This article originally appeared on VICE US
It has recently come to my attention that there is a widespread phenomenon of men who can, judging by the size of their watches and the caliber of their Equinox memberships, afford beds, and yet choose to sleep, instead, on mattresses on the floor.
Women who date men have been griping about this for some time. In a 2017 CityPages article entitled “Dear Men: Get Your Damn Mattresses Off the Floor,” Ali O’Reilly wrote, “If I had a punch card for every time I walked into a dude’s room and saw a mattress on the floor, I could make a shadow puppet of the Milky Way. I want to help. If that means making a list of the places where you can get bed frames for as little as $25 dollars, and the Home Depots where you can rent a flatbed truck for very little moneys, I will do that for you.” And last year, Nicole Cliffe tweeted a thread that went viral about how her husband slept on the floor when they first met, and swarms of men and women responded with tales of resistance from their (mostly male) anti-bedframe partners. “I have so far only dated one man with a bed frame. I’m 27 and have lived and dated in New York for 6 years,” one woman tweeted. Another posted: “my boyfriend was so against normal human beds when we met that rather than just BUY one he made his own, but not in a cool way. it was basically just a sad futon mattress with a single sheet on some 2x4s.”
Are men truly more likely to sleep on a floor mattress than women? Anecdotally, it would seem: yes. But as someone who has had adult sleepovers with many men, only a handful of whom were mattress-floor sleepers, I didn’t have a clear, science-backed sense of this being a man-specific epidemic. So, I decided to investigate.
I spoke with many men for this article—of many socioeconomic backgrounds—including 30-year-old, reformed-floor-sleeper Corbin Smith, who said he recently emerged from a nine-month stretch of sleeping on a mattress on the floor. (He had been sleeping on a box spring prior, but when he broke it, he resigned to the floor).
“When I started sleeping on the floor, I thought, ‘Whatever, it’s a mattress, I’ll be fine, I did it when I was a teen,’ but eventually, it actually became a real problem that was low key fucking my life,” Smith told me. He had a long-term partner at the time, and while she never actively complained about it, he suspects she couldn’t have liked it. They eventually broke up. “The mattress on the floor probably operates as a metaphor,” he said.
When Smith’s box spring broke, he didn’t rush to buy a new one, or a bed frame. “[My reasoning] was money, in part, for a second. I freelance and it comes and goes sometimes. But I also think there was a part of me that thought I didn’t need to give a shit about marginal comforts.”
Another man, who wished to remain anonymous, was a floor sleeper until his now-wife forced him to get a real bed. He still insists he actually liked the ground. “I preferred the support of the floor instead of those metal frame things,” he said. “Plus, a lot of those frames squeak when you have sex, and I hate that.”
On a 2015 Reddit thread, one man asked, “Is a mattress on the floor that big of a deal? Have a king size mattress without box spring or frame. Bachelor pad, 1 brd.” Indeed, many men on the thread cited the preferred firmness of on-the-floor mattresses and minimal sounds during sex. (“Sex isn’t as loud” said one user. “I'm short, and having my bed up high will do my sex no good,” said another, though we can’t quite visualize the sex maneuver he’s referring to).
One user even suggested that having a floor mattress is a good way to weed out money-obsessed women who would lose interest if they suspected you were poor. “Having little bits of poverty around is great for sniffing out them shallow bitches,” wrote intensely_human.
The most chilling comment of all? “Dude I sleep on a blanket, on the carpet. I've got a great bed in storage. Don't even miss it.”
Admittedly, people around the world, of all genders, appreciate floor sleeping. Traditional, super-minimalist Japanese futons, or shikibuton, are supremely calming, comfortable places to sleep, offering excellent back support. Some of the American men I spoke with cited comfort and support as a factor in their decision to stay floor-bound, but most offered a vague suggestion that they’d simply deprioritized bed frames, or forgotten about getting one altogether. It was just one thing that hadn’t come together the way it was supposed to, and that they lived fine without. Indeed, the phenomenon feels a little different in America than elsewhere in the world. Here, it seems to be less an active choice, and more a thing that happens, then is endured.
I asked Smith if he thought his ambivalence towards bed frames had anything to do with being a man, as so many women allege. “Look, I don’t have hands on the demography,” he said. “But I think that society encourages women to take care of themselves in a way it doesn’t really for men.”
For me, that tracks. I’ve dated more men than I feel comfortable admitting who’ve lived in New York for years without air conditioners, even though they can afford and would benefit from one. Their own comfort came second to… to what? Toughness? Rugged, uncomfortable masculinity? Sex so sweaty it has to be stopped? They never had good reasons. They’d say things like, “I’ve come this far,” and leave it at that. Then there’s the longstanding tension of domestic work—a category under which I’d plop bed frame concern and selection. According to a 2014 study, only 19 percent of men employed outside the house do housework, while 50 percent of women do.
One woman, who wished to remain anonymous, told me, “I feel like guys in general just care much less about making a space homey and mostly care that it's functional. When I first met my husband, he and his then-roommate didn't have a couch in their living room, just two folding chairs and a TV.” (There’s a meme about this very phenomenon.)
That, at least, is the stereotype. A Glamour article titled “Things Women Concern Themselves with That Men Don’t Care About” put “decorating” high on the list. “It's because men dig comfort and routine,” wrote the contributor, identified as “Guyspeak.” “All that stuff can be extremely nice, but if it wasn't there, would I find a way to be comfortable? Probably. I know many women need to create a space to feel like home. Most men create home with the space we have.”
At the end of the day, though, we know that any perceived behavioral differences between genders comes down to socialization, rather than actual inherent tendencies. And even identifying those differences requires a lot of generalization. I, for instance, wouldn’t call myself the most put-together woman. My first few months living in New York, I was too lethargic and financially unstable to prioritize buying a bed frame. I slept and ate deli meats on a floor mattress, where I also hosted a handful of hookups, including one with the man I made sandwiches with at a Williamsburg épicerie to afford my exploitative, unpaid media internship. I understand that when money is tight and malaise is all-consuming, bed frames can be one of the first things to go. Not only are they costly, they also require construction, which requires emotional fortitude.
In the same way I feel empowered to say nuts shit like “dentistry is a hoax” on dates, I feel that if someone has such a problem with my living quarters that they don’t want to hook up with me, they are beyond welcome, nay, encouraged, to leave. (This has never happened, but I’m just waiting for a guy to ask, “Why is your floor covered with Fruit by the Foot wrappers?” so I can scream, “GET OUT.”) The few times I’ve spent the night with someone whose mattress is on the floor, I got over it right away. The only thing in a person’s apartment that has ever made me leave immediately was a NASCAR lanyard.
But that's not the case for everyone. “I’ve never gone home with somebody to find they have an on-the-floor mattress, but I would be somewhat perturbed by it,” said a close friend, who wished to remain anonymous. “It suggests to me either confidence or laziness or hopelessness, only one of which I find relatable. I find the hopelessness relatable, if that was not clear.”