Bringing Your S.O. Home For The Holidays? At Least You Don’t Have To “Bundle”

Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Bringing your partner home for the holidays will always be fraught with some amount of awkwardness. You can only keep your boo and your family chatting about the weather and work for so long, and then there's the issue of the, er, sleeping arrangements. But if your parents have no chill about letting you and your long-term, cohabitating S.O. share a bed in their house, just be grateful they aren't resorting to "bundling," the circa-1700s practice of birth-controlled bed-sharing. If you're familiar with bundling, it's probably thanks to The Patriot, which featured a scene in which a young Heath Ledger is being stitched into what looks like a human-sized pillowcase in order to share a bed with a young lady. This is actually a pretty accurate depiction of the practice. Back in the day, young men who were courting a lady (or just looking for a place to snooze) would be allowed to sleep in the same bed as said lady — just as long as they had a thick barrier of clothing, blankets, or, yes, body sacks, to keep them separated through the night. In some cases, a wooden board would even be erected, to divide the bed into two sections. (Feel free to take a break if this is all getting too sexy for you.) Bundling was most likely brought to America by early European settlers, and it became such a trend in 18th-century New England that an incredibly thorough physician named Henry Reed Stiles wrote a book in 1861 about the history of the practice, all the way back to its roots in tribal Europe. To put it lightly, the guy was not a fan. "Bundling — that ridiculous and pernicious custom which prevailed among the young to a degree which we can scarcely credit," he writes, "sapped the fountain of morality and tarnished the escutcheons of thousands of families." In other words, young people and their dirty minds will find their way around anything, even a solid wooden board.
Our favorite account of bundling included in Stiles's book comes from a British lieutenant who sought a place to stay one night in Massachusetts. After being told that he’d have to sleep with his host’s teenage daughter (and that he wasn’t the first man she’d bundled with!), his mind started to wander: "The smiling invitation of pretty Jemima — the eye, the lip, the — Lord ha' mercy, where am I going to?"

She’ll sometimes say when she lies down / She can’t be cumber’d with a gown

He eventually decides to refuse the offer, wondering, "Suppose how great the test of virtue must be, or how cold the American constitution, when this unaccountable custom is in hospitable repute, and perpetual practice." Stiles was right about the temptation that bundling presented to young folks, and the spike in premarital pregnancies around the same time only further proved how pointless bundling really was.
What brought the noble tradition of bundling to an end? Strangely enough, popular music is to blame. Bundling was essentially laughed out of business after a lengthy ballad decrying the method — and the women who, as the song said, “follow that reproachful practice” — was published in a widely circulated almanac in 1785.
Just a brief sample of the lyrics reflects how thoroughly the ballad shamed bundling enthusiasts far and wide: "To describe a bundling maid; / She’ll sometimes say when she lies down, / She can’t be cumber’d with a gown, / And that the weather is so warm, / To take it off can be no harm." Translation: That sweet girl who let you share her bed is nothing but a man-eater in a bonnet, and she'll seduce you the moment the candle goes out. The same song continued with a not-so-kindly allusion to what would follow: "I leave for others to relate, / How long she’ll keep her virgin state." This started a bit of a trend, and more songs and poems emerged to put bundling on blast. Which means Ledger's character experienced bundling toward the very end of its reign here. It's also worth noting that one of the last places in the country where bundling was a known practice was Cape Cod; we're inclined to blame this on an overcrowded timeshare. So there you go: In a truly flattering turn of events, critics of bundling believed women to be manipulative and flat-out liars about their modesty, even in cases where the man was the one who needed a place to stay. Nothing like some early-American slut-shaming to put your parents’ seemingly old-school one-to-a-bed policy in perspective.

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