The comments Lynn Beisner received on her last article not only changed her opinion about men and cuddling, but also changed her life and her marriage.
A couple of weeks agoI wrote an article for Role/Reboot in which I expressed my belief that men do not really like to cuddle called I Refuse to Believe That Men Enjoy Cuddling. Based on what I had absorbed from books, movies and lectures on morality, I believed that men used cuddling to get sex, or perhaps out of obligation or kindness. But it was a chore, not a joy. I explained that this had become a bone of contention in my marriage since my husband, Pete, started expressing how much he needed cuddling. I suspected he was unconsciously transforming what he saw as my need into his need. I admitted that my belief was sexist, and I asked for evidence that would help me dispel that myth.
Immediately I started getting feedback from men who love to cuddle. One man on Twitter, Chris Johnson, gave a response that I found particularly helpful. Rather than give a generic “I like cuddling” he told me specifically what it was about cuddling that made it meaningful for him: “I find the extended contact to be an expression of trust and viscerally comforting.” Pete, who was also reading the responses, was deeply grateful to Chris Johnson for putting into words what Pete had been feeling and trying to express.
A week or so later, The Good Men Project republished the article. By then I had accepted that men did, in fact, like to cuddle, and had settled in for a couple of cuddle session with Pete. The longest of those sessions lasted for three minutes before I bolted. That was how I made the unfortunate discovery that I had been projecting: it was not Pete who disliked snuggling, it was me. Once the myth was debunked, I had to face my own distaste for something that my husband treasured. As GMP commenter Blinky 114 said, I had “some serious unlearning to do.”
I issued an apology on Twitter, and in the comments sections of Role/Reboot and The Good Men Project. I admitted that I was wrong, and that I was going to try to make it up with Pete. I expected that after I had issued an unequivocal admission that I was wrong, everyone would let the subject drop. Fortunately, they did not.
The comments kept pouring in on GMP. Pete and I laid next to each other in bed, reading them and marveling at how honest, diverse and practical many of the responses and suggestions were. For example, one person mentioned how the temperature of the room impacted his willingness to snuggle. We felt stupid that we hadn’t thought of that earlier. Our room is the hottest in the house and I am heat sensitive. So we installed fans and lowered the temperature. After that modification, I was able to remain snuggling for five minutes.
Another comment, this one by AEther, piqued Pete’s interest by mentioning off-handedly the different positions of cuddling. Another GMP commenter, Joe Paul, mentioned that there are “privileged positions” in cuddling. We had only tried one or two style of cuddling, and it suddenly occurred to us that there might be more. So we did a Google image search for cuddling positions.
As we looked at the “positions for cuddling” we noticed that in nearly all of them the woman was curled into the man, and her head was lower than his. She was in the one-down, supplicant position. Pete and I realized that the positions we had always used for cuddling were those that gave him symbolic dominance, and that the power-imbalance made me feel deeply uncomfortable.
Pete also suspected that pain might be a factor in my snuggling phobia. I sustained multiple orthopedic injuries in an accident years ago, and the ongoing discomfort from these injuries means that I can only sleep in one position without incurring pain: on my back with pillows under my knees. Lying on my side is painful, and almost all of the traditional cuddling positions call for the woman to be positioned that way. Pete suggested that I get into my sleep position and that he snuggle into me, with his head nestled high on my shoulder and our faces inches apart.
As I wrapped my arms around Pete in a position that was both physically and emotionally comfortable for both of us, I swear a choir of angels burst into song. It didn’t just feel good emotionally. It was almost as if my body had finally found home-base, a place where it could finally connect with my heart, my mind and my partner. Pete and I stayed that way for a long while, talking, laughing and just enjoying the proximity of our bodies. At last, we had joined the rank of cuddlers.
Discovering cuddling could not have come at a more providential time. As it happens, Pete and I had just gotten some bad news about my health. In addition to all of the normal worries and stress that accompany a health crisis, we were learning that the recommended treatment, extensive pelvic surgery, would likely create a permanent change to our sexual relationship.
Pete and I have struggled with our sex-life from the beginning of our relationship. It wasn’t just that I wanted sex more often than he did. The problem was that both of us tend to be very cerebral, and we connect on a cerebral level. Like Pete, I tend to think of “my body as nothing more than a brain-transportation device that also allows my brain to interface with other brains.” It has been very hard for us to find a bridge from our intellectual connection to a sexual one. Pete struggled with it more than I did. It just felt like there was something missing, but could not articulate what.
It didn’t help any that my relationship with sex was unconventional and certainly not stereotypically feminine. On one hand, I didn’t find it to be a terribly personal thing. I did not see any significant difference between it and getting a massage. I considered “making love” a rather antiquated and silly euphemism for good old fashioned banging. When people told me that there was a difference between the two, I have to admit, I sort of sneered. I had also discovered that I could reach a place in sex where my brain went quiet, where I felt one with the Universe and with the Divine. It became a door to the sacred for me. These things are not quite as schizophrenic as they might seem. From what little I know of tantric and other sacred sexuality practices, they do not consider it making love.
At some point we figured we just did not have sexual chemistry. Turning off my sexuality for the rest of my life was just not an option, so for a while we tried an open marriage. As it turns out, open marriage didn’t work for us. I have no judgment against people for whom it does work, but it wasn’t for us.
Pete and I continued to read the comments about cuddling, picking up hints and making adjustments to our developing cuddling routine. Then we read comments like the one from Mr. Nervous Toes who said: “cuddling IS a part of foreplay. Not all cuddling leads to sex, but kissing and cuddling are the bread and butter tools for initiating foreplay.” The GMP editors chose a comment for the day which pointed out the false dichotomy we had embraced, that cuddling and sex were like ammonia and bleach – toxic when mixed. Cuddling could be an end in and of itself or it could be a prelude to sex. We were a bit dumfounded by that idea. Pete had been raised that using cuddling as a bridge to sex was smarmy, and I had the idea that cuddling was just a ruse to get sex when no ruse was required.
We decided to cuddle that night leaving open the possibility that perhaps it could lead to sex. I was amazed at how good the cuddling felt and how it dissolved the brave front we had each been putting up for the other. We cried in each other’s arms, and talked about our fears as we held each other, touched and kissed. We didn’t segue or shift into sexuality. Rather, genital touch simply joined the other loving touches we were sharing. In other words we made love.
I have had a lot of sex in my lifetime. But that was the first time in my more than 40 years I had actually made love to another person. Lo and behold, it is different than just sex. What makes sex personal, at least for me, is incorporating snuggling into foreplay, affection into the act itself and emotional vulnerability into the afterglow.
The next morning, as Pete and I talked about what had happened, we realized that after all these years of deep love, fierce loyalty and mutual respect, Pete and I had just found a whole new level of being in love. Pre-sex cuddling was the something that had been missing for Pete all these years. It has given us a bridge from our cerebral connection to a sexual one. It is strange and wonderful to be an old married couple suddenly having a mid-life honeymoon.
As Pete and I draw closer, I find that my attitudes about sex are evolving. Love-making is deeply personal; it is nothing like a massage. And while that has a profoundly positive effect on my marriage, it is has the potential to re-open old wounds. I am not sure where my ethics and ideology about sex will wind up. Because if sex is personal then the sexual assault I survived was personal, my first husband’s serial cheating was personal. Depersonalizing sex is a great defense that cuddling wears away.
However my ideas about sex shake out, what is clear is that my thoughts and feelings about cuddling are forever changed. For that we have the commenters here and at Role/Reboot to thank. The internet is supposedly full of people behaving badly. But what we have found is a wealth of wisdom, caring and compassion at a time when we desperately need it.
What I find truly remarkable about this cuddling journey is how much power for change there is in men speaking their truth – not repeating cultural myths or making generalized pronouncements – but giving answers filled with as much complexity, variety and vulnerability as life itself. You have not only changed my mind about cuddling, you have changed my marriage and my life.
I became a writer because I wanted to ease the suffering of others and do my part in making the world a better place. Remarkably, my interactions with readers like those here and Role/Reboot is easing my suffering and making me a better person. For that, I will be eternally grateful.
Read Lynn Beisner’s I Refuse to Believe That Men Enjoy Cuddling, as well as all of the awesome comments from GMP readers.
Lead image of empty bed courtesy of Shutterstock
Image of senior couple cuddling in bed courtesy of Shutterstock