Futonian Physics

We sleep on a futon.


[foo-ton, fyoo-]


a thin mattress, usually filled with layers of cotton batting and encased in cotton fabric,
placed on a floor for sleeping, esp. in traditional Japanese interiors, and folded and stored during the day.

The futon rests atop two tatami mats (laid side-by-side), very low to the floor.

Yes yes, all very Zen, I know. How Asian, how serene, how…incredibly unsupportive for my back.



–noun (used with a singular verb)

the science that deals with matter, energy, motion, and force.

I am not Asian; he is.

He’s not, uh, terribly Asian, although he lived in Hong Kong until he was 10, speaks mostly Cantonese to his parents, and will never turn down an offer of chicken feet at dim sum. He does not have a foreign accent, he holds degrees from two very fine American universities, and loves his German-made two-seat convertible sports car. He appreciates his culture, but he is not defined by it. He has never dated within his ethnicity, for instance.

So when I combined households with him and he said he liked the bedroom the way it was, a-la Buddhist monk, I decided not to quibble and laid down my head happily next to his.

And then I discovered why futons never made any in-roads into the homes of my northern European ancestors: if you’ve got curves, you’ve got a problem.

I have curves. In the front, in the back, on the sides, I have all the curves you’d expect a woman to have. Futons seem to hail from an area of the world where curves on women don’t exist to the extent that, uh, they exist on me.

I never slept through the night on the futon on the tatami mats. I couldn’t get comfortable. I always had a knot in my right hip.

I tried, for a number of years, to make the futon/curve thing work. According to my finely honed Its-All-My-Fault philosophy, it was because I had flat feet, it was because I didn’t have a peaceful mind at night, it was because I wasn’t in shape, it was because of, well, me.

So we tried two futons, one on top of the other, but it was just more hardness. Then we added a memory-foam topper; it was pretty good, for a while. We tried to be valiant about rolling up the futons at least once a month, but the futons were really heavy and two rolled-up futons took up all the useable space in the bedroom.

The memory-foam topper reached the end of its life (tears and rents had developed). So we got another one. We got rid of one of the futons.

It just…wasn’t…working.

When I had knee surgery this Summer and spent two weeks on the couch in the living room, I had the best sleep in years (which was not from the Percocets).

It dawned on me that the couch provided more support than the futon/memory-foam did. Huh.

At this point I was torn between wanting to sleep on the couch and wanting to sleep with him. I used to look at him when he was peacefully and deeply sleeping and wonder how does he do that? It should be mentioned that he falls asleep on airplanes, even before the plane lifts off the ground.

I was beginning to feel like the princess with that damn pea, except the pea was the entire sleeping surface.

Like all modern women, I tactfully and politely broached the subject of getting a new futon with my partner. He hemmed and hawed, saying he’d had that futon since college and he slept on it fine. I tried again, tactfully and politely and online (he was away on business). He said maybe we should see if that futon store in Cambridge still existed when he got back. What I really wanted to do was shout, “I’ve had enough! We’re gettin’ a new futon or we’re gettin’ a bedroom set!” but that seemed so, churlish. Surely we could talk rationally about this and come to a mutually beneficial solution, one that both of us would agree was the right choice…


While he was away I again tried rolling up the futon (and slept blissfully on the couch). After returning it to its normal place position, I had to walk across it to get to the bedding, and that’s when I felt it: the cotton batting had compressed in all the places we sleep. The edges had a nice give to them, but where we slept was like bricks. There was no way to refresh that batting; the cotton was crushed, and there is no fluffing that up.

That’s why the topper didn’t work. The underlying material had depressions so when I lay on the foam it just squashed down into them, making the surface still uneven. It would sag, and so I would sag, and either my convex curves (hips) would be resting hard against the futon, or my concave curves (spine) would be sagging into the indent.

I realized that this was my problem, and that it was up to me to solve it. I bought a futon online, one with memory foam inserted into the cotton batting. I was very excited to get it.

I didn’t tell him, and planned on just replacing the old one with the new one and seeing if he noticed, but after the UPS guy dropped if off I realized I couldn’t get it upstairs on my own, and so had to confess to my purchase (and trust me, there’s no way you can get someone to help you drag a futon up the stairs without them knowing instantly what it is, even if it is still in its packaging).

Even though he made no comment I think he was not convinced that a new futon would be any better than his 25-year-old futon, and helped me lug it up to the bedroom nevertheless.

I did all the necessary unpacking and making of the bed. When I was done I called him in and we both lay down on it.

He fell asleep.

Now that would sound like a victory but he could fall asleep on the old futon as well. When he woke up from his nap I made him say “This new futon is good.” (Sometimes you have to tell them exactly what to say…)

Tonight’s our first night in our updated memory-foam/futon/tatami mat scenario. Please gawd let me get a good night’s rest.

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