Cuddles for hire.
Yes, you read that correctly. Around this time last year, I was approached by a soon-to-be professional cuddlist. A casual hangout with an acquaintance quickly took an unexpected detour.
The topic of the importance of human touch and the wounds from a lack thereof took us into uncharted conversation. I delved briefly into my health history, which has necessitated prolonged isolation. Going without daily interactions that so often involve hand-holding, hugging, and general proximity to others has been devastating. Expecting nothing more than a nod of empathy, I was blown away by what came next.
The acquaintance told me he was in the process of becoming a professional cuddlist. Would I like to cuddle with him sometime? A flurry of visceral reactions competed for my attention simultaneously. Was this guy for real? In hindsight, I imagine my eyes narrowing into accusatory slits as I assumed impure motives.
My internal dialogue quickly pondered the relevance of my disability to this offer. I felt as though his pity about me being a poor “disabled” person and an untouched social reject motivated this unusual offer. I agreed that I was lonely and starving for connection. Even the mere whisper of another’s hand in mine was enticing, but did I have desperate written on my forehead? Maybe so.
Many people with physical disabilities are touched by strangers. Physical therapists, occupational therapists, aides, and caregivers all help to manipulate our bodies in ways that become mechanized. Growing up with these daily interactions creates an estrangement from the kind of casual intimacy so many friends share on a daily basis. It also puts those of us with disabilities at risk for sexual assault.
Peering into his face, I searched for some kind of direction. The analytical researcher in me asked dozens of questions about how cuddling works with a “professional.” Over the next week, my inbox pinged with resources about professional cuddling, agreements for consensual touching, and what seemed to be the curriculum for this strange kind of artificial intimacy.
I couldn’t help but marvel at what kind of world we live in when we are offering payment to people to touch one another. How disconnected have we become that we can no longer physically, emotionally, and mentally lean upon others? Beyond my own bubble of isolation, I felt disheartened that human compassion and connection have become commodified in this way.
And yet, the reality was that I still wanted physical touch. During these times, I think we are becoming aware collectively of the need for human touch. Recognizing the barriers to existing within close proximity to one another illuminates the extent to which we are all connected. Warm fuzzy embraces aren’t elective, they’re requisite for feeling included, for brain development, and for reassurance.
To cuddle, or not to cuddle? I weighed my offense, doubt, curiosity, and intrigue. I researched, wondered, asked more questions, and ultimately made a decision. Until the writing of this column, I have told virtually nobody about this experience. I do so now for the purpose of nudging a collective understanding of just how important we are to one another. May this uneasy time cultivate more compassion and mutual affection when we can, once again, hold each other close.
So, did I do it? I don’t cuddle and tell.
Note: Cerebral Palsy News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disorder. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cerebral Palsy News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cerebral palsy.