I love the fact that I don't have to call a person up to go to a movie; that I can sit wherever I want at meals; that I've stopped caring about what other people think of me. That being said, I have a lot of company, but only when I want it. Normally I walk alone. I am very happy.

But often lately, when I go to bed, it's physically painful to grab at the sheets and realize that there's no one there. I've never felt this kind of loneliness before, and what I find myself wanting is someone to hold at night. But I have no idea how I might go about finding someone to sleep with, but not have sex with, not have a relationship with, not be best friends with.

Is this what a relationship is for? What I want is a warm body to hold at night and wake up with. This might sound jerkish, but that's all I want; I don't want to woo someone, or take him or her out to dinner.

Currently, it's not helping that the fantasy of someone there has been manifesting itself as various crushes I've had recently, on guys that I've been friends with or associate with. But for reasons of my crush, have had to slowly back away from them. (They're straight; I'm bi.) It's kind of killing me.

I don't think I want a boyfriend or a girlfriend, insofar as I value my own agency. That is, I like being singular.

So my question is this: How do I cope with a loneliness that manifests itself only when I'm trying to go to bed, when the one thing I want at that moment is another person? I wake up the next morning largely okay, but in truth, I want someone there.

I realize that I might be really looking for a roommate, as I now live in a single dorm room. But I go to a school that's composed largely of single rooms, and procuring a roommate would be cumbersome/awkward. (And in reality, the only roommate I would want would be a crush of mine. And I'm not sure that's a great idea.) Plus, a roommate by definition doesn't sleep with you.

Gah. I'm stuck. Help.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe you should work with a therapist to find out why you want so badly to be alone in your life.

You can't have a human teddy bear to sleep with, but only sleep, and not have a relationship with.

Rather examine how you feel so burned by your friendships in the past, and how you can come back out of your shell.

This is probably your psyche telling you that you are far too much alone. And that's not good for human beings. We're social animals.
posted by musofire at 7:51 AM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

I mentioned my Pillow Boyfriend in this thread. I went from sleeping with someone every night to living with a totally platonic roommate and spending most evenings alone in a big empty house. and it was really difficult to adjust to. Sleeping with a soft, dude-smelling thing helped a lot in not feeling so alone.

Obviously, it's not a human, and it's not going to spoon you back, but it's also not going to introduce drama you don't need into your life.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:56 AM on March 31, 2009

Can you get a dog or cat? I know it sounds like a poor substitute, but this is exactly the kind of thing that they help with.
posted by hermitosis at 8:16 AM on March 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

As someone who often experiences paralyzing loneliness when going to bed (so I stay in my living room wayyy longer than I should, because I sometimes can't bear even going into my bedroom), I've found two things really helpful.

1: I put a hot water bottle in my bed. Not optimal in the summer months, but in the winter, having warmth under the sheets is really comforting.
2. I listen to podcasts as I'm falling asleep. I like hearing someone's voice in my room and the content of the podcast occupies my mind enough that I'm not thinking about how I'm lying there alone.
posted by meerkatty at 8:18 AM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is this what a relationship is for?

Yes, this is what a relationship is for. Or at least a relationship can be many things, including one person being a pillow and another person being sleepy. But good luck finding a person who is willing to do only that with you - it's way too weird and esoteric a request.

What you need to look for is something more ordinary, like someone to play chess with, or someone to have a beer with, or a game of squash. It's a bit of a numbers game, and there are thousands of people out there who will do this ordinary thing with you. And if you limit your relationship to playing the chess game and having a pleasant chat, or drinking the beer and relaxing, it's not so high pressure and there are very few consequences.

I reckon if you're doing things like this, your loneliness will abate somewhat.

PS Get off the internet - it's a killer
posted by dydecker at 8:20 AM on March 31, 2009

I remember some of my friends lived in a hippy commune house in college where there was a lot of platonic hugging and bed sharing and that sort of thing. I also lived on a commune for some time and had to share a bed with another girl and a room with lots of people. We didn't cuddle, but it was awesome to have a group of people to be around and eat with. Before that, I always thought I was pretty solitary.

Humans, in the wild, do not live alone. You are a human, so living alone is not good. If you have to live alone you need to offset the damage somehow by volunteering, joining community potlucks, or something.
posted by melissam at 8:28 AM on March 31, 2009

You have convinced yourself that if you have any physical intimacy in your life, you lose your autonomy. It is not true that if you hug someone at night, or have sex with him/her, that you cannot sit where you want, or go to a movie alone if you want to. I think you should examine why you think this. If you had a relationship previously with a controlling or overly-dependent person, maybe you should give another one a try. You know a lot about what you need; try to find someone whose needs are compatible.
posted by fritley at 8:29 AM on March 31, 2009 [17 favorites]

With respect (really), I think this is one of those AskMes where the premise of the question needs to be questioned. Your decision to be alone so much has not made you "very happy", because it is "wrecking" you. You need to examine that choice closely (including with therapy, absolutely) because it is not currently working for you.

Learning to be comfortable on your own is a fantastic skill. But

When I walk around, I love the fact that I don't have to call a person up to go to a movie; that I can sit wherever I want at meals;

You realize you can still do this even if you have friends?

I definitely think - based on various bits of psychological research I've read - that we all have a particular requirement for a certain amount of social contact. It differs from person to person, but we all have some. (There are good evolutionary reasons for us feeling the pain of loneliness when we've been out of contact with people for too long.) If this is right, then even slightly increasing the amount of time you spend in social contact with people during the day might noticeably reduce the distress you feel at night.

And it doesn't have to be heart-to-heart conversations with best friends. It can be anything: group activities, superficial chats with acquaintances, even just being surrounded by the hum of an open plan office does it for me when I am running low on social interaction.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 8:32 AM on March 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

As well as being lonely, you might be starved for physical contact. We've had a couple threads on that one here; I remember massage classes and swing or folk dancing being recommended as non-sexual solutions. (I'll vouch for the effectiveness of folk dancing.)

As for living with people, it sounds like you might want to get yourself off campus if it can't be done easily in the dorms. If there are any student co-ops in your area, you might give them a shot — and if not, or if you decide co-ops aren't your speed, just get some people together and rent a house.

(That said, you might also want to rethink your ideas about friendship. Independent folks can have friends and lovers too. You can be someone's friend without being obligated to call them all the time, woo them, buy them dinner, or whatever, and without sacrificing your ability to make your own choices. It sounds like you've been burned by high-maintenance friendships in the past, and obviously you're not compatible with everyone, but I'm willing to bet there are other people like you on campus, who prefer the same kind of freedom you prefer, and who'd still love to hang out — and maybe cuddle, and maybe more.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:43 AM on March 31, 2009

I listen to podcasts as I'm falling asleep.

Oh, yeah. NPR works too. Terry Gross won't spoon you or scratch your back, but having a comforting voice in the house really helps diffuse the I'M ALL ALONE, SOB, WHAT WAS THAT NOISE AT THE WINDOW, OH NO panic.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:50 AM on March 31, 2009

You sound like you would like the company of a dog.

Raise one from puppyhood and he'll walk beside you wherever you go, and he'll be content to lay down next to you whenever you rest. But he won't demand romance, he won't expect you to always know the right thing to say, and dogs have WAAAY more patience than human beings--so you don't have to be perfect.

The potential drawback is that a dog cannot be neglected for a day. He'll need walks and adventure time outdoors (every day, if you can), and he'll need to be fed. This might cramp your independence, but I think you should consider it.

My little dog is keeping me in good company this week while my SO is away on job training, and I love him even more for it.

posted by General Tonic at 8:54 AM on March 31, 2009

You can still do things by yourself when you have a boyfriend/girlfriend. You aren't expected to spend every moment together.

I don't think you're going to easily find someone who will regularly sleep in your bed without expecting a close friendship, physical intimacy, or a relationship. Don't you think cuddling in bed with someone who you aren't close to would be weird? Maybe that's just me.

Dog or cat (most of these love to sleep in bed with their humans), but keep in mind that these require an investment of time, patience, and money that is usually beyond what you even expect when you get the animal.
Body pillow
posted by fructose at 8:57 AM on March 31, 2009

I promise you. . .at some point in your life, you will relish being able to sleep alone, and feel that you do not get enough of that. I am not saying that marriage, or other ltr's are hell. . .not by any means. . .but life is LONG (if you are fortunate) and one goes through a lot of different situations.

Seconding Juliet Banana's suggestion of podcasts, music, etc.

I also second the suggestions that you be forthcoming with this feeling to friends and other contacts around campus. You may very well find a snuggle buddy among those people you encounter.
posted by Danf at 8:58 AM on March 31, 2009

Just ask your crush out.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 9:47 AM on March 31, 2009

Teddy bear. As much as I love my boyfriend, he unconsciously smacks me in the middle of the night, hogs the bed, etc. Stuffed animals do none of this, and don't complain when you snuggle too tight.
posted by radioamy at 10:20 AM on March 31, 2009

Ger a long body pillow. The rectangular ones are fine; I see there are some even more elaborate shapes to be had. They start at $10 at big-box stores & go up from there. Splurge on a cover that feels nice to you- something silky or flannelly, perhaps.

An electric heating pad would make a good addition to the body pillow (or a regular pillow). You may not feel cold now, but I can pretty much guarantee you'd enjoy cuddling up to something warm and huggable, it's really nice.

Get a heavier duvet (feather has a nice weight without being too hot). At Amazon or Ikea, these go in the $50 and up range. The feeling of being sort of smooshed down in bed is really nice and sort of settling.

Get a massage every few weeks. Or play contacty sports, like, I dunno, wrestling?

But really, yeah, re-think your ideas about relationships. Poll your friends, see what their relationships are like. Go on some dates. Although- don't expect a success rate on dates of over 1/40, though. In other words, for every 40 dates you go on, you might meet a person you feel compatible with. You wouldn't go to a party of 40 people and expect to fall for 10 of them, right? Dating has similar odds. Keep the dates short, inexpensive, and frequent, and you'll be fine.

Relationships are not necessarily as independence-squashing as you think, and you might luck out and find a person whose needs & schedules match yours exactly. In fact, you'd probably like dating my boyfriend, a freelancer who works for 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. He comes home at bedtime, wants to have a snack, cuddle & watch TV, then snuggle up to sleep. Then he wakes up and leaves and I don't see him all day unless we make plans. He's like a damn drive-by teddybear. In the rest of the time, I do my own thing all day, every day, have total freedom to go to movies alone, even travel alone or with other friends of either sex. But he makes me laugh when he's around and I get lots of hugs and rarely sleep alone. It's perfect in many ways, and you can probably find something like that too, as lots of people are like this. To make searching simple, look for freelancers and busy careerists, etc- people who define themselves by their work so they invest many hours a day into it and have less free time to make you feel smothered or whatever it is you're wary of. Relationships are nice, though, so don't dismiss them summarily. You can very likely find someone whose needs match yours and who's good for lovin'.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:36 AM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

But I have no idea how I might go about finding someone to sleep with, but not have sex with, not have a relationship with, not be best friends with.

People are generally not game for this proposition. Generally, the privilege of sleeping with someone is inextricably linked to being in a relationship with them (a one night sexual relationship at the very least).
posted by jayder at 10:57 AM on March 31, 2009

I have a teddy bear. It helps.

And I've never slept with a human.
posted by bookwibble at 11:13 AM on March 31, 2009

I'll vote that a body pillow does wonders for this, and it doesn't kick or snore. I generally listen to old radio shows as I fall asleep, or leave the TV going in the other room. This helps.

If you do want a pet, and can take care of one, this is a major advantage to having one as well. My cats and I share a bed whenever the fiance isn't home, and it is a major comfort. Large dogs are also good for this, but can be massive bed hogs.
posted by strixus at 12:48 PM on March 31, 2009

I'm with fritley on this. I'm very introverted and need tons of time to myself, but that doesn't mean having a husband has suddenly eliminated my autonomy. He has a similar personality and is not insecure so he doesn't take my need for alone time personally. I would guess that most introverts, though not all, still have a need for physical intimacy. There are tons of married introverted MeFites. To answer your question, I guess I would have to say that yes, that's a huge part of what relationships are for. If I didn't need someone to cuddle, I might not bother. Needing someone to cuddle lead me to my husband, and now that I have him, I have so much more than that, too.

I wouldn't tell anyone to try having a relationship if they really don't want one, but it seems to me that you do want one for the physical intimacy. You tell yourself that it'll eliminate your freedom but that's just not true, so my advice is to try dating.

The worst that'll likely happen is that they'll be controlling and want to spend shloads of time together and it drives you nuts. While annoying in the short term, that's when you break up and try again until you find someone who understands your need for space.
posted by Nattie at 12:54 PM on March 31, 2009

Making a few assumptions, but if you are in college, I'd guess you are about 20 or 21? And that you lived at home with parents and slept in your own bed alone, until about age 18?

If those assumptions are correct, you've only had the chance to sleep with someone in your bed for about 2-3 years, out of a total of about 20 years. How about doing the things you did for most of your life, before the recent start and stop of sharing your bed?

If it didn't bother you before, why is it bothering you now? I think it's quite ok to not share a bed with someone, but I think it's worth getting to the bottom of why it bothers you now (since it's not really a lifelong habit).
posted by Houstonian at 1:44 PM on March 31, 2009

I only see my boyfriend on the weekends, so sometimes during the week I get a little lonely at night. Nthing the body pillow suggestion, or even a big cuddly stuffed animal would work. I've been wanting to get one of these for a while now. Also having nice, clean bed sheets and a super comfy blanket helps too. Someone up thread mentioned a heating pad. I have one of those too and turn it on a few minutes before I want to get into bed so by the time I climb in, it's warm and feels real nice.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 3:29 PM on March 31, 2009

The pillow stuff.

Also, you WILL get used to sleeping alone again. You're really not going to be able to get that people-only-to-sleep-with experience short of waking up at a party you passed out at in Berkeley, so you will need to just suck it up and learn to sleep alone for now.

It's not as bad as you think. It will be okay.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:08 PM on March 31, 2009

Dog. You don't need to raise it from a puppy for it to love you - right now there are three dogs in my bed that I adopted in adulthood, all wonderful cuddlers.

Also nthing exploring your need for loneliness. It may be perfectly valid, but make sure it's not an excuse for being overly introverted/shy/insecure/lazy about making new friends and forming relationships.
posted by walla at 9:43 PM on March 31, 2009

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