Like pep rallies and driving around aimlessly, the sleepover is a quintessentially American phenomenon. Experts trace its origins to the post-war era, when suburban sprawl gave families more square footage of domestic bliss. Sixty years later, a kid’s first sleepover remains something of a rite of passage, here in the States at least. But, sleepovers don’t only say “I guess this means growing up” during childhood. The nighttime hangout morphs as its participants age. In fact, there’s a type of sleepover for every stage of the transition from childhood to adulthood. From the trial-over to the nostalgia-over, here’s a handy guide.
Ages 5-7: The trial-over
Two buds, excessive parental communication and one chance to show mom and dad that you can spend a trauma-free night in the clapboard colonial your best friend calls home. It’s TGIF and suppressed ice cream stomach aches. It’s sleeping bags set up in the guest room. It’s sneaking extra TV and shh-ing each other when you hear footsteps approaching. It’s your foray into being an independent, albeit entirely non-self-sufficient person who values the sort of fun that can only go down on the weekend.
Ages 11-14: The group-over
Cliques form during school hours, but they solidify at night, over bared truths, raw cookie dough and Darwinian social dynamics. No sleepover worth organizing and cleaning up after ends without a few tears or a slightly sexist horror flick. The fast kids will dip into the Schnapps. The good kids will get out the Ouija board. Someone will regret passing out early. Someone will claim they stayed up all night. Someone will say “Sucks to your assmar” and affirm the efficacy of rule-by-fear.
Ages 15-17: The dishonest-over
You told your mom you’re staying at Liz’s. Her parents think Sarah’s playing host. Sarah’s supposedly crashing at your house. But really, you’re all spending the night in the lawless, beer-ful land known as Jessica R.’s. Her 19-year-old brother is provisionally in charge. Her parents might be in Florida, but they don’t talk to your parents anyway, rendering the elaborate web of lies unnecessary. You party like royals, if being a royal means dimming the porch lights to throw off cops and drowning yourself in malt liquor.
Ages 18-22: The twin-XL-over
College students don’t need elaborate lies to leave their beds vacant. They just need to put up with the complicated equation of two adults, and all their limbs, fitting on a twin mattress. Sleep isn’t happening. Other stuff is. You’re not fazed by the fact that the night in question began with that game where everyone comes up with signature gestures and you recite the gestures aloud in order, while pounding your fists on a table to keep the beat. Drinking games are the ultimate meet-cute. Sleepovers naturally follow. They’re totally casual.
Ages 22-27: The adult-over
You drift in and out of sleep, curled up in a bed that easily accommodates eight limbs with room to spare. The junior one-bedroom may be roughly the size of a dorm room, but it bears all the trappings of adulthood, as it’s been marketed to you. The posters on the walls have frames. (They’re actually limited-edition prints.) Entering this person’s private sphere seems to carry emotional weight. Access to their minutiae — contacts out, alarm clock set — confers a sense of intimacy that your 20-year-old self didn’t notice. Meetings at understated cocktail bars, orchestrated through swipes and taco emojis, are the generationally standard meet-cute. Sleepovers occasionally follow. They’re incredibly confusing.
Age 28 - forever: The nostalgia-over
Once again, sleepovers require planning and preparation, but your parents aren’t around to negotiate a pick-up time. Maybe you’re sharing the back bedroom in a rented ski condo. Maybe you’re watching Broad City and catching up. Fiances are checking in. Work emails are getting checked. Three decades later, the core elements haven't changed: You’re up late, laughing at half-formed jokes and hanging out with abandon. The novelty of spending the night with your best friend hasn’t worn off. How could it?