That Time I...Paid to cuddle
It was a Thursday afternoon in March when I set foot in Durham’s very first cuddling studio, Cuddle Time For You. I had first heard of the new snuggling destination about a month prior, and was immediately turned off by the idea.
I have never been a particularly touchy person. Cuddling up with former boyfriends or love interests was tolerable and generally pleasant, but I was never one to engage in physical contact between friends. While all of my friends felt compelled to hug each other at every reunion, I hung back—no less happy but far less touchy.
My anti-touching nature has always been a source of confusion for my mother. She takes every opportunity to remind me and my sister—who is equally opposed to unnecessary cuddling—that we were given ample and loving hugs as children. But the familial hug just isn’t for me, and the platonic cuddle couldn’t be further from my list of desirable afternoon activities.
Even I found myself perplexed as to how I had come to find myself willingly walking into a professional cuddling studio with the intention of jumping into bed with my cuddler—or provider, as Cuddle Time For You owner Jeff Everson prefers to call them.
It started as a crazy hypothetical idea and morphed into a challenge by the hug-prone staff of The Chronicle. Naturally, I accepted and found myself researching which cuddler I felt I could spend an hour spooning.
It was easy to identify qualities I wasn’t looking for in my first professional cuddling experience. I didn’t want to cuddle with a man; I know they would be professional, but something about that idea just didn’t sit quite right with me.
That left five qualified cuddling female professionals to choose from. I had to hand it to Cuddle Time For You, the options really spanned the spectrum of ages and interests. It was clear that they wanted to give clients choices to maximize their level of comfort.
But once I saw Jule’, I knew that my search was over. In her profile, Jule’ described herself as a “retired College Professor/Librarian/Web Designer with a Graduate degree from UCLA.” Cuddling with a librarian? Sold.
The Cuddle Time For You offices were located inconspicuously in an office park, and from the outside, one wouldn’t know it apart from more mundane businesses that surround it. But the inside is markedly different than any office space I had ever been in. With deep, light-blocking curtains, the back half of the office is consumed by two large bedrooms, complete with a night table and queen sized, surprisingly comfortable, bed.
Everson explained to me that he wanted clients to feel at home in the space to allow for ultimate relaxation. From the carpet to the soft leather love seat in the waiting area, the entire office is designed to mimic the comfort of a personal apartment.
Before entering the bedroom with your cuddler, or provider, clients are required to pay, sign the terms of agreement and have their driver’s license scanned. All cuddlers undergo background checks and sign confidentiality agreements, but personal privacy is maintained by never exchanging last names between cuddler and client—or as I like to call it, cuddlee.
Everson then thoroughly reviews the list of what is not allowed during the cuddle—most importantly of which is anything sexual. He provided me with a convenient diagram of areas that cannot be touched on neither the client nor the provider that depicted thick black bars of both persons’ chests, groin, butt and lips.
After all the formalities are out of the way, it is time to get down to the cuddling. Jule’ led me to the back bedroom and kindly explained to me that there were five pre-approved cuddling positions, but that we could try any modifications that that we were both comfortable with. After deciding on the conversation-friendly “luxury lounge” position to kick us off, I sat on the bed and took off my shoes. Jule’ got into position.
And that is when I froze.
Up until that point, all of the cuddling was just hypothetical, a concept, a joke. But then right before my eyes, there was a woman there that wanted to provide me with a service that I had paid for, a service that was intended to comfort and relax me, and I felt frozen.
It reminded me of one time in middle school, or maybe it was high school, where I was playing spin the bottle. I landed on a boy I had really wanted to kiss, but the moment the bottle stopped spinning, my mind started racing, and I felt like I completely forgot how to move. But Jule’ gently reminded me of how to get into the position, and I laid my head in her lap. Before too long, she was stroking my hair as we were chatting about the new dog she was rescuing. It wasn’t uncomfortable, and to my surprise, I quickly found it relaxing.
If it sounds strange to have compared my experience pulling the trigger to cuddle with a professional to kissing a crush I had as a teenager, it's simply because I have nothing else to accurately compare the situation to. Inherently, cuddling, even with a paid professional, is an intimate act for me. It is bodies on bodies, and it is personal. That is why Cuddle Time For You is in business—people need physical contact, they need to feel loved. Everson said the majority of clients are middle-aged men, some struggling with pressures from work, others from other countries with no family in America.
Human contact—physical, emotional and verbal—Everson explained is essential to the human experience. In just the few weeks since they have opened, Cuddle Time For You has already had clients from Duke, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University—overwhelmed by stress, some of these students just needed to be listened to. He expected even more collegiate clientele around finals week.
My experience was comforting and pleasant. We tried out all five of the approved positions, and chatted happily through the first 50 minutes of my hour-long session. I am a listener by nature, so I enjoyed asking Jule’ questions about her daughters, dog and former life as a librarian.
For the last 10 minutes of my session, however, Jule’ suggested we practice "conscious mindfulness." I wasn’t totally sure what we were supposed to be doing, and I think I accidentally fell asleep for a few minutes, but I still enjoyed the suggestion. I appreciated that Jule’ was interested in learning more about the science of relaxation and touch stimulation. She mentioned that she was going to a conference to learn about the benefits of cuddle and touch. Anyone that takes their work and care of others that seriously is alright in my book.
All in all, I found my first professional cuddling experience kind of fun. For a non-toucher like me, it was almost an adventure into the unknown. It was relaxing and so interesting to talk about her life. I definitely didn’t leave feeling as though I had wasted an hour, quite on the contrary, I felt very much like I had made a connection, relaxed a little and even gotten in a quick catnap.
Would I do it again? I just don’t know, but it's certainly an experience I would recommend to seasoned cuddlers and novices alike.