About the Holding Space

Some of the other cuddlers I know are talking about setting up a commercial space for their business, so I thought I’d share the process and thinking I used to set up my office.

I knew from the beginning that I wasn’t going to be able to work from home. I lived in a large apartment, but with three of my four step-kids living there too, working from home wasn’t going to be practical. I thought about working outcall only, but as soon as my massage therapist suggested setting up an office I knew that’s what I wanted to do.

Having an office gives me some control over both my environment and my schedule. Even though I and, I think, most professional cuddlers, charge for travel time it’s a lower rate than the cuddle time. As a consultant who’s worked from a home office for years, I know how travel time to someone else’s locations can eat up your day. I liked the sense of professionalism I think it communicates, the idea that “yes, of course this is a real business, I have an office and everything.”

I looked at several types of space. Some offices bill themselves as catering to start-ups with flexible lease terms. Those tended to have a wait for space – and to be more expensive, starting about $500 a month for 100 square feet. I looked at Sola Salons, but they were even more expensive, around $1,200 a month. I know of several co-working spaces in town, but those wouldn’t have allowed me to bring my furniture in and leave it there. I talked to several yoga studios, as well, but there was the same issue. I could save money by sharing space with a massage therapist, but I couldn’t figure out how to cuddle people on a massage table, so none of those worked out. I looked at several small old houses that have been converted into office space, but they tended to have accessibility challenges – narrow hallways or staircases, and I wanted to be accessible.

One of the first offices I looked at would have had me sharing space with a colon hydrotherapist. She had an extra suite in her office space. I wasn’t sure that was the right place…but it was another alternative therapy and the room was a good size. After we talked, as I was thinking about whether that was the right space for me, she called me back to tell me that what I wanted to do was “just too weird” for her, and she was going to find someone different to rent to. I spent a week or so a little deflated that my idea was “too weird” for my local colon hydrotherapist.

Around this time, I also set up an appointment with SCORE – the local business development agency. I had a meeting with a panel of three people, the person they’d assigned to be my business mentor, her SCORE mentor, and I forget who the third person was. I wanted to get some answers about legal structure, and they insisted that I should create the least expensive legal structure possible. They also encouraged me not to rent office space, because it would be expensive. They weren’t sure where they thought I should operate – they didn’t seem to think going to people’s houses was a great strategy, either. I did not go back to see them again.

I looked at 3 or 4 commercial office buildings. The one I landed in I found by spotting a real estate sign on my way to a Zumba class across the street one morning. The location is not only right down from the police station, but just as importantly a short walk from my husband’s office. (At the time I was looking for office space, we were also trying to find and buy a house – having our offices so close was not only convenient, but it made it easier to establish where we were looking for a place to live.

I have 190 square feet here, and I pay $395 a month. That’s a slight increase from the $385 I paid the first year. I assume the rent will continue to go up a little bit every year (and I’m not ready to commit to a multi-year lease yet.)

I didn’t look at retail space, because A.) I didn’t know how to and B.) I didn’t think I was going to get a lot of walk-in traffic. That’s fine, because I didn’t want the hassle of staffing for walk-ins until I have enough business to justify regular hours.

When I set up the environment, I wanted something that would communicate “comfortable living space” but NOT “bedroom.” I ended up with a futon and an oversized beanbag chair, along with a bunch of pillows and some extra little beanbag chairs. I wanted space that could be used for both individual and 1:1 sessions, so I also have extra pillows, floor padding, and a couple little beanbag chairs that I set out on the nights I have group snuggle sessions.

Here are some of the other things I have (or have been asked about having) in my office

Video Recording Devices

When I was trying to decide whether video recording sessions was a good idea, I thought about two things; A.) the people who were going to be my clients and B.) the people who were going to be suspicious that I was “really” doing sex work. For group A, I anticipated people coming to me to help them with grief or trauma and I didn’t want them worrying about video of them ugly-crying ending up in some comedy reel somewhere. For group B, the people who were going to be suspicious of the work I’m doing, I thought about whether “I have a video camera set up in my office” made me sound more or less like a sex worker. I decided it was a little bit of a Rorschach test –what people thought was going to be based on where they were coming from. I opted against video recording.

Concealed Weapons

Many people have asked me whether I have mace or a gun in my office. I believe the statistics that say the most likely outcome of having a gun for protection is that gun is going to be used on me, so I don’t have one. People who ask me about mace make me laugh – I have 190 square feet in my office. If I fire off mace, it’s going to be a bad day for everybody. I do not keep concealed weapons in my office. I have taken some specific steps to ensure my safety, and I’m not going to detail those here.


IMG_20180801_173429Being a standard commercial office, the space comes with standard overhead fluorescent lights. My office has three, two of them controlled from one switch and the middle one controlled by another switch. It quickly became clear that wasn’t ideal for relaxing people. I didn’t want to turn them off completely, even though I’ve added a few lamps. You can get pictures that go over the lights to dim them – some of them look like clouds, for example. But it was cheaper to go to the local fabric store and pick up some fabric to drape over them. We attached them to the ceiling with binder clips, so they’ll come down easily when I move out, and they’re more interesting to look at than plain old lights.

In this picture, you can see all 3 lights (but the one in the middle is off, so you can just see the fabric hanging down. This is the lighting I usually use for clients. The fabric nearest the door people use is lighter and blue, the fabric in the cuddlier area is space-themed and a bit darker.

Television IMG_20180801_160604

I was so sure that people were going to want to have the television on in the background. Exactly none of the people I’ve cuddled with have wanted that so far. It’s nice for me when I’m working on other things, though – it makes a great secondary monitor.

When I opened the space I also had a DVD player and a stack of movies. My original website went so far as to mention that clients could select the show but that I wouldn’t watch scary movies – because I can’t soothe a client if I’m afraid. Not a single client has wanted to watch TV or a movie with me yet, though, and during the snuggle sessions where I’ve had them available nobody pays attention, preferring to engage with the people in the room instead.


I wanted something that could lay flat, but wasn’t laying flat when people came in. I looked for one that was easy to lay down and stand back up. The nifty thing my hubby did for me was craft stoppers that keep the futon when sitting up far enough away from the wall that it doesn’t have to move when I lay it down flat – this makes it easier to fiddle with in the middle of appointments


I have two folding chairs near my front entrance. This gives clients a place to take off their shoes without getting all the way into cuddle space. I also have some people who come to group cuddles who stay in those chairs, or at least start out there.

Beanbag Chair(s)

The beanbag chair I have is called a Xorbee. It’s the 6-foot size. When they shipped it to me, it came in a box about 24 inches on a side and expanded from there. There’s no getting it back into that box for transport later, though.

IMG_20180317_135332The beanbag is great for sitting people into the toboggan / baby bear cuddle, and is where I usually start all new clients. I made some videos early on that extolled the virtues of arriving to group snuggles early to be the first person to jump into the beanbag, but really nobody ever does that. I’ve learned to have it moderately but not completely fluffed for clients, because it’s pretty tall when it’s completely fluffed, and because there’s an art to sitting in it so that it doesn’t try and dump you back out after awhile.

I also have a couple little beanbag chairs that just add to my snuggle-party fluff

Stuffed Animals

IMG_20180801_173454When I did my first group session, it was in a yoga studio and I had mostly inflatable furniture and blankets, and one of my participants mentioned that there weren’t any textures in the space. I looked for stuffed animals that would have a variety of textures. I’m looking for more rough textures to bring into the space, because people with anxiety often prefer those to soft.

Gravity Blanket

I got a gravity blanket from a kickstarter and I have some clients who really love it. It’s a 20-pound blanket, and it’s not huge but enough to cover one person (or two if we cuddle close. 😊 )


My husband spoiled me with a Keurig, and I LOVE IT so much – but I’ve very seldom had a client interested. It does allow me to offer up my space for networking meetings that might otherwise happen at a coffee shop. (“come to my office, it’s comfortable and I have tea and coffee). I’m not a coffee drinker, but I have several kinds of tea available – mostly for me, really.

I have a Brita filter pitcher and some reusable cups – and I also have some bottled water in case clients prefer that. Very few people do, though.

Coloring Books

I have a supply of inexpensive ($1 each) coloring books and colored pencils. These are for my group events, too, and I have a few people who come regularly and want something to do other than cuddle.

Cuddle Fish

CuddleFishThe Board Chair for the Circle City Aquarium club helped me set up a fishtank, because watching fish is good for relaxation. I super-love having it, too.

Continuing the subtle space theme that started with the space fabric over the light in this part of the room is the little starship Enterprise you can see in the bottom-right corner of this picture. Being a geek is fun.


IMG_20180801_173441I have my coaching certificate up on the wall, as well as several pieces of art that came from the yoga studio where I did my training. If there’s such a thing as good vibes sticking to art, these mandalas have all the good vibes!

I also have a wedding picture displayed in my office. (Which feels a little cynical to me, like I’m displaying a certificate of ownership. But apparently it doesn’t feel cynical enough for me not to do it.) I just got married a couple years ago, so it’s a pretty current picture, otherwise I’d probably use just a current picture of the two of us.

Looking around my office, I don’t see anything else that stands out as an intentional decision. If you have questions about any of this, feel free to ask. If you want to come see the office in person, check out my events or make an appointment.


The Subversive Idea that Men can Control Their Behavior

I grew up with the message that men can’t be expected to control themselves if they become sexually aroused. You can still see this message now in the conversation around dress codes in school – the idea that a boy isn’t capable of learning if an exposed female shoulder is in the room with them.

I find this idea impossibly insulting to the men I know.

In my work as a professional cuddler, the boner question is the one I most frequently encounter, both from potential clients and from people who are merely curious. People ask me what would happen if arousal occurs during a session, or they ask me how I can feel safe alone with a man who might become aroused.

In cases like this, people are typically using “arousal” as a euphemism for “erection” – a common practice that is, frankly a little problematic. First of all, it assumes that arousal and erection are the same thing, and they aren’t. If they were, arousal would be limited to people with penises capable of becoming erect, and that’s simply not how the world works.

So let’s start by stripping out some euphemisms and talk instead directly about erections, and whether or not men who have erections are able to control themselves.

Spoiler alert – OF COURSE THEY CAN.

We’ve got this cultural myth that an erect penis changes the behavior of the man it’s attached to. Being a cultural myth, it shows up in our consciousness without anybody paying it a whole lot of close attention. It’s “common sense” that people who are distracted with sexual thoughts might not be able to focus on anything else, but only because we’ve seen so many stories and heard so many jokes that rely on this idea to make sense.

And it’s ridiculous.

Let’s talk for a minute about what the world would look like if it were true that an erection negated a man’s ability to function in the world. We wouldn’t be able to have billboards on the side of the road, or signs on the side of a vehicle, or mudflaps on the back of a truck with sexual imagery on them, because if “all the blood rushing from a man’s brain” reduces his ability to function, how can we trust him in that state behind the wheel of a car.

And what about sexy movies or strip clubs or restaurants where busty waitresses dress in skimpy outfits? How can we allow men to be out in public places designed to create arousal? How would they, for instance, remember to pay their bills if they aren’t functioning? How could they be expected to keep their hands to themselves in strip clubs if their brain has been taken over by their penis?

You might say that those businesses have bouncers because we don’t expect men to behave themselves, and point out that wait staff deal with some of the most pervasive harassment in the workforce, and all of that is true. And yet, most of the men who show up in those places keep their hands to themselves, do math to pay their bill, and generally function as a competent adult. And some sort of bouncer or greeter is present at lots of businesses that aren’t promoting sexual arousal in men.

The question, then, isn’t whether a man can interact respectfully with another human while aroused. There’s abundant evidence that it’s possible and even common. The question we’re actually faced with instead is whether we really expect men to interact respectfully with other humans (whether they’re aroused or not.)

This becomes a more challenging question. Part of the toxic in toxic masculinity is the idea that men must have dominion over all they survey to keep their “man card.” This shows up in a myriad of ways. Men are expected not to show emotion. That same “man card” is in danger if a man is known to consider the opinions or feelings of other humans, especially women. A man who asks his wife he can go to the bar is likely to be teased by his “buddies” for it, because considering how one’s actions affect other people isn’t very manly in this system. A man who interacts with someone they’re sexually attracted to but doesn’t have an orgasm can lose their man card for that, too – whether the other person is interested in sexual interaction or not.

Interacting respectfully is another thing that can cause one’s “man card” to be in danger. It’s pretty common for toxic masculinity to involve a pretty hefty side of treating people seen as lower status (read: anybody who’s not a white male) badly just to prove that you can.

Men who buy into these ideas are dangerous. They’re domestic abusers and men who kill women who won’t give up their phone numbers or say yes to a date. Some of them, like Elliot Rodger and Alek Minassian, go on literal killing sprees and claim that it’s because they can’t get laid. Some men worship these killers in online forums where they also talk about creating terror in the streets unless they get their way.

And yet.

I have a professional practice where I snuggle up with men I don’t know, after a brief screening process. I’ve been doing this for more than a year, and I’m still alive and unharmed. The work I do with men is some of the most rewarding work in my practice, and they tell me repeatedly how grateful they are and how much difference I’m making in their lives. I have never once been afraid during a session that my safety was in danger.

I’m not going to assert that I couldn’t be in danger from the culture of toxic masculinity. It’s entirely possible that one of these days some trolls are going to show up and call me names, threaten my safety, or maybe just flat up attack me. But none of Elliot Rodger or Alex Minassian’s victims were professional cuddlers. The risk that exists is there because of our toxic culture, not because of the work that I do.

And with a little bit of luck and a lot of persistence, this idea of professional cuddling might just catch on and help to disrupt the toxic masculinity that pervades our system now. This toxicity is deadly not only to women, but to men as well. Loneliness and touch deprivation are a part of why men live shorter lives than women. So is suicide: men are significantly more likely to die by their own hand than women.

Is it a little grandiose to think that a little thing like cuddling strangers for money can help shift the tide? Sure.

And yet.

The idea that it’s safe to offer affection and support to men (even though some of them are very dangerous) is subversive. The idea that emotional labor and nurturing labor is valuable is subversive. The idea that consent is an important part of a business interaction is subversive. The idea that men want to give and receive affection, and not just sex, is subversive.

If we subvert enough of the toxic ideas that have been allowed to flourish in our society, perhaps we can create the consent culture and thriving masculinity that we want to be.

I have a piece of calligraphy in my office that says “Do small things with great love” It’s the philosophy behind this business. Simple and humble, and perhaps not enough to make a difference.

But maybe it is. And, more importantly, it definitely makes a difference in the individual lives of the clients who come to see us. Curious? Come check it out for yourself.





Great Expectations

I talk to a lot of people who are very concerned that, while I might understand that I’m not providing sexual services, my clients might be confused about that point. They’re worried about what might happen if a customer walks in with expectations that don’t match what I offer.

The simple answer to that concern is that I’m aware it could happen – and I don’t think there’s anything I can or need to do about it.

Think about it this way. If Sam the customer walked into a steakhouse and tried to order pasta, there’s a pretty good chance the server would say “I’m sorry, we don’t have that on our menu.” While most customers are gonna drop it at that point, there are some who won’t. Sam might argue with the server, or ask to talk to the manager. Hopefully Sam isn’t the type of person to threaten or carry out violence if they don’t get what they want – but it wouldn’t be the craziest reason someone pulled out a gun and threatened the people around them. Do you remember the iconic scene in Falling Down where Michael Douglas’ character flashes an automatic weapon in a fast food restaurant to get breakfast for himself when their menu has switched over to lunch? Do you remember that, when the movie was released, people were encouraged to identify with the guy who forced the fast food clerks to get him what he wants?

That movie is 25 years old, and surely wouldn’t play the same way today – but there are still people who are going to be mad when a business won’t give them exactly what they want. They’ll be mad when a burger joint won’t serve them pasta, or when a florist shop doesn’t carry helium balloons, or when a movie theater doesn’t have a show that starts that the time they want it to. Those people aren’t reasonable, and I am under no obligation to cater to unreasonable people in my business.

I’m very clear about what I do. The first line of my client agreement is “Holding Space, LLC provides platonic services including coaching, cuddling, and workshops. Clients and practitioners both agree not to pursue or encourage sexual activity or arousal during the session.” That’s every bit as clear as a steakhouse menu that doesn’t list pasta, or a fast food joint with a policy that they don’t serve breakfast after a certain time of day. People who read that statement and think I’m selling sexual encounters are not reasonable people.

People May Not Be Reasonable. That’s Not My Problem

Talk to anybody who’s done customer service for any length of time and they’ll tell you that lots of the people they encounter are not reasonable people. Some of them are even scary unreasonable. People ask me if I’m afraid of upsetting one of those unreasonable people.

Here’s the way I see it.

First, I see no reason to try and design a business that nobody can misunderstand – because that is not possible. My friend who plays in a children’s band and gets hit on by parents in libraries and at birthday parties was the one who clued me in that no matter what I do, there are going to be some people who think I’m adding a “wink, wink” at the end and leaving the door open for sexual encounters.

Second, my ability to maintain boundaries in the face of pressure is part of the service. The fact that I can (and do) say no to things that aren’t within my boundaries is surprising and confusing to some of my clients – but I do it anyway. If they don’t like it that’s…actually fine. The ability to say “I respectfully do not care whether you like it or not” is part of the boundary setting process. Boundaries aren’t about whether other people will like us or not. In fact, boundaries aren’t about other people at all. They’re about what we will and won’t accept in the world – and that’s not contingent on other people liking it, or you.

Third, while I’m aware that some people who don’t get what they want can become violent, I don’t think my risk is increased by working one on one with clients. Women are killed for saying no to men on a horrifyingly regular basis, it’s true. But these women aren’t professional cuddlers – they’re women going about their business in the world. This is a risk I face no matter what I do for a living. The idea that most sexual predators are “regular guys” who just get pushed too far by their own arousal is simply not supported by any of the research available. Men maintain the ability to control their behavior even when they are aroused. I’m very clear with my clients that I expect them to do that, and guess what? In a year of work, with well over 100 hours with clients, that works pretty well.

I understand that some people are going to think this is ridiculously naïve and optimistic. That’s okay, they can think that all they want. But I’m going to continue to do this work and to promote this profession, because I think it’s the change we need to see in the world.

I also believe that to create the world I want to live in, we have to have people willing to stand up and do things that are clearly ridiculous according to social norms. In the world I want to live in, ethically sourced nurturing and emotional labor are available and valued. In the world I want my grandchildren to be born into, consent is respected. I hope to help create a world where consent is understood and valued. I hope to help people understand that the restrictive gender roles I grew up with (where men were not allowed to seek or engage in nurturing without “losing their man card”) are ridiculous and as outdated as ankle-to-collarbone swimsuits.


Custom Cuddles

The wonderful Jean from Cuddle Sanctuary put out a blog post last week that inspired me. Her “Designer Cuddle Experiences” details some of the ways her clients can create exactly the experience they’re looking for with their cuddle sessions.

At Holding Space, we focus our work specifically around what the client needs – which means every cuddle with us is a customized cuddle. Here are some of the ways we can design a session that will help you get exactly what you need.

Helping / Healing Cuddle

Most of the people who show up at Holding Space are looking for healing or nurturing.  That’s our specialty…supporting people who are in need of support, reassurance, relaxation, or just a kind ear. A lot of clients come in and don’t talk at all. That’s one of the wonderful things about cuddling; you don’t even have to be able to put your pain or anger or confusion into work for being held to make you feel better. Being close to another person impacts our physiology at a very basic level. It communicates to the oldest part of our brain that we are safe. This sets the stage for your brain to start doing other things. We’ve all heard about the fight or flight syndrome, but many fewer people have heard about the rest and digest state of being. Being held and comforted can bring the body into rest and digest, which helps people gather the strength and resources needed to go do productive things in the world.

Not all the custom experiences out there require a crisis, though. Here are some other options available.

Cuddle Fish CuddleIMG_20180423_115417

My office is already set up to allow for a variety of cuddle experiences. My new favorite element is the Cuddle Fish tank. The Circle City Aquarium club helped me set it up, and I love it so much. I have a dozen or so fish in there, plus live plants. Watching them all sway around in the water is very meditative.

Heart Math Cuddle

HeartMathI’m also an Add Heart facilitator through HeartMath , and I have the Inner Balance EmWave product in my office if you’re interested in watching your HRV during a session. You can download the free app before you arrive (or I can help you find it when you get here) and we can see the effect cuddling actually has on your heart rate variability.

Yoga Cuddle

Have you wondered about adding yoga into your cuddling practice? There are a lot of restorative yoga / yin yoga variations that can be achieved between cuddling and the pillows and props I have in the office. We can find a position that feels good – or even a position designed to stretch you in a way that can make daily life a little more comfortable.

Musical Cuddle

We also have a pretty decent sound system, with access to several streaming music services (and a bluetooth speaker you can hook your phone up to, if you want to create your own playlist for a session). I’m not an expert on music, but I’m interested in listening and hearing why you like certain things.

Movie Cuddle

We’ve got connections to video streaming services, too. Have a YouTube playlist you want to share with someone? Interested in watching a movie with someone and then talking about it? That’s an option, too.

Couples Cuddle

Do you want to share your cuddle with someone special? The Touch and Cuddling for Couples sessions can be used as a way to learn more about what you and your partner like when it comes to touch? As is true for everything that happens in  my office, it wouldn’t be sexual touch – but the ability to comfort and connect through platonic touch adds great value to relationships. It can help to lay and support the foundation that makes connecting in other ways (yes, yes, I do mean sex) easier outside the session.

Book Your Cuddle Today

Whatever sort of cuddle you’re looking for, give us a call or schedule some time to talk to us about it. If you know someone who could really use a kind ear or helping hand, we even offer gift certificates you can give to a friend.



Why Did I Start a Professional Cuddling Business?

Why did I start a professional cuddling business?

There’s a venn diagram floating around the internet that shows circles with “you love it,” “the world needs it,” “you are paid for it,” and “you are great at it?” This intersection, where your passion meets your mission meets your vocation meets your profession, there you find your purpose.

It sounds a little grandiose, doesn’t it? But it’s what drew me to create a professional cuddling practice.



I’ve been known for my superpower hugs for years. So many people told me that I give amazing hugs that I had an artist friend create a superhero with a superpower of hugging. The Hugginator, whose tagline is “I’ll squeeze back.” This was half a decade before I started my business, you understand. But, for people who know me socially, I never had to explain why I would have a super hero logo for my hugs.


Great cuddling requires people who are both able to carry on a conversation and who are comfortable with silence, because great extended cuddles tend to float back and forth between comfortable conversation and silence. I love talking to people, and find them endlessly fascinating – and also 15 years of teaching yoga have taught me how to shut up and be comfortable in silence, too.

I love cuddling, too, and in a year I’ve yet to feel like I was getting too much touch. I don’t know if I have a threshold for too much touch, but if I do, it’s kind of like allergies. I don’t know that I don’t have them – but I haven’t found them yet.

As for the getting paid for it part, that’s where I get a little philosophical. I do ask for money when I do this professionally, and that seems both counterintuitive and perfectly reasonable to me. On the counterintuitive side, the work is caring about people, and I do that naturally and easily. There’s certainly an argument to be made that since people need this so much, it’s wrong to charge money for it. On the reasonable side, doing a good job as a professional cuddler is work. It requires me to put aside whatever is going on with me and focus on the client. I hold space for people to talk about whatever they need to talk about, and be heard and cared for and loved without judgement. It also requires me to create and maintain a physical space where this work can happen, and to advertise my services in order for clients to find me. (It’s not like people go out on Yelp searching for the best professional cuddler in town – most of my clients have never tried professional cuddling before they come to me.)

As a culture, we’re quick to devalue this sort of work. The listening, nurturing, putting aside the self in order to care for someone else, even the creation and maintenance of a calming and relaxing space – all of this sort of caring work is devalued, in part because we think of it as women’s work. We’re used to thinking of the “important” people in the world as those who have this sort of thing just done for them. This support-staff sort of work was just done, invisibly, by people who didn’t even think of it as work. When Henry David Thoreau went into the woods to live deliberately, he doesn’t tell us that the women in his family brought him hot meals, cleaned his cabin, and managed his laundry for him, right? Caretaking has historically fallen into this category of invisible work – which doesn’t mean it isn’t important, but does mean we’re not really used to paying money for it.

However, as we shift more towards a culture where every individual earns and spends their own money (as opposed to a culture where one man goes out and earns money and the whole household of people around him do all of the things to make his life run more smoothly in exchange for sharing in that income), more of this invisible work becomes visible. Asking for money for things people are used to not paying for is an assertion that my energy and effort is valuable. It feels a little weird because it’s part of a larger culture shift, and change always feels a little weird. But that’s okay, I wouldn’t have started a professional cuddling business in the first place if I didn’t like people calling me weird, after all.

Cuddling Confusion

Caller: “I’m not looking for anything sexual, but if I were not able to place my hands on your breasts, I would not be interested.”

Me: “It sounds like this is not the service you are looking for. I wish you all the best in finding the right practitioner for you.”

I have had more than one potential client express interest in my service, insist they are not seeking a sexual experience in any way, and then tell me that if they cannot focus their touch on my breasts and or buttocks then my service is of no interest to them after all. I don’t mind that these folks screen themselves out. I’m glad they can state what they’re looking for, and that it’s so clear to me that what they’re looking for is outside of what I provide.

I look forward to the day when nurturing touch is a well-enough known concept that “give yourself the gift of nurturing touch” isn’t quite as confusing as it is seems to be today. The benefits of the service are clear. Affectionate touch reduces stress and communicates support and safety. Touch stimulates the vagus nerve and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the state in which our body heals. Deep relaxation – that floaty feeling that happens when you’re really relaxed – is positively correlated with both well-being and creativity. A nurturing cuddle can help people reach and sustain this state. In fact, recent research suggests that many of the benefits we’ve historically assigned to regular sexual contact may be due to the affectionate touch and have nothing to do with sexual stimulation.

I explain these benefits to people like this afternoon’s caller – but many of them aren’t interested. They don’t want the touch if there are restrictions like “we both keep our clothes on” or “no genital stimulation.” I’m never mad at people for stating what they’re looking for…but it does make me wonder if it’s possible some people are looking in the wrong place? That the belief that touch without sexual stimulation is, as one caller told me, “pointless” is simply misinformed?

We’ve got a long way to go before our culture catches up to the state of the science on touch, though. Our touch phobia plays havoc with our mental and physical health – increasing aggressionand stress and robbing us of comfort and relaxation. Then again, I didn’t start up this business because everybody already knew these things. I’ll keep looking for new ways to explain what I do, and why it’s beneficial, and eventually people will notice the importance and value.

There’s a famous quote that goes something like this:

“First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win.”  

Almost a year in, I can tell you that the nurturing touch business today sits somewhere between stage one and stage two. That’s cool with me, I’m gonna stay on this path, because when we get further down the road, it’s not going to be just me who wins.

Older and Wiser

A decade ago, I was convinced that everybody loved hugs and that touch was always healing. Part of my job at that time was to teach new hire orientation at St.Vincent Hospital. One week, one of my students in that class had just been hired to work with me in the HR department. We found out during orientation that her grandmother had passed away suddenly. She elected to stay through the day. When we were talking about it, I said to her “I really just want to give you a hug” – and she let me.

Months passed, and we worked closely together. One day in conversation, she mentioned how much she hated hugging people. It made her very uncomfortable. I thought back to her first day of work, and the hug I’d given her thinking I was helping. Instead, I’d made myself feel better – at her expense.

It seems a little weird to me sometimes, but not everybody likes hugs. It seems weird to me when people don’t like milk chocolate, too…but some of my best friends claim that they prefer dark chocolate. I don’t understand that, either…but I have learned to respect their assertions about it.

And, as much as I like hugs and other forms of physical affection, when I think about it, I don’t really want to hug someone who is just tolerating a hug from me. Yes, there are a lot of benefits to hugging. It can make people feel more bonded. It can provide the basic benefits of human touch. But as many benefits as hugging can provide, none of them outweigh the need to respect other people’s bodily integrity.

My respect for people’s wishes when it comes to their body carries into my work as a professional cuddler. When I’m working with a client, we do a lot of talking about what the client wants, and what would feel nurturing or reassuring or good to the client. Sometimes the client isn’t sure – and we can experiment to find out together what they like. One of the benefits of working with a professional cuddler is that you know that person is committed to making sure you are comfortable every step of the way. Within the clear boundaries created by the Code of Conduct, we can explore touch without the confusion of unspoken expectations.

 If that sounds like something you’re interested in experiencing, book a session with me to explore touch in a safe, bounded environment.

What I’ve Learned So Far…

It’s May first today, which means my office has been open just over three months. I thought I’d take the opportunity to share some of the things I’ve learned so far.

  1. If someone’s hesitant to ask a question, it’s probably the boner question. It’s not intuitively obvious to some people that boners can exist without becoming the center of attention. People who have trouble with that concept are probably not a good fit for my service, and that’s okay.

  2. Once I start talking to people, they generally “get it.” Some people are thrilled the service exists. I have more than one repeat client who lives more than an hour from my office.

  3. I don’t mind (very much) when people don’t understand why anybody would pay for “just cuddling.” People who have trouble with that concept are not a good fit for my service, and that’s okay.

  4. Most of my clients don’t really push boundaries. In my first one on one session I was almost jumpy, wondering with every movement if my boundaries were about to be tested. My experience has been, though, that for the most part people looking for comfort don’t push boundaries.

  5. I can hold my boundaries when someone pushes against them. In one session, when I told the client I was a no to him touching my butt, he replied “but it’s really hard not to.” My answer was “I believe in you.” – which seemed not to be what he expected to hear. It worked, though.  I don’t have to judge or shame someone to say no to them, I can do it by doubling down on the idea that people are basically honest.

  6. Holding someone tight for an hour is physically challenging. I’ve had sore biceps more than once since I started this. Clients who make my arms sore may be my favorites.

  7. I spend more time marketing and trying to build awareness than I do cuddling. People who tell me “I’d love to cuddle people for money” often don’t seem to realize that’s the not-so-glamorous reality of doing this for a living.

  8. Signing up with Cuddlist was a great idea! Having a community of practice around this work is important, and has taught me so much already. The people who do this work around the country are interesting and inspiring and I’m excited to get to know them.

  9. Speaking of amazing support, my husband David Mott has been incredible as a sounding board and a brainstormer and an unending source of optimism and belief in me and this crazy idea. I am grateful for him and all the other people in my social group who’ve been supportive and said things like “if anyone can make a go of this in Indiana of all places, it’s you.” You all have no idea how much I appreciate your kindness and love and support.

  10. I love doing this work. Wrapping my arms around a nervous or stressed person and breathing with them is even more rewarding than I thought it would be. I believe I was born to do this and that I’m being called to do it (perhaps by the same sweet sound that calls the young sailors?) I might well be a dreamer, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I am already laughing (and sometimes cringing) at myself for some of the things I thought three months ago. I’m sure in six more months I’ll be laughing and cringing at myself for some of the things I am thinking and saying now.

But that’s how a learning curve works. I’ve been through enough of them to know that (although I sometimes forget and need to be reminded that of course I’m going to get things wrong and of course I am not really going to understand how all of this works until I go do it a bunch). I’ve still got a lot to learn, and I’m mostly glad because learning new things is good for my brain. (And sometimes I’m frustrated and worn out when I encounter AFGO – but that’s okay, too.)

When you see me get things wrong, please be kind about pointing it out. And know that you’re not going to stop me from trying new things and getting more things wrong – because the stuff that I’m getting right is sufficiently awesome to make all the mistakes worthwhile.

Who Does This?

“Who does this?” said my youngest stepson, holding out a gallon of milk with about 2 Tbsp left in it.

“I did it. It’s exactly enough milk to put in one more glass of tea. I told your dad when I put it back in the fridge this morning that someone was going to be annoyed with me if I didn’t use it up before someone else found it.” I then went and made myself another lovely glass of chai tea, with exactly the right amount of milk in it.

I had a good and valid reason. He had no way to know what it was, and jumped to the conclusion that someone had acted ridiculously and was probably stupid.

Oh my heavens I’ve done this a lot lately. I look at the choices 18% of our country made on November 8th and say “who does this?” with the same tone in my voice as he used when he saw the milk jug.

And yet.

These people had reasons.

Some of those reasons were, in my firm opinion, terrible. When dehumanizing large parts of a population is part of the package, I personally don’t see anything else as more important.

 Maybe I simply do not understand. Each of these people has unique and different things that they fear. I do seek out their point of view, as much as my heart can stand to hear it. The fear is palpable, even in the angry hateful rhetoric.

Especially in the angry hateful rhetoric.

Refuges might bring in bombs to blow up children. Immigrants or environmental regulations might take their jobs and make them unable to feed their family. Women and minorities asserting their equality messes with the social order. People with alternative religions and sexual orientations and gender identities are unfamiliar and therefore frightening.

And yet.

R.A. Heinlein’s fictional character Lazarus Long said “Your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes. Keep this in mind; it may offer a way to make him your friend. If not, you can kill him without hate – and quickly.”

Let me be clear, I am not in favor of killing anybody (though I recognize that in a small set of circumstances it may be the best available of a terrible set of choices). However, I may well unfriend or cease contact with someone whose choices and beliefs are toxic to me or my community. I have removed people from social groups when it became clear that their behaviors make others in that group less safe.

Every single time I’ve done this, it’s been a painful choice. But I’ve done it, and I’ll keep doing it when the circumstances warrant it. It’s almost never quick. I often struggle and suffer – sometimes for years – before I get there.

Like so much, it’s a paradox. I seek to understand. I aspire to always have compassion. I try to recognize those situations where I don’t have the whole story.

And then.

When it becomes clear to me that the person in question has values that are toxic to me or my community, I disengage. I don’t hate that person, and I don’t wish them ill. I simply don’t have those discussions with them any longer.

Sometimes I disengage quietly, within my own head and heart, without appearing to disengage on a social level. Some of the people with whom I’ve disengaged, I suspect, would be pretty surprised to know I’ve done so. I still speak to them in public, and I still hug some of them when I see them.

But I do not ask their opinions on things, and when those opinions are offered I change the subject or physically leave the conversation. Once I reach this point in a relationship, I can do it without hate, quickly, and even kindly.

I can have compassion for someone and still know that they are wrong. I can stand against someone who would do harm without hating them. I do not have to respect someone’s beliefs to love that person – and sometimes the best way to love someone is to have as little contact with them as possible.

And I can seek the community of those who do share my beliefs – that compassion, love, and peace are the cornerstones of the world we wish to create. That active service of those values is a worthwhile use of time. I don’t have to win everybody over for my beliefs to be valid. People get to disagree with me.

But they can’t make me hate them. Not when I am who I aspire to be.