Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The annual late-fall debate: Flannel versus cotton

Some days are still unseasonably warm in mid-November, the air almost humid at times and a good twenty degrees above freezing, but the chill of winter is gradually encroaching. This means it’s time for the yearly marital debate in our household: cotton versus flannel.

It’s a fairly sure thing, year after year, that we’ll barely have cleaned up from the Labor Day barbeque and grown accustomed to the kids’ new school schedule before Rick starts talking about making up our bed with flannel sheets. I’m usually able to dissuade him another couple of months, but by this time of year I start needing to work a lot harder to make my case. Once the air is truly chilly at night, Rick becomes insistent: time for flannel, as well as forced-air heating on all night.

He likes the warm and fuzzy feeling – literally so, in this context -- of crawling into a bed with what I consider unnaturally warm sheets. I, on the other hand, like to slide between cool smooth planes of cotton. Sure, it’s chilly for a few moments when you first get in, but body heat warms up the cavity between comforter and mattress quickly, and I absolutely love the feeling of a warm bed surrounded by cool air. I’m perfectly happy to leave the thermostat at sixty overnight throughout the winter.

But it’s hard to argue with a spouse who says he’s cold. No one wants to deny their loved ones the luxury of a comfortable sleeping environment. And yet it’s a difficult sacrifice for me to make. Being too warm while I sleep isn’t just a matter of comfort; it actually gives me anxiety dreams – you know, the “I never signed up for this class so why am I sitting here taking the final exam” type -- and sometimes even nightmares. Literally from the first day we change over from cotton to flannel in the late fall until we change back in spring, I can expect to have stress dreams on almost a nightly basis.

And yet it strikes me as curious that something as external as air temperature – or skin temperature – can have such an impact on my psychological well-being. Dreams, after all, are what’s in our subconscious struggling to find a voice, aren’t they? So why should my subconscious be more troubled if we change the sheets than if we don’t? Or, conversely, how do those anxieties remain so well suppressed during the seven or eight months of the year we sleep in cotton sheets? And if in fact my subconscious writhes with troubled thoughts, isn’t the flannel serving an important function by helping me to exorcise them?

I don’t know. I just know cool cotton feels good to me and fuzzy flannel pleases Rick. “Sheets” may have a variety of metaphorical meanings in the context of marriage, but I don’t think this is meant to be one of them. And it’s hard to figure out a solution: should he be cold all winter, or should I suffer from troublesome dreams?

Last year, Rick surprised me with a clever attempt at compromise. He made up the bed with flannel and then laid a cotton sheet, folded in half lengthwise, along my side of the mattress over the flannel. It wasn’t ideal, but it was better than usual. I’m game to try that again this year. I think my anxieties will still somehow find their way out if they really need to, and I’ll have at least a fighting chance at a good night’s sleep. Marriage? Complicated. Bed linens? Straightforward. Or at least one would think so. But linen choice, like marriage itself, requires compromise. It’s a slow process, but I’m learning.

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