Along with being an actress and massage therapist, I've been a professional cuddler for about two and a half years. Last May, I joined Cuddlist.com, a professional cuddling service.
Doing this work has been such a heart-opening experience for me. I'm amazed at how quickly and easily human beings can bond. Usually, the only cuddling you get as an adult comes after you enter into an intimate relationship. Most of us only experience cuddling outside of a relationship when we're children—that's if you have affectionate parents. Sure, you might bond with your hairdresser and your massage therapist, but the bond with your cuddler is just another level of raw, human interaction.
By cuddling, we're admitting we're human and we have this basic, genetic need for touch. It's a characteristic of our DNA—we live in groups; we need each other. Cuddling makes us feel very safe and close. It's fascinating that this sense of safety and closeness can happen so quickly. My sessions usually last 90 minutes to two hours, but within minutes part of your brain steps out and you're nurturing each other and being quiet and close. It's really neat.
I first got into this business after I went to a group cuddle party with Cuddlist founder, Adam Lippin. When I started thinking about joining, I told my husband that if he didn't want me to become a professional cuddler, I wouldn't. He was a little wary, and I wanted him to come to a cuddle party so he could see that it wasn't sexual. He laughed and said that wouldn't be necessary. Luckily, I'm in a relationship with someone who loves to cuddle, because "I'm part barnacle, part golden retriever," to quote Eat Pray Love. So that works out for us.
Initially, I was worried about the potential for danger, so I thought I would stick to strictly female clients. That made sense to me, because I wouldn't have to worry about men thinking I was a prostitute. But Cuddlist co-founder and director of training, Madelon Guinazzo, is very firm that their cuddlers are not allowed to discriminate on grounds of gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. So that gave me pause, but I have a background in counseling, so I make sure to talk to each new client on the phone for about a half hour. I can weed out anyone who might be inappropriate.
Here's what a typical week is like for me:
Since I spend the weekends in Connecticut with my husband, I generally arrive back at my Upper West Side apartment late morning/early afternoon and start work soon after.
On a typical day I might see two massage clients and one cuddle client, but since this is an abbreviated day, I only see my cuddle client. Today it's a standing appointment with an elderly Hasidic Jewish man, who had originally just come to me for massage. Before he arrives, I shower, change into my "work" pajamas, and put on a clean pair of socks. I put a pillow with a clean pillowcase on the couch. (Make your bedroom as cozy as a cuddle party with these simple tricks.)
Since he's an established client, I know what he prefers. We start with the spoon position, with me taking the outer position. There isn't much talking with him, but sometimes he weeps. I feel for him—he's so deprived of touch. He started off nervous that someone would see him come into my apartment or that I would blackmail him, since people in his community aren't allowed to even shake hands with someone of the opposite sex (unless you're married to that person). He's since become a regular client, and I even talked him into coming to a cuddle party once!
Most of my clients are regulars—some come twice a week, but most come once a week or once every other week, and the breakdown is about 80% male, 20% female. Today I have a new client that I've screened over the phone but have never met. I'm certified as a school psychologist and I've been a massage therapist for 17 years, so within five minutes or less, I can tell if I'm dealing with someone who I have to keep my antennae up with. If my gut tells me no, I listen. (Be careful! Sometimes your intuition can be wrong.)
This morning I have an 8:30 AM client. I greet him at the door and he goes into the bathroom to change into his cuddle outfit. I don't allow street clothes for sessions and everyone puts on clean socks. I normally greet clients with a long hug, but since I've never met this gentleman, I don't. We go over the rules and our pet peeves. For example, I don't like anyone's hands on my face, nor do I care for a spidery touch. They tell me how they prefer to be touched and let me know about any injuries or issues.
I generally let the client lead the session. Some people know exactly what position they want, while others are uncertain. So we talk for a while and I ask him to close his eyes, think of the word "cuddle," and tell me about the images that come to mind. He lays down on the sofa and I put my head on his shoulder as he requested. One thing I insist on is that we make a promise of self-care. So if either of us has, say, a limb going numb, we tell the other person so we can shift positions.
Today I have back-to-back massage clients, followed by an acting gig. (An hour on the massage table reveals a lot more about your health than you may think.)
My first client today is a young woman who had been horribly abused. Her therapist told her she needed to start experimenting with safe touch, and cuddling with another woman seemed like a non-threatening way to do it. But even before we start, I sense it's just too soon for her. She doesn't want to be touched anywhere between her neck and her thighs, which is basically her entire body. She also needs to be able to see a window at all times. (Four out of every 10 people have been emotionally abused by a partner at some point.)
She reminds me of some of my combat veteran clients who suffer with PTSD. I give them a $20 discount (I normally charge $80 an hour) and hope to find more of these brave soldiers, because I've seen how much healing touch can help them.
After the young woman leaves, I get an extra pillow for my next client, who has Asperger's syndrome. He likes us to each have our own pillow. This particular person likes to start sitting up on the couch with me facing him and hugging him. Then we lay on the couch with him on the outside and me on the inside. Then we sit up and sit across from each other, cross-legged and look at each other. Because rules make him comfortable, we have to do it the same time every time.
He's also one of the few clients who always books several sessions in advance, because he gets agitated if he doesn't know when we're going to meet next.
After a massage session, one of my married clients comes to see me. He's perfectly happy in his marriage, but he loves to cuddle and doesn't know how to talk about it with his wife. (Here's how you can tell if your marriage is just sexless or if it's loveless.) I wouldn't make the same choices, but I don't interfere because that's his relationship. Once he leaves, I check the train schedule and run out the door to spend the weekend with my husband.