“20-something hipsters, middle-aged suburban couples, and aging hippies are approaching one another on all fours”
If you’ve ever been truly lonely then you probably remember that moment when you finally, finally, achieved some kind of real physical contact with someone and it felt like the concrete wall you imagined surrounding you came crashing to the ground. If you haven’t then consider yourself fortunate because that depth of loneliness is increasingly common in the U.S. It’s so common that there are now actual “professional” cuddlers in the world that you can hire and who will come to your house and hold you and all it will cost is, according to this very interesting Daily Beast piece about CuddleCon, $60-$80.
Here’s a bit explaining this brand new industry.
Most female cuddlers say that they can choose to work between 20 to 40 hours a week with little or no advertising or marketing. This is partly because word of mouth spreads quickly, but it’s also because there are few one-time clients of professional cuddlers. Those who decide to try it usually become regular clients, and most set up sessions as often as once or twice a week.
What’s more, there is little expense and no training required to become a professional cuddler. Since it’s a brand new industry there is no real oversight, either by government regulation or professional trade association. In most cities all you need is a general business license and someone willing to pay you. Because of this, successful cuddling businesses are popping up all over the country. None, though, is as successful as Samantha Hess and her business Cuddle Up to Me, the primary sponsor of CuddleCon.
In a world of the chronically depressed, chronically ill, and chronically isolated this industry makes a certain kind of sense. But if the actual root problem is the need for intimacy then it seems more akin to pornography and masturbation (I judge neither) than it does a true solution. Interestingly enough, it also appears that this kind of paid for intimacy can be harmful.
“Simply put, they don’t know what they’re doing,” says Lauretta Young, MD. Young is a trained psychiatrist who is a consultant to the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners as well as the Chief Medical Officer for Health Republic Insurance Co. According to Dr. Young, the training and education it takes to successfully work with people who have the kinds of issues the cuddling industry claim to help takes years. She says that attempts by professional cuddlers to base treatment on either their gut instinct or personal experience can be disastrous. “Trauma victims and people suffering from depression can actually be made worse by people who don’t know what they’re doing—and these people don’t.”
“With the types of people they cater to, cuddlers might truly believe they are helping without realizing their actions are actually re-traumatizing their clients.”
The piece mentions that cuddler ‘pros’ get asked to marry some of their clients. This strikes me as a deep problem especially since the ‘pros’ are all going to reject them. What must that be like? You’re so lonely that you hire someone just to hold you. You fall in love with them and then they reject you because this is all a monied exchange. At least prostitution is up front that it is about money and fantasy.
The seeming intimacy of the whole thing appears to be a kind of highly camouflaged objectification. What does that do to a person who’s emotionally crippled? Studies show that the chronically isolated already have a terrible time getting on with real people and that they will accept less intimacy and overvalue it. This would seem to possibly just be adding to the problem.
Talking to inanimate objects when you’re feeling lonely may not be so strange after all. According to new research conducted by a team at Darmouth College in the UK and Harvard University in the US, we’re more likely to perceive life in inanimate faces when we’re feeling socially disconnected. In short, if you’re low on human contact, you might start feeling a little less creeped out by the uncanny valley — because those faces look more alive to you.
This is because, when people are starved of social contact, they start attributing human characteristics to objects: a face on a volleyball, for instance. Or a doll. Or… a robot.
While I can sympathize with those who feel they need this kind of service, truly, it seems like the kind of band-aid that would help people get used to just living life swapping out one band-aid for another without ever learning how to escape the cycle. That none of these ‘pros’ even seem to have any therapy experience makes it seem even more like they’re cutely taking advantage of people’s situations whether they’re well meaning or not.