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“You snored last night,” my partner said.
I put my hands on my hips and made a face at him. I huffed, he laughed.
The joke, of course, was that he regularly snored like a chainsaw. I’d tease him about it whenever he stayed over. Then he’d leave, and I’d put on more coffee and deliriously plan how I was going to survive on three hours of sleep.
I’m Jacqueline Houston, an editor in The Globe’s summer staff program. Things have since ended with that guy, for reasons other than the snoring. I’m not so much a light sleeper as I am an occasional insomniac. Good sleep, when I can get it, is important to me. And, yet, I never considered his snoring a deal breaker. How could it be? It was out of his control. If things were meant to be, I’d find a way to work around it.
I’m 22 years old, so critical self-reflection isn’t yet my strong suit. But looking back, I’m struck by the fact that I was, at least in theory, willing to compromise on my ability to sleep at night. For a guy.
Apparently, I’m not alone. A study from sociology professor Susan Venn at the University of Surrey found that, in the heterosexual couples she interviewed where the man was the snoring culprit, their female partners tended to work around the problem – ignoring it, sleeping elsewhere, nudging throughout the night – even if it meant sacrificing their own sleep needs. In fact, even when the women were the snorers, the men weren’t the ones to leave; the women were more likely to move to another room.
I look at some of the women in my life – strong and self-assured, by all accounts – and see similar patterns. My mom claims she doesn’t notice my dad’s occasional heaving or snorting anymore. One of my co-workers occasionally sleeps in a different room from her husband. My grandma, meanwhile, snores louder than anyone I’ve ever met. But when we go on vacation together, she apologizes and brings earplugs for whoever’s bunking with her.
Lots of people snore, the same way lots of people do every other thing that could make life harder for a partner. And some mutual accommodation of these frustrating-if-not-fatal flaws is part of any adult relationship. But as women – who are told time and time again to make a little more space or be a little more flexible – we ought to be aware of how much of that “mutual” accommodation we take on.
What other compromises will I make for future partners? If they have allergies, will I forgo getting a dog? Or buy a different perfume? In a Globe article that casts finding the perfect scent as an act of self-affirmation, Katherine Laidlaw begins with the realization: “Every perfume I’d ever worn was to be something for somebody else.”
What about the bigger things – will I ever move to another city or change my career path, for someone else? I have a recurring pipe dream of being a writer, but that’s necessarily self-absorbing work. “The female writers I know yearn to be more monstrous … to perform the selfish sacraments of being an artist,” as Claire Dederer observes in this essay, noting how Woody Allen and other monstrous male artists remain revered, while their female counterparts can be made to feel guilty just for working too late.
The answer to all of the above questions, I realize, is a conditional yes: I will find a job that allows me to fit someone else into my life, give up having a dog and even find a way to sleep through snoring – if it’s for a person who I want to spend a significant chunk of my life with, and who, crucially, gives up their fair share of jobs and dogs and shuteye (or reasonable equivalents) for me.
I hope, though, that I will also identify those things that I can’t compromise on.
I hope I never prioritize a date’s feelings over standing my ground on any of the ways it’s (still) hard to be a woman. (“Does our concern for others make us our own worst enemies when it comes to achieving parity?” Johanna Schneller wonders, after hearing female screenwriters discuss working in a male-dominated field, and each takes pains to make the point that “most men are great.”)
And I never want to bend over backward for someone just because it seems to make more sense than breaking up – an unexpectedly easy trap to fall into, as Kelly Korducki points out in an excerpt from her Hard To Do: The Surprising, Feminist History of Breaking Up.
But if he snores, well, maybe I’ll buy earplugs. Or maybe I’ll keep sleeping alone.
What else we’re reading
I’m moving to another city to go to law school in September, and this essay from Lara Bazelon on the trials of being a woman in the courtroom is equal parts fascinating and gut-wrenching. A professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, Bazelon writes, “I tell my female students the truth: that their body and demeanor will be under relentless scrutiny from every corner of the courtroom. That they will have to pay close attention to what they wear and how they speak and move. That they will have to find a way to metabolize these realities.”
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