by Marcia Baczyski, the Queen Bee of the Stuffed Animal Kingdom
In speaking to people about Cuddle Party, Reid and I have frequently experienced a lot of wariness and disbelief from women. Many women simply don’t believe that engaging in such a thing could be safe, much less fun.
Why would I want to pay for a Cuddle Party when I can get groped by strangers in a bar for free? their raised eyebrows seem to say. Guys don’t listen, they don’t respect us, they just want sex. Men are bastards.
The responses of these women, while depressing, are hardly surprising. In my own experience of the “real world,” I’ve been on the receiving end of repeated breast- and butt-grabbing, overly-aggressive making out, a near sexual assault at age 15, rude comments, sexual discrimination, co-workers making passes at me, and men exposing themselves in order to get off on my discomfort. It’s not pretty.
The fact of the matter is that I’m hardly alone. MOST women have experienced, at worst, sexual trauma, and at best, inappropriate touching, grabbing and physical intimidation. The last thing they want is to put themselves into a situation where they are subjected to more of this.
The good news is that Cuddle Parties are not those situations.
A male Cuddle Monster once commented that the women seem to have more control than the men do at a Cuddle Party. While I’m not sure if that is true or not, the fact of the matter is that at a Cuddle Party, women have more control over what happens to them than most of them are used to in their everyday lives.
At a Cuddle Party, men and women alike are required to ask before they can touch you. No one is required to do ANYTHING they don’t want to. And everyone is encouraged to ask for exactly what they want and to reject any activities they DON’T want to do. Which means that, for possibly the first time, women are allowed to make decisions about whether or not they WANT to be touched. This newfound freedom can feel a little weird for some. And as unhappy recipients of unwanted attentions in much of their everyday lives, other women can find the degree of choice downright disorienting.
Fortunately, it’s not entirely unpleasant. The experience of being able to act, to set one’s own boundaries, and to decide in advance what one wants to do, can be profoundly liberating for a woman who is used to always reacting to whatever the people around her throw at her. The experience of being able to kiss anyone who says yes, or being held and cuddled by a hot guy of her choosing can make some women heady, light-hearted, or elated. One women said that her experience left her feeling as if she had fallen in love.
Given my history with inappropriate, indecent and unacceptable behavior from guys, one would think that I would have had enough of men, and everything they stand for. And for a while, I did.
So how did I get here, running Cuddle Parties, where I have to deal with men, of all things? And absolutely LOVING them? How did it come to be that my best friend is a man, a gem of a guy who has the softest brown eyes imaginable, a huge heart, a razor-sharp analytical mind, and a sense of humor that can keep me in stitches for hours? How did I acquire a business partner who is a man, a creative whiz whom I trust enough to get wrapped up financially with? My boyfriends, it might go without saying, have been men, and even as exs I remain friendly with all of them. You might even say that “some of my closest friends are guys.” And they are good friends indeed.
How did this come about, if my experience with men had been that they are grabby and inappropriate and over-sexed and oblivious? Not to mention rude, inconsiderate, and disrespectul. Am I just a low-self-esteem queen, willing to put up with things that make me uncomfortable in order to keep the guys around? Or is something else going on here?
Anyone who knows me knows that the idea of my being a glutton for punishment is laughable. I was not about to put up with that kind of behavior, and if it meant not having men in my life, so be it.
Instead, something else happend. I learned how to communicate with men. I learned to set boundaries, to make requests, to ask for things, to inquire if they were okay with what was happening, to listen to what they really wanted.
I stopped seeing them as the enemy, and started seeing them as human beings.
Cuddle Parties provide a similar opportunity. Because everyone is coming in their PJs, nervous, uncertain, and about to experience something entirely new, everyone, men and women alike, are on the same page. This isn’t the bar scene with its tried and true patterns of “use a line, buy a drink, get a number.” At a Cuddle Party, everyone is coming in as a human being, with all their vulnerabilities and an inability to hide behind a fancy suit or expensive car.
At Cuddle Parties, people open up. Guys start talking about how they don’t know if they’re doing the right thing with this girl they’re seeing, or how they don’t know how to relate to their daughter now that she’s 13, or how they feel alienated from other guys because their mothers taught them to treat women with respect. They laugh about embarrassing 7th grade moments and ask questions about things they genuinely want to know more about. They get REAL.
Women get to see what that looks like right off the bat, in a whole new way. Guys as human beings, not paychecks or protectors or macho studs or any of the other myriad roles they get placed in… What’s THAT like?
My transformation into a woman who genuinely loves men didn’t take place in a vacuum. At my most male-skeptical (and keep in mind I was taking LOTS of women’s studies courses!) I was lucky enough to find a few guys who treated me with respect and encouraged me to speak my mind. These guys had a profound effect on me, both in terms of me discovering my value as a human being and in terms of recognizing men as potential allies.
Reid has already written an article about the kinds of men who come to Cuddle Parties, so I won’t go in to detail here. But suffice it to say, they are the kinds of men who “get it,” who treat women with respect, and who know that they are not the enemy they’re sometimes mistaken for. In short, they are that seemingly rarified species: gentlemen. And we make sure it stays that way. How? Because if anybody is less than that, out they go.
The women who come to Cuddle Parties seem to be getting something far beyond some cuddling and an opportunity to possibly meet a mate. Many have reported a radical transformation in how they interact with men. They have begun asking men on dates… and getting yesses. They have begun setting boundaries with men who have been acting inappropriately or who have just been making them feel uncomfortable. They have begun breaking down the little bubbles of “no-touch” zones around themselves. They have begun communicating their desires to the world at large and experiencing wonderment at the results. They are less afraid of asking, less afraid of rejection, and less afraid in general. They are taking control. And many of these women are finding that they are no longer operating out of want or need of men.
They just LOVE men.