What I learned from my intimate experience with strangers at a Cuddle Party
The petite lesbian is sitting crosslegged behind me, rubbing my back, while the bearded man I met three minutes ago rests his head in my lap. I'm massaging his scalp and tugging his hair while we chat about his two teenage children. Two people who also just met are 20 feet away, spooning and making small talk. There's a foot rubbing circle of sorts in the back corner. A couple people choose to linger near the veggie tray and lemonade for now. And my ex-boyfriend just walked in.
It all feels alarmingly...normal. Comfortable, even.
Last night I attended my first Cuddle Party. Not a typo. Apparently, cuddle parties have been a thing for 12 years now. Who knew? The Cuddle Party organization teaches adults "the skills of communication, boundaries, asking for what you want, and saying ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ with clarity and kindness." A certified facilitator opens the parties with a 45-minute workshop, in addition to icebreakers and bear hugs. The motivation of the organization is that "...nurturing, welcome, consensual touch is good for you. Good for your body, heart, and spirit. Good for your blood pressure, your nervous system, your emotional health, your ability to connect with and trust people, your ability to respect and care for yourself, your creativity, sense of safety and comfort and belonging."
When I first heard about the event in Salt Lake City, having not yet experienced anything like it, I was intrigued for a number of reasons:
- The whole concept feels socially subversive and provocative; meaning I'm in love with the concept. The fact that touch is now socially subversive is sad to me.
- Adventure. What a random, fun, probably crazy, totally weird, potentially cool adventure. The worst that could happen is an interesting blog post.
- Spooning. I mean, let's be honest with each other, a good spoon session soothes anyone's broken adrenals. For real.
- The party aligns to Friday's new moon in Leo (my moon sign) with Venus still in retrograde - i.e. the cosmos are centered on love, relationships, and expressing your true self. I'm not participating with the intention of meeting someone in a romantic context. I am participating to challenge myself, my physical boundaries, my comfort level with strangers, the energy stuck in my heart chakra, etc. etc. Hippie juju.
- They say "free-style cuddling" on their website and that charms the hell out of me.
- In just a couple weeks I'll set out to travel around the world. Indefinitely. Solo. I live pretty consistently in a mindset of abundance, security, and compassion; but I do think a cuddle party is an interesting challenge to any prejudice or fear buried deep down in my psyche. My world is about to be filled with nothing but strangers. Exploring boundaries, practicing clear communication, and reinforcing what it feels like to follow my gut are all essential travel skills.
For most of the party I was relaxed and blissed out, but there were times I felt like a hyper-observant ethnologist. What I learned and/or had reinforced to me at the cuddle party:
It's all about you.
Your reaction to the idea of a cuddle party says more about you, your worldview, your sense of trust and security, and your definitions of sex and gender than it says about the party itself. Your reaction is all about you.
Get out of your own way. The stories you're telling yourself may not be true.
I was prepared to 'push my boundaries' and 'lean into the adventure' ...and it turns out I was actually at ease with the whole experience. I had no idea it would be so natural to me or that I would enjoy it so much until I tried it. Try stuff. The end.
Men deal with a lot of pressure to act in such a way that women won't find them threatening.
I've really underestimated that and also underestimated the cumulative toll it takes on them. The conscious thought, self-editing, and tension they deal with on a daily basis was enlightening. I cuddled with two different men who both said something similar: They enjoy cuddle parties because they're allowed to relax, enjoy non-sexual touch, and not trigger women who automatically assume they're in danger.
Men are just as vulnerable as women. We will all benefit from encouraging and honoring that.
Gender dichotomies have always bothered me. Last night was enlightening as to a man's experience of that cultural prejudice. Intuitively we know men have vulnerable, tender sides...but society paints a dangerously skewed picture of masculinity. It's not fair to men or women. Sometimes men want to be the little spoon or they just want someone to play with their hair. Let go of your perception of "masculine" and "feminine" in terms of vulnerability and caring for one another.
"No" is a complete sentence.
Your "maybe" is actually a "no." Let that be okay. Be kind, but let the other person's reaction be their responsibility. No explanations required, just "no."
When you're done, be done.
There's a powerful metaphor hiding somewhere in your arm that's fallen asleep at the cuddle party. When you're done with your experience of a particular person (or job or belief or habit), when you need a position or situation in your life to change, when you want to move on from anything for any reason at all...it's okay to be done. We constantly push ourselves past healthy boundaries, past self-care boundaries, past the point we know something is over. We do this out of fear of hurting someone, fear of breaking social norms, fear of engaging in awkward conversations, on and on. Enough already. Speak up. Be compassionate. When you're done, be done.
the universe will always bring to you exactly what you need.
I went to the event knowing absolutely no one...which all changed when my ex-boyfriend showed up. Surprise! And of course he did. We haven't seen each other since I ended the relationship nearly 5 years ago. It wasn't a graceful ending and there was very little closure for either of us. I don't believe in accidents, so when he walked in to the room I just shook my head, took a deep breath, and leaned into it.
We ended up spooning for a long time. We finally had the healing conversation and the closure that neither of us had the capacity for all those years ago. At the time of our relationship we were both living with undiagnosed chronic autoimmune diseases. We didn't know what we didn't know. Until last night, neither of us knew about the other's diagnosis that has come about in the meantime. When we were together, we were coming vaguely from a place of fear and pain and control. Last night we both came from a clear place of love and healing and permission. We forgave each other and ourselves. We had a killer cuddle and we let it go.
Love + cuddles,