I believe in sleepovers - with partners, that is. I think they’re a super-important marker of increased intimacy in a relationship; a time gift that isn’t particularly easily given by me or my primary dating pool (other polyamorous parents); and, as someone who currently sleeps alone greater than 90% of the time and HATES IT, a respite from bedtime loneliness that makes falling asleep easier.
I didn’t always know how to say that. Because for most of my early adulthood (up until I had a kid, at 26) there wasn’t even a question that frequent sleepovers would happen, only the exact frequency or the location, I didn’t recognize this as a need I had. Once I had my first nesting partner (who later became my ex-husband), I never slept alone - on nights he wasn’t home I had other partners who could come sleep in my bed, an exciting change from a date night ending in theirs or in coming home to my nesting partner. Even once that relationship ended, my other partner still managed sleepovers as often as not (and we eventually lived together with his other partner, so the schedule formalized into half time) so I became aware that I fell asleep easier and preferred sleeping with someone, but it was never something I lacked for long periods of time. But that had been an “automatic” transition. We both preferred sleeping with other people to sleeping alone, not choosing to when we could was never even a question, and my assumption that it was important to everyone and only logistics would get in the way of sleeping with a partner rolled on unquestioned until I was 29.
I was in a serious but non-nesting, and intending to stay that way, relationship for the first time since having kids. I’d had a few flings (some including sleepovers!) but nothing that felt deep, in the middle term between my post-partum several month dating break, and meeting this new partner. We’d been seeing each other, depending whose calendar you believed, either 6 or 8 months, and now were seeing each other at least weekly. But we’d never slept in the same place. I’d stated it as an option, I’d hinted, I’d outright invited him both in advance and spontaneously, but there was always a reason it was no good, and I was starting to feel really rejected over it. Instead of saying I was feeling really hurt by his rejection of my offer to start occasionally sleeping in the same place, because to me that offer was proof our relationship was as serious as I thought it was getting, I just kept asking, and then got kind of shitty at him about his excuses not to and how thin they were, and then dropped it for a couple weeks, repeat. He never offered more than thin excuses for why today (or next week) was no good, and never told me anything about his feelings on the issue.
So, at some point, this became an argument. I started it by claiming that he didn’t care about me or our relationship because he’d neither accept my invitations nor ‘give me a real reason why he couldn’t, even weeks in advance, plan a sleepover.’ This was met with “I never want to sleep over anywhere that isn’t my own bed, and how can you measure our relationship with something so shallow?!” I was flabbergasted, and crying, and angry, all at once. What the hell did he mean, so shallow? Not leaving after sex/a date was clearly a sign of intimacy that he was refusing me, and he was calling my view of our relationship as too shallow? And we argued about it for way too long, and both got really upset, before he finally explained that where he sleeps means absolutely nothing about intimacy to him, but routine, and his own bed, and his things all around him, made it much less likely that his on and off insomnia decided to rear its head; but my measuring a relationship that he also thought was becoming way more serious, and pretty quickly, by something he thought of as meaningless, was making him feel like his vulnerability was worthless to me, and like I couldn’t see that he also had feelings because I wasn’t getting what I wanted.
That conversation is where I learned a valuable lesson about checking people’s assumptions about “relationship milestones” before we’re close to them. Because I’d been with a bunch of people in a row who also believed sleepovers were a milestone, and sleeping in someone’s space was a sign of intimacy, I hadn’t even considered that not everyone might feel that way. And both of us had assumed that the other holding a different position on how important something was meant that the other didn’t care as much as we did, and as we had hoped they would. We came to an understanding, that afternoon, and over time we’ve come to compromises, but a lot of the time, I still sleep alone, and I’d still rather not; and many of the nights he “sleeps over,” insomnia finds him and he has a shitty day the next day and I thank him profusely and make the good coffee. Finding out what’s a ‘need,’ what’s a ‘want,’ and what’s an expectation you have of ‘a certain relationship level’ is an ongoing process, but talking about it a step before you’re there might save you the fight, and let you skip straight to the conversation.