Matt and Mer, 28 and 26 respectively, met in college and quickly fell in friendship-love. They ended up in New York City as post-grads, where the two began a tradition of weekly Monday night sleepovers. “Monday nights are ours,” said Matt. “If something comes up, we let the other person know at least one week in advance with alternate rescheduling dates where we do a make-good. Usually it’s that Wednesday. I don’t think we’ve ever fully cancelled.”
They’ve kept this standing tradition through boyfriends (“they know the drill”) and away from other friends. “Sometimes we’ll do a double date for the dinner portion of the evening with two other friends, but we check in with one another before we agree to it.”
There are three stages to the night. The first is an activity of some sort, which usually involves a meal. The second is full of deep conversation — so much so that there’s a “transition phase” to pump one another up when they’re not in the mood. According to Matt, for their sanity, “it has to happen.” Stage three is their time to decompress. “The phones come out, we get quiet, go on Instagram and tag one another in memes while sitting on the couch.” In the mornings, they either work out together then get bagels, or one locks up while the other heads to work.
“Mer’s my family,” said Matt. “Time spent with her never feels like effort or an obligation. I love cancelled plans as much as anyone else, but Mer provides a lot of perspective and stability for me. Our sleepovers are a nice anchor in this busy, overwhelming, consuming city. It’s good for our mental health, and it’s a nice tradition.”
Leonor, 35, is a big supporter of the platonic adult sleepover. She and her best friend/“work wife,” Raha, have had two sleepovers, once when they had Raha’s apartment to themselves and another with Raha’s husband right there to make fun of them. “He judges our snack consumption,” said Leonor. “Cool Ranch Doritos, oversize M&M’s, large sodas and bad rom-coms.” She’s part of a group of friends who call themselves The Buttertones and The Jam; they organized a large sleepover sixth months after falling for one another at a wedding. There were blowup mattresses, gossip and broken dreams of staying up past midnight.
“I wasn’t allowed to sleep out as a kid, so for me, it’s like claiming a thing I never got to have,” said Leonor. “There’s a sense of bonding you get from sleepovers, from whispering in your pajamas. It’s fun! There’s no bubble to burst at the end of the night. You just wake in the morning and try to figure out who fell asleep first.”
“I think there’s a thing about female friendships where we’re drawn to being as physically close to each other as possible,” said Rachel, 28. “When my camp friends and I were in our early twenties, we used to live in different cities. We’d pick a place to meet up every few months and would essentially try to cram as many of us into one bed as possible. That was when we were in our early twenties. Now that we’re in our late twenties and early thirties, we meet in NYC (three of us live here now) and stick to two girls per bed: those who snore and those who don’t.”
The organizer of frequent and extensively planned adult sleepovers, 34-year-old Meghan has always been obsessed with this idea of an extended hangout. “Summer camp was my favorite time of year growing up,” she says. Today, her sleepovers involve signature white nightgowns — “sometimes I feel like I’m recruiting for a cult” — and offer an opportunity to meet new people, just like at a cocktail party.
“I love mixing up people who I think will have fun together. Sleepovers and being away from work and significant others allow for all the stress of home life to fall away and for women to connect. It’s like being a girl again. I hope I keep having sleepovers forever.”
Just as no kid wants the sleepover to end, none of the adults with whom I spoke to for this story (there were far more than I was able to include, a mix of women and men plus two straight dudes who’ve been sharing a bed once weekly since childhood) saw a reason to stop having platonic sleepovers with friends. Age was of no deterrent. In fact, the sleepovers were explained as a way to ground friendships as lives get busier and more logistically complicated. One woman, Leah, told me that her sleepovers — which have grown to a group of eight to 10 friends in a range of ages who rotate hosting responsibilities about four times a year — started when she moved to the suburbs and wanted to lure her friends to stay with her. These sleepovers were described as deep bonding exercises, emotional releases, excuses to let loose and be silly, and to talk about hard, “grown up” things — all while feeling like a kid again.
“You know that feeling when you become an adult,” Rachel said, “and you realize you make the rules and you can eat ice cream three meals a day if you want to? I think sleepovers are kind of the same. We don’t have to give them up just because we get older.”
Photos by Edith Young