BY CHION WOLF
For me, cuddling always meant “I love you.”
And growing up in the 1980’s as a The Only Gay Kid In The World, affection, holding hands, or squeezing someone special seemed like an option that was completely off the table forever. In Kindergarten, I drew pictures of me and a girl I secretly had a crush on. Two stick figures stood in the doorway of the house we’d live in, holding hands. Those two giant heads on sticks could be interpreted as my parents or something, but it was really me and her. Look at us! Holding hands! Thrilling!
In fourth grade, another female classmate and I ran laps around the field at recess. When it was over, we collapsed under a tree, laughing. She rested her head on my shoulder and squeezed my waist. My heart was in my throat! Can we please stay like this? In middle school, I grew smitten with one of my teachers. On certain holidays, I would sneak in as fast as I could before class and leave a gift on her desk: Chocolates on Valentine’s Day, full-size candy bars on Halloween, and my personal favorite, a box of Lucky Charms on St. Patrick’s Day. Such a risk! Such a rush!
On the final day of middle school, I snuck into her office one last time to leave her a note with my name at the bottom: “It was me who left the gifts. I love you!” As I was walking out of the school for the last time, in an extraordinarily cinematic moment (as I like to remember it), she called my name. I turned in slow motion… And she put her arms out for a hug.
Flash forward thirty years, and I am mic’d up in the middle of a 25-person-strong cuddle party in rural Killingworth, Connecticut. I had heard about cuddle parties years before, while I was at a bakery, sipping coffee. This guy sitting near me strikes up a conversation and says that going to a professional cuddlist has really helped him with his depression and anxiety, he says. And that’s how I ended up at this cuddle party, recording for an episode of Audacious.
I was recently divorced, and feeling pretty raw, thanks. For years, cuddling was reserved for me and this one other person, and the love we shared was part of why it felt so good. I was curious about how other people touching me would feel. Can cuddling feel good if I don’t love them romantically? If it feels good, what does that mean about my relationship to the person touching me? Would this make me miss cuddling? Would this blow my desires wide open, and this becomes the story of how my addiction to cuddle parties begins?
Everybody was so sweet and respectful (we spent over an hour doing consent exercises), but no matter whom I cuddled with, of any gender, I just could. Not. Relax. On the drive home, I recorded myself thinking aloud: Why wasn’t I more into it? Was it okay that I only wanted to cuddle with someone whom I loved and desired? What does that say about me? What’s behind this dissonance? One thing I would have done differently with my narration in this episode was to point out something very important: I was not like anyone at this cuddle party. Most of the people there, as far as I could tell by the end of the night, had an extraordinarily healing and joyful time. I, on the other hand, was a public radio host who wanted to make an episode of my show out of this uncommon experience. Of course I wasn’t feeling it. I wasn’t a true client! And yeah, maybe a little bit of me felt tender because all of those happy cuddlers reminded me of that little kid in me who longed for that special kind of touch. That special kind of love.
Do you believe in alternate dimensions? Maybe there are versions of me who are eternally experiencing it in the multiverse: I am right now one of two stick figures standing in a doorway, holding hands. I am right now wide-eyed and beaming under a tree, her head perpetually on my shoulder, my heart at home in my throat. I am right now lingering in that hug with my teacher in the hallway on the last day of school. “I love you too!” she whispers in my ear.
The episode: https://www.ctpublic.org/show/audacious-with-chion-wolf/2022-06-02/we-have-to-talk-