Melbourne actor Mike McLeish shares his experience of what it is like to survive the “marital bed” during lockdown!

Towards the end of the first lockdown in Victoria (remember those halcyon days? Ah, stage 3 restrictions. Simpler times.), my wife, Fiona, brought a single mattress inside from the garage that had been out there for at least a couple of years. It had belonged to our youngest daughter in her earlier years, so this mattress had an array of stains, the origins of some very obvious, others, not so much. My point being, this mattress was way past its prime and probably radioactive. But there it was, being dragged down the hallway and into our home office, opposite the master boudoir.

I knew what was happening.

I have restless legs syndrome. I haven’t been officially diagnosed, but from all accounts (i.e. Fiona’s) I was displaying the relevant symptoms, which presented mainly as me doing my best horizontal Peter Garrett impersonation every night. It’s come and gone over the years. Usually it’d happen during times of anxiety or stress. I’m pathologically chilled out, so it didn’t happen so often as to have a detrimental effect on either of us or our marriage. But it seems this pesky pandemic might’ve been niggling at me a bit more than say, a callback for a guest role on Wentworth.

Fiona sat me down and told me she was moving into the office to sleep.

“It’ll be better for both of us,” she said gently, in a tone that suggested she was moving out of the house altogether. I argued that I should be the one to sleep in the office because I’m the problem. She pointed out that it’s a single bed and I’m 6’2”. I reminded her that I’m capable of sleeping on most existing carnival rides. She couldn’t argue with that. Plus, Fiona’s the one who put our bedroom together. She’s the one who chose the bed, the bedding, the art on the walls; it was much more her room than mine. And, so it was that I spent the last couple of weeks of that first lockdown (*wistful sigh) sleeping on a pee-stained, single mattress in the office. And sleeping very well, I might add. Yes, it was weird. Fiona and I have been sharing a bed for nigh on twenty years. It felt odd. But early signs were pointing to the fact that this might be a good move.

The kids noticed, but they’re old enough now for us to be able to say, “Look, it may seem weird but trust us, this is a good thing. Now for the love of god put those Oodies in the wash and go outside for a hot minute. Love you, bye.”

But as we were able to start welcoming guests into our home – something we very much look forward to doing again some time before Valentine’s Day 2021, fingers crossed – we had to decide what to tell our friends. Initially, Fiona suggested that we should just say we wanted a proper spare bedroom.

That never happened.

Fiona proceeded to bring it up with anyone who visited the house. Friends, family, delivery drivers, they all got the news. If we’d owned the appropriate bell, I’m certain she would’ve taken the streets yelling, “Hear ye! Hear ye!” It was like a cathartic confession. A dirty secret that she couldn’t help but gleefully reveal. I would watch her face twitch as different conversations would take place over cheese and wine. And then, when she felt the time was right – usually about four-to-five minutes after our guests’ arrival – she would steer the conversation back on the necessary course. And she would always preface the news with a delightfully teasing question to me:

“Should we tell them?”

Now, in company, this is the rhetorical question you usually ask your partner before revealing good news. Nobody has ever turned to their partner at a dinner party and asked, “Should we tell them?”, followed by excitedly proclaiming that they’ve both got herpes and have literally no idea how it happened.

‘Guys, that’s amazing. A toast! To Bob and Julie’s herpes. Clink clink. Oop! Eye contact, eye contact! To herpes!’


Then we’d all chat about the assumptions made about couples who sleep in separate beds (the most prevalent being that they’re on a slippery slope towards imminent divorce), the accompanying stigmas and the basic logic – or lack thereof – surrounding the idea of sharing a bed with your partner.

I personally remember seeing two single beds in my grandparents’ bedroom as a ten-year-old, and thinking, “Ooh shit, that’s weird and unnerving and kind of sad and what the hell is wrong with them and maybe it’s probably an old person thing.” I’m paraphrasing my ten-year-old self. I’m also very disappointed in his potty mouth

In the context of the pandemic and Lockdown 1.0, we felt lucky to even be able to consider it, let alone actually do it. We had the space. I could afford a new bed. Once we’d all checked our privilege, something much more entertaining would invariably happen: any couples who came to visit would start arguing about their respective sleeping habits.

“You’re like a furnace.”

“You steal the doona.”

“You snore like a sailor.”

“ME? You sound like an eighteen-wheeler!”

“You breathe weird.”

“You mumble utter nonsense REALLY loudly.”

“You elbow me.”

“You kick me.”

“You wake me up when you come to bed.”

“You wake me up when you get out of bed.”

“You’re a bad sleeper and it drives me nuts”

“You’re a good sleeper and it drives me nuts.”

Fiona and I had front row seats and, seeing as there was (and still is – crying emoji) absolutely no other live entertainment to attend, we would sit and watch these quickly-escalating exchanges like a couple of Star Wars nerds at a midnight screening. We literally asked one couple to pump the brakes on their bickering so we could whip up a batch of popcorn.

Fiona and I talk about all our own egregious, shared-bed sleep crimes committed against each other like we’re on a nostalgia trip.

“Remember when you kicked me in the boob so hard I started crying?”

“Do I ever! I was terrified I’d cracked one of your ribs.”

Mike and Fiona simultaneously throw their heads back and laugh.

“Well, goodnight my love.”


“Love you.”

“Love you too.”

They close their respective doors.

A beat.

Mike and Fiona – in their separate rooms – simultaneously throw their heads back and laugh.

Cut to three months later. Victoria is in Stage 4 lockdown, our daughters are both back to remote learning, I’m drinking whiskey from a wine glass like its water and I’m pleased to report that we couldn’t be happier in our separate beds.

Oh, and once we’d made the mutual decision that this would be a permanent arrangement, I gave my sleeping situation quite the upgrade. Yes, including the mattress. I jumped online and had way too much fun choosing a manly double bed, an ultra-masculine mattress, a macho-as-hell doona and some testosterone-coloured bedding, including one of those weighted blankets that apparently have magical powers similar to activated charcoal or Gwyneth Paltrow.

I woke with a jolt last night. Then guess what happened? I rolled over and went back to sleep. Good story, huh? It was a very different story if I woke up with a jolt in bed with Fiona. My first thought was always, “Ah shit! I’ve done it again and now Fiona is awake… and I’m gonna pay.” You know that resentment you can sometimes feel radiating off your partner in the morning, and you have no idea what you’ve done? I discovered early in our courtship that often Fiona would be giving me the evil eye for the first six hours of a day because I’d behaved badly towards her IN A DREAM! And let’s be honest, there’s not much I can do about the fact that I sprouted yellow devil horns and threw her into a dungeon with Steven Seagal and Inspector Gadget.

We can’t control each other’s dreams (yet), but we can control how we want to live and how we want to sleep.

Our decision was a long time coming, and we were both scared of it and what it said about us as a couple and, in a broader sense, what it meant to us. Now that we’ve done it, we’ve found out exactly what it means to us: Nothing.

And I know you’re all waiting for me to answer the question that screams the loudest in most of your dirty, dirty minds. The answer is yes, we pay each other regular visits in our respective beds to complain about coronavirus together.

By Mike McLeish, a Melbourne dad, actor, writer, musician, singer-songwriter and full-time collaborator with his gorgeous wife, Fiona Harris. Most recently they co-authored their hilarious debut novel, The Drop-off, which is available now.

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