I try to draw up boundaries with my clients often before, during, and after a session. There are things I can or won't do. And if something is going too far, even if I'm not sure how to express it yet, I do my best to at least speak to that experience.
Yesterday I had a client that had seen many other cuddlers previously and he came with glowing reviews from them, so I was a bit more lax on my onboarding procedures than I normally would be. He knew what to expect from previous sessions, so I only very briefly went over what to expect for a session with me and glossed over some details on my boundaries. Any boundaries that are clearly laid out for professional cuddlers-- such as keeping clothes on and no kissing-- were things I had assumed he was familiar with.
Big mistake on my part skipping those. Whoops. I'm not always perfect.
We were connecting and talking while cuddling when he came closer to my face. I'm normally okay with people being close to my face... but there's looking at my face and being near it, which I'm comfortable with, and then there's flat-out coming into my face.
And this coming-into-my-face had a different intent than normal cuddling I'm used to; this one was clearly a coming-in-to-kiss feel to it. And it was happening very fast.
He's going to kiss me. I thought. I don't want this.
It's taken a long time for me to respond quickly to this kind of thing in a concise and direct way. Not everyone is able to, but I've learned to. I turned my face quick enough to avoid the kiss.
"No," I said firmly. "I don't like being kissed by clients."
The pause and shame that came up after this instance in my client was palpable. An odd silence was present, and I saw my client retreat into himself. It was like I had insulted him and tore down his self-confidence in that moment.
This was a very different from what we were experiencing before the session. This was a very different kind of person I was seeing. Someone that was prone to others' view of them.
"What was it like for me to tell you no just now?" I asked him.
"I..." he sounded weak as he spoke. "I didn't mean to hurt you."
"Do you think you hurt me?" I said. He nodded.
I saw he was avoiding my gaze. "Would it be more comfortable if we spooned and talked right now?" I asked. He nodded, so we shifted and continued the conversation.
"For me, I realized that I never expressly said that I don't want to be kissed during a session. I assumed that was a given, so I feel a bit like I misdirected you as the cuddler here." I explained.
"Please don't feel bad about that." He said softly. I felt him grip onto me just a little tighter, almost like an instinctual attempt to not let me go.
I turned to face towards him but still looked at the ceiling while laying down. "Do you feel bad because you think you made me uncomfortable?"
"Yeah," he breathed out automatically.
I paused to reflect on how I felt at that moment. I took a couple deep breaths and closed my eyes before opening them and answering with my own interpretation. "I felt uncomfortable for about a half second, but now I feel more comfortable and like I can trust you because you stopped and respected my boundary." His hold on me loosened and he tilted his forehead into my hair.
I think this is an important distinction we all need to learn as a whole here.
Saying no to someone-- or more specifically, saying no to an action-- doesn't mean "HOW DARE YOU TRY TO GET THIS THING FROM ME YOU INSOLENT AWFUL PERSON THAT JUST WANTS YOUR OWN SELF-GRATIFICATION BLAH BLAH WORD VOMIT!"
It means that you're saying no to that action. It doesn't mean you're judging someone for asking it-- and if it does mean you're judging them, you'd do well to tell them what that judgement is so you can correct it together.
But what I see as super powerful is that we can say no to things and not to people, even after very briefly being made uncomfortable by a request or an action. The better we can express that uncomfortable feeling about an action or request and not directly connect it to the person, the more we can see if the people we're telling this to are doing the same.
Often people keep the two intertwined together: If they say no to me, they're saying no ABOUT me. But that's not always the case. It's just that particular thing.
And what about moving past that?
After that moment, we actually got to reflect on that together and also where that urge came from for my client. "I don't do it for a romantic purpose," he explained. "I do it kind of like... an innocent affection and appreciation... and closeness."
"Can I show you how I like to do that within my boundaries?" I asked. Without hesitating, he nodded.
I asked him to turn his head away from me so I could get access to his cheek. I cuddled up close to him by his chest and gently pressed my left cheek against his right cheek. I felt his chest sink into the bed as I did this.
After what had just happened, this seemed to have more meaning for both of us. That face-to-face closeness, that trust that we could be that close to each others' faces and be comfortable, felt much more meaningful to me, and I could tell it helped relax and unwind himself from his thoughts of rejection. "This feels really nice," he breathed out.
"Yeah," I breathed back.
If you can say yes to a person and no to an action (and express it post-no), you're also allowing someone else to experience what it's like to be accepted as a person and still experience rejection. You're also opening the doors to other possibilities of expressing what they want to give or receive in a way that you're comfortable giving or receiving. And that's something I think more people need to experience and carry outside of cuddling.
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