I Feel Safer with my Clients than I Do with Online Dating.

"You're a professional cuddler?!" She asked.

Her eyes widened, and I saw that familiar flicker of her eyes narrowing as I told her this while I stood in the host's kitchen at this Portlandia-themed hipster party.  Here we go, I thought, the question everyone asks me...

"How do you stay safe while doing this work?" She surveyed my face carefully, most likely looking for any hint of a microexpression that I was about to lie to her.

This is the one question I get asked over and over and over again when I first tell people I'm a professional cuddler.  And people will ask me this for many different reasons:

1. They don't actually believe that this is a real thing and they suppose others don't take my work seriously,

2. The idea of meeting a complete stranger and bringing them into my house or going into theirs scares the shit out of them (which makes sense),

3. They secretly think I'm about to get raped any minute by an out-of-control client and are genuinely worried about me, and

4. They think it sounds like a fun job but are super skeptical about how they would feel doing this work not knowing the details of safety.

I closed my eyes and sighed. This is a question I've been asked many times but I never really had a good enough answer. I glanced back at the party host and thought about how she met her boyfriends: via OKCupid.

I opened my eyes and answered. "Have you ever done online dating?" I asked.

"Yes," she said. I figured she would; most women around my age have at this point. It's so easy to get started on any dating app of choice at this point.

"So have I. I generally feel safer with my clients than my dates on apps." I answered.

And if you think about it, it actually makes sense. If you've ever done online dating, yes you have an idea of who you're meeting and who they are (just like I do with my clients), but the issue is that here in the U.S we as a whole haven't exactly had too many good experiences with meeting people in a dating context.

But the main issue is that meeting people in dating contexts is complex as all hell. Every person has their own standards and expectations for dating, and in several dating contexts people are generally not comfortable talking about them.

It's really hard feeling safe with someone that doesn't tell you their standards. Does your date expect sex on the first date? Are they shy and afraid to do anything? Do they just want to "see where it goes"? Are they going to push your boundaries to see what you will allow? These are all approaches I've had dates take with me time and time again.

Boundary violation thrives in the unknown, and we don't really have decent education on teaching people how to make that unknown clear for dating. Dates can spin wildly out of control very fast when the context is too wide with possibilities. I trust myself to express them before it becomes a problem, but I don't always trust my stranger of a date to do the same.

And that's why I like my work as a professional cuddler. The known is made clear in my work so there is little room for confusion on both ends. We are cuddling. We have a time container (because that is what we agreed to). I have expressed my standards and boundaries and they have expressed theirs. I have someone I check in and check out for that knows where and when I am.

We are both expected to explicitly ask for permission for everything, and there is no room for the unknown in this context. In fact, because it's so new for people, my clients often ask for direction from me, the professional that must know what she's doing. It's a very different power dynamic from the societal norm for a woman.

And this is not only empowering for me, but it's empowering for my clients in and outside of cuddling sessions.  It's helpful for them in dating contexts, in new friends' contexts, in colleague contexts, etc... they're learning by limiting the possibilities in our interaction together how they can be a better person that understands their own boundaries. That's SUPER valuable!

Do they want me to avoid their ears? Not touch their stomach? Touch their stomach more? Scratch their head? Rub their shoulders? Lay on their back? Stroke their hand? Be the big spoon? Be the little spoon? Not do this awkward position I asked them to try anymore? They get to express all of what they want and don't want with me!

Can you say you've done any of that kind of expression on a date before? Maybe, maybe not. I'd say it's less common on dates than it is in my cuddling sessions, though I'd love to see it be more common on dates.  If you go on a new date soon (or know someone that is going to soon), try this:

Ask before going on an in-person date: "What brought you to (insert dating app) and what were you hoping to gain out of it?" Not everyone will answer this point-blank question well because they may have never needed to, but you also have permission to say in kind what your intentions on the app are as well so they know where you're coming from too.

To Better Dates and Safer Cuddles Overall,
Sam Varnerin