In almost 2 years of cuddling, I can now pick my cuddle clients out of a crowd. It makes me sad…but it also makes me feel like maybe there is a way to help, a standard we as cuddlers and as humans could follow and bring much of the touch-deprived population out of the caves of their brains to be shared with the rest of the world.
The common characteristics of most of my clients are that they are:
– Male, usually between 40-65
– Single or unhappily married
– Have few to no hobbies that involve social interaction
– Have few to no friends
– Have close relationships with their immediate family
– Have had few or no romantic relationships (if single)
– Have a physical, mental, or emotional disability that impairs their ability to connect with people
I keep seeing this over and over again. Like clockwork.
Today, I was holding someone who fit all of these characteristics. When I asked him what was going through his mind, he said “Just that this is nice. And…I’m realizing how lonely I am. And how much it hurts.” I held him closer and sat with him in silence as he held back tears.
I thought back on all of the unhappily married men I’ve seen as clients and on my marriage as well. I wanted to say to him that you can feel just as alone within a marriage or a relationship in general, but it didn’t feel relevant in the moment.
It also reminded me of the song by The Beatles:
All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?
The reality The Beatles hit on and that I’ve found to be true in this business and in my personal life is that most people in America are lonely – even (and especially) within a crowd of people and within their own day-to-day life. Even if they have people they love beside them and other support (like family).
I have an extensive multi-pronged theory for why, but I have no scientific evidence that it’s correct besides my “n” of probably 200 people I’ve observed over the last couple of years (without controls).
1) Technology has separated us from true human connection day to day. We can currently get away with staying in our homes all day without getting so stir-crazy we need to go outside and interact with people because technology provides us a surrogate (not an adequate one, but a “good enough” one) for interaction and connection with others. Those with remote jobs (often the very people who need to be pushed out of their comfort zone in this area) are totally devoid of practicing human connection. The less we practice, the more we fear it and the less likely we are to seek out connection (though we may want it like the dickens).
2) We live the default life we’re told will make us happy. But it doesn’t make most of us happy. Partly because we never feel we’ve *chosen* the life we are living. We spend years and years working towards the American Dream and when we get there and realize the disappointment, we can’t possibly bear to confront ourselves about this. “But I’ve worked so hard to get here.” “But I love my wife and kids.” “But I love my things and this house.” “But so-and-so is happy in the life they have that looks just like mine.” It’s too scary to realize all the time and energy we’ve put in our lives is not what we actually want. Change is scary. Change is foreign. Change means the loss of what we currently have to get something else. It’s a leap. And so, most of us choose to keep living the dream they realize was now an illusion, but are too scared to venture from the ground of known disappointments. And so they live their dreams in their heads – far out of reach from those they love.
3) This brings us to the next point. Vulnerability is seen as weak in our culture. And yet, as my poem from my last post talks about, it is the key to connection and authenticity. How can we see each other without it? I wonder how many people who call themselves shy are just really worried about rejection if they are their true selves with others.
If my theory is correct, I wonder about these below ideas being potential solutions (if someone is receptive to change). They have helped me tremendously from going to a shy kid with no friends to an adult who has a hard time making enough time for all my friends.
1) Encourage people to go outside the house to at least one event a week that is social and new for them – that does not involve technology.
2) Encourage them to think about what they want for their lives without the shackles of “should’s.”
3) Figure out practical, tangible ways to make it to #2.
4) Encourage them to be vulnerable. Find ways to practice being vulnerable and being received well and accepted with people they trust then continue to move that into day to day life.
5) Show people a mirror of the positive human they are in this world. Help them with self-confidence. Show them they are worthy of love.
6) Help people feel their emotions without intellectualizing them and being in their heads.
7) Provide people tools by which to connect with people – like asking questions to connect, how to be genuinely curious, nonverbals that create a safe space, how to communicate openly and effectively.
I really believe this changes people. It changed me in huge ways. And I continue to try to provide this to clients and friends. Sometimes, all we need is a safe and healing container – and from there, we can heal ourselves and create the place we need in this world every day.
I have faith in humans to be and create what they need. Sometimes, you just need to lead them out of their comfort zone and show them that it’s not so bad on the other side.
In the case today, as I was walking to my vehicle hand-in-hand with my client, I sensed a change in him from the first minutes of the session. I hear him sigh with relief and say, “I feel so light! I feel at peace right now!” I squeeze his hand and smile.
I love my clients with all my heart – because I love humans. And I have hope for change. If I could snap my fingers and all the people everywhere could get exactly the intimacy they wanted in their lives and no longer needed professional cuddlers, I would be ecstatic. Until then, I’ll keep holding the vulnerable, lonely men scared to be their amazing, wonderful selves – and encourage them to create a world where they can.