A “professional cuddler” promises to snuggle your worldly cares away
Author Benjamin Parzybok Illustration Luci Gutiérrez
OREGON – It’s a cold, damp day in Portland, Oregon, perfect weather for a hug—even if the person doing the hugging is someone you only just met. And you’re paying her. By the minute.
Samantha Hess, a petite and peppy 31-year-old, describes herself as a “professional cuddler.” Last fall, she opened a drop-in shop in Portland’s hip East Burnside area unambiguously titled Cuddle Up To Me. For a buck a minute, you can get anything from hand-holding to “The Tarantino,” named after the film director’s rumored foot fetish.
Hess’ shop has four rooms fitted with an assortment of plump beds and couches. Today, she leads a first-time client into a room with a deep red color scheme and “Love” written on the door. As the man removes his shoes, Hess puts on a James Taylor tune and joins him on the bed. A moment later, they are spooning.
“It’s awkward the first minute,” she says. The man nods awkwardly.
Hess’ service has nothing to do with sex, but it is about intimacy. At one point, she tugs gently on her co-cuddler’s ear lobe, eliciting a blissful smile.
The real idea, according to Hess, is that the absence of physical human contact harms a person’s psyche, and that even the facsimile of an affectionate touch can have a healing effect.
“She makes me feel loved and that I am worthy of love,” says a weekly client named Kimberly. “If I won the lottery, I would see her every day.”
When asked if society really needs pay-as-you-go hugging, the young woman replies, “Does society have any lonely people?”