It’s late in the evening on a Sunday, and I’ve showered, cleaned my sheets, and washed my clothes. My room is tidied, I’ve set up some music to play, and I’m feeling a mix of curiosity and excitement when there is a knock on the door and my guest arrives.
We’ve only met once before, and while we’re friendly, we know little about each other: this is an appointment. Marylen says hello, gives me a warm embrace, and I welcome her into my house, and then to my bedroom, closing the door behind us. She explains to me briefly what we are about to do, and appears confident, while I seem a bit nervous.
And then she proceeds to cuddle me for the next thirty minutes.
Marylen runs The Cuddlery, a Canada-wide company that offers so-called professional cuddlers to lend warmth, affection, and comfort to those in need or in want, or like me, those just curious (and wanting to write about it). It’s a paid service (prices range from $37 for a half hour cuddle to a $119 for two hours), and clients select a potential cuddler (there only but a few options for each city), chat beforehand, and then meet at either’s house, or a neutral setting, like a hotel.
Until I undertook it, even having talked to Marylen at length beforehand, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Reflecting upon it still seems strange (especially speaking about it to others), in part because the experience was both oddly comfortable and especially surreal.
Marylen, who lives in Vancouver, was visiting Toronto to take part in The Everything to Do with Sex Show, where she set up shop, offering cuddles, cuddle challenges, as well as places for couples to get cozy together. The irony here lies in the fact that The Cuddlery strictly prohibits sex and nudity, and any such attempts at either will end the appointment.
In part because of the possibility of sex (or maybe the hope, inevitability?), Marylen admits that through the first year, it’s been a hard slog combating both legal issues and stigma. There is no sex or nudity involved whatsoever in this service, which of course for most outsiders would seem the first question or curiosity. What’s more, most people think cuddles silly or unnecessary.
“A lot of people are ignorant about cuddles,” Marylen explains to me on the phone from Vancouver ahead of her Toronto visit. “I think people think that because it’s natural, that anyone can do it. Actually it’s an art, and if you think cuddling is natural and you don’t need to think about it, odds are you are a bad cuddler.” She equates it with dancing, and that just because you dance with a partner doesn’t make you instantly great at it. She uses massages as an analogy as well: friends may lend massages that are welcome and relaxing, but surely it doesn’t compare to a professional.
Marylen argues about expectations, and I suppose that for me was the best part. I didn’t have to do anything; she was there to take care of me, and because there was no possibility of sex, it removed any pressure.
“When you cuddle with a partner where you have possible sexual interaction, it’s a totally different experience.” She’s right. Neither of us were cuddling in order to obtain sex, nor to return the favour for it. It’s isn’t hard to imagine that those two reasons are often the case for two people cuddling, especially early on in a relationship.
It’s difficult to remove the sexual aspect of it, though. She was in a tank top and pants, while I was fully clothed. As instructed in the client’s agreement, I showered, brushed my teeth, and provided a clean environment for our meeting. I did also take note from the website an answer to a frequently asked question: ‘Although sexual activity is not permitted, arousal is normal and should not make anyone feel uncomfortable.’ Should it happen, though, the two will change positions so as to diffuse the situation.
Marylen mentioned this in person as she cocooned around me at one point, though that issue did not come up, as it were.
Our thirty minutes together were comfortable, and seemingly short-lived. It took maybe five minutes or so for me to feel particularly comfortable, and once the time was up, I could have easily enjoyed another half hour. She took me through several different positions, some that fostered affection and touch, others than allow for couples with talk to one another while being close. Marylen said I was free to chat as I wanted, though silence was often more enjoyable; I embraced the silence.
I can’t but feel though that the success and enjoyment of the exercise is entirely dependent on the two people and what chemistry they have. Marylen did talk on the phone and in person beforehand, and she was a warm and welcoming woman. I can’t say if I would have had the same connection with someone else, though I can’t say that I wouldn’t have either.
I suppose though, it’s the job of the cuddler to make the client feel relaxed and comfortable. Most are men, says Marylen, though while they are often seeking affection, there are some who look for healing, overcoming anxiety and shyness, or simply in need of a non-judgmental shoulder on which to cry. Some clients are businessmen who have busy lives, while others are those going through a breakup.
Marylen began the business when she knew she wanted someone with whom to cuddle while studying law in a new city, but found that sex also got in the way. It was either too stressful or too dangerous to try to set up that relationship with a stranger; most women she says go to bars or perhaps contact an ex-partner if they want cuddles, but that usually comes in tandem with sex.
“There’s a lot of taboo, a lot of myths around it,” says Marylen. “People think cuddling a stranger is weird, and unfortunately a lot of people cancel. But all of the clients who go through, in the first five minutes, they feel comfortable.”
I did, and if nothing else, it may serve as a reminder to not diminish and indeed seek out physical affection in any current relationship. “If you try it, you’ll be sold,” continues Marylen. “I’m really proud it.”
Anthony Marcusa is a Toronto-based freelance journalist whose writing dabbles in film, TV, music, sports, and relationships – though not necessarily in that order. He’s simultaneously youthfully idealistic and curmudgeonly cynical. You can follow him on Twitter @MrAnthonyWrites.
Photo courtesy of The Cuddlery.