Adventures at Cuddle Con: Cuddling Strangers on Valentine's Day
By Aaron Schain
I arrived onto the scene at approximately 11:50 a.m., ten minutes prior to the opening festivities. After parking a few blocks away I walked over to “Cuddle-Up-To-Me (CUTM),” preparing myself to keep a wide open mind throughout the journey.
There was a fairly large group of Cuddle-Con goers waiting outside to grab their identifying ribbons and check out the schedule for the day. The schedule was jam-packed, beginning at 12 noon with the last activity ending at 3:00 a.m.
As I was alone, I was pleased to see a man reach out his hand to introduce himself. We exchanged names and he told me a little bit about himself. I was eager to check out the scene inside CUTM so I told him I would see him later. I’ll refer to him as “Scott.”
I entered the colorful business and saw various media outlets preparing themselves for the convention. As a member of the media, I was granted a gold wrist band which signified I was a member of the media. I was honored to wear that gold wrist band, especially when I noticed the likes of (members of) The Oregonian and KATU news wearing them with me.
In addition to wrist bands, there were three colors of identifying ribbons: green, yellow, and red. A green bracelet would indicate you wanted to cuddle with anyone/everyone, and strangers didn’t need to ask you for permission. Yellow indicated that you were alright with cuddling, but people would need your permission before. Red indicated you weren’t interested in cuddling.
I seized the schedule and saw Samantha Hess was doing a “Consent 101” class right in the Bossanova Hotel only two blocks away from CUTM. I walked around the block on my way to the class, just to get a feel for the vibe and check out the area. I noticed Scott walking in the same direction as me, presumably to the class. We walked the rest of the way together.
Scott and I sat one chair away from each other. As we were waiting for the class to commence, Scott and I made small talk. It was at this point in time Scott would start a series of subtle compliments towards me. They were subtle in a way that he would pay me a compliment, and follow up said compliment with him saying he was familiar with that specific field at one point in his life. Scott told me I have very neat eyes, and that he had a keen eye for neat eyes as he used to study photography. Scott went on to tell me he has a lover across the country that he rarely sees.
Inside the class there was a huge chalkboard on display with about 50 total ways/phrases regarding the theme- “How to say no.” There was every phrase imaginable on the board from “No thanks,” all the way to “No way Jose I don’t roll that like that.” Samantha explained these phrases to us and actually had everybody in the room say one out loud in front of the class. She went on to tell everyone they needed to sign a waiver before we left the class, and explained to us the details of the waiver.
After the consent class, I figured I would walk around a bit more for there weren’t any non-media activities until 2:30 p.m. I walked around and met some interesting characters. I saw some people wearing fascinating costumes, more often than not relating to Valentine’s Day. People had looks of immense joy on their faces. It was a beautiful sight to see with the sun shining on us.
I proceeded to buy myself a green tea to help prepare me for the grand finale: group cuddling at CUTM.
It was now 2:25 and I walked back to CUTM, desperately convincing myself that everything will be alright. It wasn’t that I was nervous, I just didn’t really know what to expect. I walked gently into the building and realized I needed to get a ribbon before entering the “cuddle room.” I received a green ribbon, took my shoes off and entered the room. Scott is already inside, almost like he was waiting for me. Scott asked if I wanted to go to a private room to cuddle with him. I was OK with the idea of it, but not actually doing it, so I politely declined. It was at that moment I realized maybe the green ribbon wasn’t really my style, and I went back to claim a yellow ribbon.
I noticed the cuddle room was covered with mats, blankets, and pillows. The first thought that popped into my head was wondering about how many people had laid down on those mats before.
There not many things in this world that make me uncomfortable. However, I found myself becoming increasingly uncomfortable each step I took towards the cuddle room. Maybe it was the stench of rotting feet floating through the room, or maybe the odd discoloration of the pillow cases. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
We were soon sitting in a half-assed circle on the ground, with various media outlets surrounding us, complete with big shiny cameras. One of the volunteers gave us the quick introduction to group cuddling. She suggested we get into groups of three. The session would last approximately 30 minutes, and that the three partners would take turns massaging the other two for ten minutes each. Scott looked at me with a big grin on his face.
I am a sucker for massages, so I agreed.
Scott and I formed a group with another man close-by, whom I’ll refer to as Todd. Todd was a very nice and humble guy. He told me he had been working in the cuddling business for years prior to Cuddle-Con 2015. Scott elected to get massaged first. Seeing how Todd was the alpha in this scenario, he got the ball rolling by rubbing Scott’s hair. Todd constructed me to rub Scott’s back. I obliged. After a few minutes Todd and I switched positions and now I was rubbing Scott’s hair to the best of my abilities.
Normally I wouldn’t mind doing this, but the grease in Scott’s hair felt like it had been accumulating for years. It felt like it would take weeks to escape my fingertips. Although I don’t consider myself a germaphobe, at that moment I fancied myself one. I sucked it up and continued the rub down.
Eventually it was my turn to get massaged. Scott immediately started rubbing my hair. Although he wasn’t nearly as skilled as Todd when it came to massaging, it still felt decent. Scott told me I have very smooth and cool hair, and that he would know better than anybody because he worked with professional hair stylists at one point in his life.
While I was in a great state of relaxation, a giant teddy bear walked over to our group and joined in on our cuddle session (after asking if it was okay). Cameras were drawn to the teddy bear and our group, and camera-men/reporters took pictures of us and asked for our names.
Scott told me I have a good singing voice even though I never even got close to singing in front of him. He then told me he used to be in the choir and that he had one of the best voices in his school.
While getting rubbed down I asked Todd what exactly he feels when cuddling and specifically why he likes doing it. He thought long and hard and eventually told me he does it for the nurturing aspect. He said he feels like a parent nurturing a child when he gets his cuddle on.
The thirty minute group cuddle session came to a close. Although I was extremely tempted to join another thirty minute cuddle session (ideally with different partners), I decided to call it a day.
My experience at Cuddle-Con 2015 was a tremendous success. The glowing rays of happiness among attendee’s faces were trending. It’s not so often you see that many happy faces all at once. It was a joy to see. I was extremely satisfied with my experience at Cuddle-Con and hope I have the privilege of going again in 2016.
On my way out of CUTM and back to my car, Scott told me I am a very cool guy. I said thanks, and told him that he is a cool guy as well, and I’d see him there next year.
Disclaimer: It should be noted that even though I was slightly uncomfortable with the situation(s), I was ok with everything that happened and do not regret anything that happened. It’s okay to get outside your comfort zone sometimes.
Photo by Kristina Wentz of the Oregonian