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Coupling

You snooze, you lose

A napping husband gets a wake-up call.

By Paul R. Kelley
April 3, 2011

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What’s better than falling asleep on the couch? Sex? Maybe, but sex can be overrated and I’ve never had a couch nap that disappointed. A great meal? World Series tickets? OK, so napping isn’t the absolute best, but it’s definitely right up there.

I napped in college, strategically sitting behind the professor in a discussion class. I napped in law school (what’s that Fifth Amendment thing about again?). Every office I’ve had for the past 30 years has had a couch in it, along with a Do Not Disturb sign for the door. It’s a family tradition. When I was a teenager working with my father, a carpenter, we’d go to lunch at 11:30 a.m., and after lunch he’d sit in his truck and close his eyes for 20 minutes or so. As a carpenter’s son, I’m a disappointment. I can’t nail two boards together. But I can nap like the foreman’s gone and won’t be coming back for the rest of the day. I’m self-employed now, with an understanding boss who encourages a refreshing nap.

After a marriage, two children, and then divorce, I was a single guy stretched out on my living room sofa watching the 2003 (sigh) and the 2004 (yeah!) Red Sox.

Nap-wise, it didn’t get any better than that. But then love came to me, and I was single no longer. I married a woman with a wonderful large leather couch. It’s not the reason I married her, but it didn’t hurt. We settled in together, finding places for two toasters, two microwaves, four children, and other assorted items. Then one summer night around the seventh inning, the Red Sox did what they’re supposed to do, and that is, put me to sleep on that wonderful leather couch. It’s best to sleep during the middle innings and then awake to catch the end of the game. But it doesn’t really matter; they play 162 games, after all. Baseball isn’t designed for nonstop excitement. It’s designed to help time pass. Anyway, it was a comfortable, blissful, contented sleep. But notwithstanding my obvious comfort and satisfaction, at 11:45 p.m. my wife shook me awake and said, “Come to bed.”

Had I married in haste? What madness was this? Why would anyone wake someone up out of a sound sleep, only to suggest that the slumberer come to bed? I was in love, but this waking-me-up thing was disturbing. It was like she’d waited until after the marriage to tell me about the insane brother who was about to be released from an institution. What was next: Were her cousins from the Ozarks coming to live with us? Was a cult involved?

I sought the counsel of a wise friend. We talked politics. We talked sports, and finally I said, “Let me tell you what my wife did to me.” Would he confirm my worst fears, that I faced irreconcilable conflict in my marriage? He listened. He smiled gently at me. He leaned back in his chair. If he’d tilted his head to one side just a bit, he might have been William F. Buckley Jr. But then he leaned forward and reminded me of Dr. Phil. If he’d gotten up and danced, he could have been Ellen DeGeneres. Thankfully, he stayed still and said, “Perhaps your wife didn’t get married to you so she could sleep alone.”

Oh.

That was the moment I realized I was wrong. Just plain wrong. My life’s experiences had let me down. The glory of the warm afternoon naps in high school, hung-over crashes on the couch in college, the power naps in my suit, the nap-any-time freedom of post-divorce singlehood, all had left me unprepared for the simplicity of the fact that my wife didn’t marry me so she could sleep alone. My friend didn’t offer any further wisdom. He didn’t need to.

Now my wife and I celebrate bed. Warm, comfortable bed. The day ends with a smile just before the lights are turned out. The smile is followed by a goodnight kiss when we say to each other, “I love you.” Nothing beats bed. Nothing. I look back at the couch incident and think: A beautiful, loving woman wanted me to go to bed with her, and I wanted to sleep on the couch? I still nap, but never at bedtime.

Paul R. Kelley is a mediator/arbitrator who lives in Beverly. Send comments to coupling@globe.com.

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