There's a small spot just underneath the collar bone to the right of the breast bone that is a little squishy on a person's body. If you put your hand over your chest it's just a little to the right of it, and even just touching that area yourself feels grounding.
That's where I gently nestle my head when I am cuddling someone and they are laying on their back. It's physically comfortable for me, it's comfortable for them, and I am just close enough to their face to feel a personal connection with them in this one action. This also gives me the freedom to adjust how close the rest of my body is to them based on how they react to this one simple movement. If they relax into this one action quickly, I bring my entire body closer to them, practically laying on them from the side as I cuddle them. If they seem tense, which is normal especially for the first time, I'll keep only my head and my hand on their chest area, my entire hand flat on their chest lightly to help ground them and to show that I do not intend to do any harm. As they adjust and become comfortable with that, I run my fingertips up and down their left arm, paying attention to the top of their shoulder, their elbow area, and the underside of the wrist. Those last two spots especially are very sensitive areas that most people aren't aware are their "pleasure points," and, when touched delicately, causes the person to relax and realize that they are safe with me. I am here for them, and whatever reason brought them to come see me can melt away for the next hour or two while we lay here and enjoy each other's company.
"Whatever reason brought them to come see me"? Why yes. This is what I do for work when I am not working fulltime as a construction project engineer: I am a touch therapist. But I prefer my official title: a professional snuggler.
Now is the point in a conversation that I get a similar reaction across the board from anyone that I tell this to: you probably have your mouth agape, letting those last two words in the paragraph above get processed in your head that this is even a possible career path. Then you start asking questions, either out loud or internally: how do you get into this kind of work, how does this work even work, and how on earth can I comfortably do this with strangers? You may even have some overt, mildly inappropriate questions for me on how I stay safe or keep this work in the realm of platonic and away from the sexual.
Allow me to start from the beginning, because this isn't a job I was seeking, but it accidentally happened. And I'm so glad it did.
Monday, October 5th, 2015. That was when I got an email that would have normally meant nothing to me other than pure amusement. I was on Jason Zook's email newsletter list. Jason is a guy that's known for creating unconventional projects for profit, such as the three and a half year period that he got paid to wear different companies' T-shirts for a living (yes really). He is also known for selling his last name-- twice-- and getting his entire book sponsored so he could make a profit from writing it (he got paid over $100k for writing the book!). So it's pretty easy to say that he makes a living off of doing really unconventional stuff and his life is DEFINITELY not boring, so I had to follow his antics even if what he was doing wasn't something I personally was interested in (although it kind of was; at that point my entrepreneurial side was really interested in what unconventional paths were available to me even if I wasn't pursuing them).
But in this email he was talking about how what you're selling to people might not be for everyone you meet. I figured this was also related to my field in a way because I am a fulltime construction project engineer. It's easy to overdesign (and underdesign) for HVAC (the particular construction field I work in) in our industry, so as the people supplying the final product for an owner, we may decide that what the design engineer decided suffices may not be the most ideal for the owner to use. So I read the newsletter and came across this line
What product or service are you selling and how is that making your users badass? How is it making them a better photographer, Mom, freelancer, zoologist, professional snuggler (this is a real job people get paid for…)?
I re-read that last part of the sentence a couple more times. If he didn't add that phrase in the parenthesis, I probably would have written this off as a simple silly thing that Jason was saying (he's known for saying a lot of silly things in his writing that don't exist, such as one article where he talks about Obama passing a law about taxing puppies, which does not exist). But him purposely saying "this is a real job people get paid for," my first thought was, "No it's not. I'm looking this up... because if this exists, I would be SO good at that job."
Why did I think I'd be so good at that job? Because it's been in my nature to be physically open all my life.
From as far back as I can remember to now as a 26-year old young woman, touch has been integrated in so many aspects of my life.
If I was sleeping at my parents' home (I no longer live with them but I go home and visit sometimes and sleep over) and I woke up early, I'd get up and go to my mother's room to cuddle under the covers next to her.
I remember times when I would rest my head on my older sister's shoulder growing up and wrap my arms around her arm while she glared at me (she didn't like that. I don't encourage this invade-space behavior now, but it was something that I did naturally often because I often craved being physically close).
Two of the sports I played the most often growing up, soccer and basketball, were contact sports that often required you to get close to an opponent in order to do well in the sport (unrelated to cuddling, but it helped lower my physical barriers).
I've been doing ballroom dance for seven years, which requires me to have many points of connection on the body with another person and accept it as nothing more than just dancing while being literally on another person.
Whenever I'm with a significant other or close friend, I tend to touch shoulders, rest my head on them, or, when stressed, lightly ram my head into friends as a means of comfort.
I am one of the people at any given party that will openly give hugs out, even to people I may have just met minutes or seconds prior. I am all about giving and receiving hugs.
When I took a quiz on the Five Love Languages, physical touch blew the other four way out of the water. It's just one of my strongest ways to communicate and connect with people. Of course, I connect with others in many other ways, but this is the most fulfilling for me according to the Five Love Languages.
How could I NOT be drawn to this work? This is something I wanted to do. I know how much physical comfort helps me and I can work with people that don't get it, then I want to do it even if I'm only an amateur and can only do it part time around my work schedule.
A quick Google search on this topic brought me to the agency I work through now. I contacted them about doing it part time, which they were okay with. The Boston area had maybe three snugglers at the time, so clearly there was already a market. I created a profile to describe who I am and who I can help in the process.
Within one day of being on the website, I got my first two leads from the agency. Just before I could schedule anything with them, something happened though: I got into a car accident and hurt my neck and back. So this meant I couldn't do this right away; I needed to heal first.
This actually worked out because not being able to do this gave me time to think about what most outsiders looking in would see as my sudden and brash decision.
Most people would have thought: What did I just sign myself up for?! Am I crazy to go meet with strangers and cuddle them? Okay, we stay fully clothed the entire time, it stays platonic, and the agency outlined their protection policies for me, but how can I trust this is a good idea and that this will work? The money is good, great, but is this really going to be worth it?
Those probably should have been the thoughts going through my head, but they weren't. Instead, my thought were:
I hope no more requests come over while I'm healing. I do work fulltime and have a direct sales business. Right now I can only do this two days a week if that, so trying to make this happen is going to be really difficult. But this seems so interesting and I want to do it. Maybe in the meantime, I can make a questionaire to help sort out people that genuinely want the service and those that might be looking at this as a not-platonic thing. I wonder what the first session will be like? It sounds like the accountant I was talking to that put the first request in is really stressed and needs something like this.
You could say I'm an overly confident, positive person that thinks the best of people with just a tiny hint of paranoia sprinkled into my actions.
My first session one week after I healed was on a Thursday evening with a financial consultant that happened to be visiting Boston. He had worked with other snugglers through the agency before when he traveled to other states and countries, so he knew the codes of conduct probably better than I did even though I read the training manual cover to cover four times to make sure I would do it correctly (that paranoia, you know). This made me feel more comfortable with meeting with him in the his hotel that first night near the end of October, especially since the agency also laid out their procedures for meeting with clients: tell them where you're going so they know what local personnel to contact should something go haywire, check in before the session to let them know the session is starting and that I arrived safely, and then check in after the session to tell them I am safe and I am no longer with the client. I dressed in comfortable black yoga pants, a conservative but comfortable tunic dress (this conservative dress was completely on purpose because the only nerves I really had at this point was for being mistaken for a different kind of "lady of the night"; my profile I wrote for myself on the agency's website gave no misconstruement that I was a platonic cuddler only) and ballet flats when I met with him.
During that first session, the first half hour of the two hour period I met with him was simply talking. It was clear what kind of person he was. He got to meet different people all the time, but when I asked how he got into the line of work he does, he confidently replied that he his highly motivated by money. I don't think he realized that I noticed him shift his eyes for a brief moment as he spoke about his amazing trips, but that shift said everything I needed to know.
He was telling the truth, that he pursued money for personal gain, but... what did he not have? Despite his business success and the glamorous life he leads from traveling, it seemed his needs for simple, physical comfort have not been met. And through our lovely conversation over our red wine, my heart reached out to him when I realized this.
This is why he seeks cuddlers.
To be continued...