Every woman who’s tumbled through my life has lodged the same complaint against me (aside from my obsession with diner cheeseburgers, but that’s a story for another day): I don’t like to cuddle. Or when I am cuddling, I suck at it. I shift positions a lot, I itch, my limbs fall asleep, I get hot and sweaty and I eventually just want to be left alone to sleep.
I’m recently single again, and while I’ve been enjoying all the diner cheeseburgers Brooklyn has to offer, I do miss waking up next to someone. My ex and I weren’t big cuddlers, which kept us horizontally compatible, but I did enjoy occasional morning snugs while the cat fought for attention.
Could I learn to cuddle again before the next woman takes pity and spends the night with me (and the cat)? Let’s face it: girls dig cuddling. So I did what any Googling man would do: I turned to a professional cuddling service.
I don’t know if it’s just me, a waning cuddling industry or high holiday demand, but I had a surprisingly hard time finding a professional cuddler. I started with a resource called Snuggle Buddies, where I found several cuddlers in my area and, not being picky with such short notice, requested anyone available for either incall or outcall. I had to sign an agreement that I wasn’t up to any sexual shenanigans before submitting my request, which was true: I was in it to learn to cuddle. So I hit “submit” and waited.
For almost a week.
I got no response. Was it me? Did someone at the agency not like me? Whatever it was, it became clear that it wasn’t going to happen for me with this the Snuggle Buddies. They still haven’t replied to my requests at the time of publishing.
So then I found Cuddlist, a competing agency with similar rates. I spotted a local cuddler, an uptown-based woman with an adorable profile photo, entered my request and waited. I’ll call her Greta, although that’s not her real name.
IT’S ONLY NATURAL
Sipping on a rye on the rocks at my local a few days before Christmas, I had all but given up on the idea of getting my snugs on. Was the cuddling industry on the wane? Was it so popular that cuddlers weren’t taking new clients? Were people foregoing a cuddle session for massage or, in my case, a glass of whiskey at the bar?
I sank deeper into my anti-cuddle trance with every sip, a rejected boozer increasingly convinced that he wasn’t worth it in the first place. Then my phone rang. Not recognizing the number, I figured it was one of those small-business-loan scams and let it go to voicemail.
I listened to the message just in case. It was Greta. Her cheery disposition was a wild departure from the dark bar. Suddenly, I felt like a teenager who just found a prom date. This was going to happen.
I called her back when I got home. She explained that before we could set up a session, we’d have to get to know one another a bit on the phone. As I cooked dinner, she told me about her background and I did the same. We had some laughs. It felt natural. I couldn’t tell if she was just good at this or if we really did connect, but as I’ve learned from more than one visit to a strip club, it doesn’t really matter—these are professionals and you just go with it. We spent almost an hour on the phone (no, really), confirmed a session for the next morning, and that was that.
THE BIG DAY
I woke up anxious, like I was going to a therapy session or perhaps the dentist. I could tell something life-altering may be in my immediate future. I packed a complete cuddle outfit as outlined by the agency: pajama bottoms, cotton T-shirt, fresh socks. I took the hour-long subway ride uptown and arrived at my cuddler’s place right on time.
Soon after opening the door, Greta asked if she could hug me. A petite woman in her twenties, blonde and Nordic in features, Greta was a beautiful woman by any standard. That said, she was clearly playing the part of platonic cuddler: no makeup, loose pajamas, hair pulled back. There was no sexiness going on here. She lived in a studio apartment that real-estate agents would call “charming”: corner kitchenette with two burners, giant mantel that was probably once part of a glorious off-the-park welcome parlor and, in the middle of it all, the tools of her trade: a massage table stood where I assumed an area rug once really tied the room together, and next to it an oversized sofa with pillows of multiple sizes.
I changed in a tiny bathroom. Upon my return, I was directed to sit on the sofa. She laid the ground rules: no sexual contact, and if either of us grew uncomfortable, we agreed to say so. We then outlined our cuddling pet peeves. She didn’t like what she called “spider touches,” or really light brushes of the hair on her arms. She also didn’t want me touching her face. She asked me to outline my own cuddle pet peeves, and given that I’m such a cuddling amateur, I couldn’t list any aside from the fact that I didn’t like to cuddle. She found this hysterical. We then practiced saying “no” to one another at requests to touch or move in certain ways, which I think she called “respecting the self.” And with that, we started our session.
Just like that, we were locked in an embrace, her head on my chest, her arm around my back, our breathing synched.
I explained that I was nervous, and that when I get nervous, I sweat. She turned on a fan and asked me to rate my anxiety on a scale of 1 to 10.
“11,” I replied.
I was asked to conjure the image of a perfect cuddling setting. I came up with a “grassy field next to a swimming hole, like in Little House on the Prairie.” It was the only thing I could think of. She giggled at this, which lightened my mood a bit. She asked how we’d be situated in that image and before I knew it, we we sitting side by side, holding hands, staring at the ceiling.
We made small talk, and after a couple minutes she asked to hug me. I gave her the green light, and just like that, we were locked in an embrace, her head on my chest, her arm around my back, our breathing synched. This intimacy with a total stranger was almost unbearable at first. She seemed to sense this and kept up the small talk. We discussed where we grew up and why she didn’t like Curb Your Enthusiasm. I explained that the reasons she didn’t like it were all the reasons I did.
I noticed that I wasn’t sweating. I was actually enjoying this. We changed positions. She somehow knew how to position herself in ways that felt almost weightless. Our final position was a classic one: me on my back, Greta snuggled up to my side, her head on my shoulder, her leg over mine. It was at that moment that she explained that becoming aroused was normal, but that we were not to act on it.
Which brought back the anxiety. I spent the final 15 minutes of the session making sure I didn’t get aroused. Despite her stroking my chest, I succeeded. After all, the session really wasn’t sexual; just holding, chatting, cheesy new-age music and two people being generally happy.
And then her alarm went off. I expected to feel relief, but more than anything I was just…comfortable. I didn’t hurt anywhere, I felt no anxiety and I didn’t feel as though Greta was a stranger. More important, what I thought would be a struggle turned into an affirmation: I can cuddle, and I like it. Cuddling doesn’t need to lead to sex, nor does it need to come after it. In fact, it can occur between two people who have no intention of ever having sex. Maybe that’s what I was missing the whole time. Maybe that’s what a lot of people are missing. Maybe that’s why we feel so lonely so much of the time. Maybe we just need to spend more time cuddling with our girlfriends, boyfriends and spouses. Maybe we’re cozying up to Facebook when we should be spooning each other.
As I rose from the giant couch, I pondered all of this. Cuddling is in our genes. Surely people cuddled back in the day, if at least to stay warm, but perhaps to connect, to just be together, to feel safe. I imagined mobs of humans cuddled together by a fire, den leaders offering their backs to the cave entrance and all of the dangers that lie beyond.
To so many people, touch is either a friendly hug and a peck on the cheek or straight-up intercourse. Everything in between is laced with questions and rules. We reserve platonic cuddles for our pets, our children or pillows that we don’t discuss. The thought of cuddling with a friend or even a stranger is taboo. Just the thought of asking a friend for a bit of snugs is sure to turn any man red.
It was time for reality. I got ready to head back into the cold New York fall afternoon.
“You’re going to walk down the street after this thinking, ‘I just cuddled for an hour!’” Greta said.
She was right.