science of us

I’m Only Slightly Embarrassed That I Still Sleep With a Blankie

Photo: Constance Bannister Corp/Getty Images

For as long as I can remember, my Blanki has been my best friend. Yes, that’s Blanki with an “i”, sans “e,” as I’ve repeatedly insisted since I was a frizzy-haired kid, dragging the stringy white blanket around the house à la Linus van Pelt. She — the blanket’s gender was also something I enjoyed correcting my misguided family members on — was not only my number-one confidante, the Timon to my Pumbaa, and the neon orange “cheese” packet to my Wacky Mac shells; she was my de facto mirror, whispering back to me alongside my pillow as I anxiously awaited my parents’ return from routine Saturday night outings. In her cool softness, she helped me reconcile with all the people I was watching myself become.

When you’re a kid, you think you’ll eventually figure that out — that your multiplicity of selves will someday fuse into one coherent walking, talking grown-up. But part of being a grown-up is accepting the fact that there are always other selves popping up like weeds, pulling the consciousness in dizzying directions. As the years passed by and I struggled to become a well-adjusted human adult — sleeping over in friends’ beds, going off to college, traveling the world, having men sleep in my bed — Blanki stayed with me, providing a sense of home no matter where life has taken me. I may no longer be afraid of the dark come nighttime, but darkness has a way of creeping back; the simple of act of being a self, alone and whole, can at times feel nearly impossible. In those moments, I hold Blanki tight, working her frayed edges through my fingertips. The sensation is restoring, familiar, if not addicting. Like a stress ball or an inky doodle pen, my Blanki allows me to physically attempt to untangle the knot of anxieties in my head.

I was a bit embarrassed to explain the tattered white lump in my sheets once I left my parents’ house, but my Blanki soon became a mark of pride — a convenient test as to whether I should actually be letting someone into my bed. If you can’t accept my Blanki, in all her holey glory, then you are certainly the kind of callous person I do not want to sleep with. I am not ashamed to admit my love for this blanket.

I’m not alone in this — I promise. When I asked my fellow adults at my very grown-up workplace whether they sleep with relics of their childhood, many messaged me (privately, of course), sharing their devotion to their security blankets, stuffed animals, and even ratty pillows.

“I slept with the stuffed rabbit I was given as an infant almost every night of my life until I was 28,” Morgan, age 30, told me. “I didn’t really think anything of sleeping with Bunny until my mid-20s, when my family started asking if I still snuggled him every night. He fit perfectly under the nook of my arm and I found burying my face into his ears and inhaling his scent to be so, so soothing. Retiring Bunny wasn’t a conscious choice: merely the banal (and upon reflection, sad) result of moving a million times and finally leaving him boxed under my bed. Adulthood, I hate you.”

One colleague happily referred me to her girlfriend, who still sleeps with a blankie at 30. “I’m not sure why I still do, but I have had one since birth,” said Lydia. “I have had many throughout my life, but the current one is my niece’s blanket that she was wrapped in when she was a newborn. I suppose it just adds a sense of innocence and comfort that is very hard for me to truly let go of.”

Psychology calls these “transitional objects,” helping to offer kids a stable grounding as they gain independence, growing apart from their primary caretakers. Children often develop attachments to their blankets, dolls, stuffed animals, and the like as early as within the first six months of their lives, according to the Chicago Tribune. But transitional objects also have a place in adulthood, helping us navigate the complexities of life well beyond the confines of our parents’ homes. While there’s no hard number as to how many adults sleep with their transitional objects, a 2012 study conducted by the hotel chain Travelodge found that 35 percent of British adults said they sleep with teddy bears.

According to Vivian C. Seltzer, a psychologist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, the phenomenon is particularly prevalent among millennials. It also may be especially common among young women; developmental behavioral pediatrician Barbara Howard told the New York Times that roughly 25 percent of young women bring some kind of personal keepsake with them to college.

“Millennials are having this feeling of moving from one place to another instead of a home,” Seltzer told the Tribune. “This is a time of being alone and going away to school or a new job. A new place [means it’s] more common to take along an old friend with you that reminds you of the old thing you once had.”

There’s a child inside all of us that clings to nostalgic relics of our past. This is why people collect stuff, whether it’s bobbleheads or 1950s Cadillacs or swords. “I don’t believe in ‘having to grow up’ by getting rid of my blanket,” Lydia added. She made sure to note that her girlfriend “tries to steal it on the regular to sleep with.”

“We still have fears, and whatever helps us face these fears, it’s okay,” said child clinical psychologist and NYU professor Stanley Goldstein, adding that one-third of his mostly freshmen Intro to Physiology class brought their transitional objects to school with them. “We feel the need to define everything because something is a little peculiar or strange, and that doesn’t mean it’s an illness nor [that it] needs treatment.”

Blanki and I wholeheartedly agree.

I’m Only Slightly Embarrassed I Still Sleep With a Blankie