To Cuddle or Not to Cuddle?
Some people like to cuddle in bed, and others, well they feel like their personal space is being utterly invaded without permission and against their will. Cuddling, as it turns out, is a pretty emotionally and physically ambiguous topic for which several people needed to be interviewed. Let me elaborate.
My partner is a pretty good (read: awesome, but human) person. They cuddle when it feels comfortable to them, and not intrusive. The word ‘intrusive’ is even funny to use because everyone has a different feeling, idea, and awareness about such close encounters with one’s personal space. To get outside of my own experiences, I asked a lot of people about their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with cuddling. I asked people I knew, did not know, and some people even overheard me asking others and just offered up their thoughts and opinions. It was a very fruitful topic.
One of the main things I learned, is that “cuddling” means something similar, yet very different to people. What a paradox. Furthermore, people conflated ‘cuddling’ with ‘hugging’ many times. So it is easy to cover both simultaneously.
What does cuddling or hugging do or not do for you? For me, cuddling my partner and hugging my friends has always been a very natural and open feeling. Even when I meet new people who I feel vibe with me, I give them a hug to make the meeting not so formal. It’s a way for both parties to loosen up and be less guarded and, in my experience, it has opened up doors of conversation and paths to great relationships. Not all people are so swift to hug someone they know or, even sometimes, don’t know.
One of my guy friends said “if you’re with someone you feel safe with and are attracted to, it’s all good” while another one said “[cuddling] definitely feels like some kind of chemical is being released in [the] body.” Both are right. In fact, I looked it up and close intimacy (even going so far as sex) releases a soothing chemical called Oxytocin. As Psychology Today says:
“Oxytocin is a powerful hormone. When we hug or kiss a loved one, oxytocin levels drive up. It also acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. In fact, the hormone plays a huge role in pair bonding.”
There was more to that quote, but it didn’t add any value to this post. It was talking about prairie dogs or some kind of animal. Let’s keep things somewhat normal… moving on!
To some, cuddling/hugging is downright uncomfortable. You have to think of what situation that person might be in or what they might have endured in their life that would make them treasure their personal space a bit more. As a point of contrast, I asked a few friends in the military about the gesture and they had the following responses:
“I spent the last nine months in Afghanistan, and we are a conservative military culture and I’m higher-ranking than most, so we have to be professional. In addition, there’s no off-duty dynamics–we live and work with our co-workers. I was dying for hugs a couple of months in… (there are some healthy sub-cultures, especially in the combat units, where there is probably lots of hugging, but I wasn’t in one of those).”
This perspective was very interesting. He was in a very militant and professional setting, not to mention being in a totally different country and culture, and did not show (or was not shown) affection much for several months. However, his basic human need for endearing human contact that releases the hormone oxytocin reared its head. It seems like even in the most stoic and rigid situations, people still crave a hug. Interesting, right!?
On another note, someone may not even be in that kind of environment but still have boundaries that are different than, say, a “hugger’s.” Sometimes you will have a friend, or you may be this way yourself, that isn’t really into “touching” or getting their space/body encroached upon. I have seen this many times, too, and for some that are into hugging when saying something simply like “hello” it may be tough to re-establish those boundaries. I had one friend in particular that pointed this out to me. She had a friend that did not like being touched at all and it actually affected her friendship with that person because of the “distance” she felt by not being able to hug them. I’ve experienced this myself with some friends. People are different…
“Hugs are amazeballs!” one person said when I first reached out to my pool of interviewees. That big-time resonated with me. I laughed loudly and then commented back, “I agree. I love unicorns!” No, I didn’t say that, but some people that are not “huggers” or “cuddlers” have some kind of perception that people in sub-communities have their heads all up in the stars sometimes. It’s really a funny gap in perception to observe.
While on the topic of sub-communities, I’d like to bring up Burning Man. Whatever misconception people who have never been to the event have doesn’t really matter here. I’m just using it because a friend of mine in Seattle brought up an extremely interesting angle. He knows a “burner” (that’s what people that go to Burning Man are often referred to as) in San Francisco who started a very well-known business providing just cuddling. It’s true, people! This is a very lucrative business! (Maybe not “very” but it’s a real business. No seriously.)
He went on to describe that deep connected human touch is a basic need we all have and a person can literally get starved for it; does anyone want a little bit of isolation in prison? Sounds like fun, right!? No thanks! That sounds like the worst possible punishment.
Now, I don’t know if I’m new to figuring this out, but non-sexual cuddling sessions are becoming more and more wildly popular. I just saw a post for a cuddle party actually! These are structured, safe workshop on boundaries, communication, intimacy and affection. A drug and alcohol-free way to meet fascinating people in a relaxing environment. When I first read this, I thought, “hahaha, drug free, right…” but you know what? I’ll choose to believe that one because, shoot, I love cuddling!
Let’s circle back to the actual subject at hand, which is what is the general consensus about hugging and cuddling. People love it–generally–it just has to be at the right time and in the right situation for the giver and receiver. I think every guy in the world would agree with my partner, though, there’s always the issue of having the circulation to your arms being cut off. Well, gentlemen and ladies, we have an answer for that, too! Welcome to the CUDDLE MATTRESS!
Let’s face it… where there’s a will, there’s a way. 😉 Now go find someone you adore, and squeeze the hell out of ’em!