There Is No Such Thing as a Free Hug: Our Society In Which People Pay to Be Loved

February 12, 2014

Did you know that there are people who make a living by cuddling strangers?download

Yes, professional cuddlers.  People who snuggle with perfect strangers for money.  It’s like a massage or a therapy session.

Or maybe it’s like prostitution, except, you know…platonic.

Yes, I know this sounds almost unbelievable, but the Sunday Morning Show ran a story last weekend about just such a phenomenon.  I would not have believed it if I had not seen it.  You can check it out for yourself if you do not believe me.  People spend up to 120 dollars for an hour or so of snuggling.  It might start with a standing hug.  Then a hug lingers into an embrace.  Then it moves to the couch or a bed.  But nothing sexual.  Just prolonged human touch.  Even Mo Rocca who was doing the report seemed incredulous.

And by the laws of supply and demand, since there is a supply of professional cuddlers, then there is some contingent of customers demanding professional cuddling.

And on this day, just before the national celebration of love, what does it say about us that professional snuggling is a thing in today’s America?

Who is Paying to Be Hugged Anyway?

Your first reaction to this is probably what my first reaction was.

This is super weird.

You’re probably wondering what kind of people pay money for hugs and snuggles.  You are wondering if they shower or if they neglect their hygiene prior to their scheduled cuddle time.  You are wondering what kind of people would accept money to snuggle strangers.

You are wondering how can this possibly be platonic?

The pros assure us there is no funny business allowed.  

And a professor assures us that this is nothing to be alarmed about.  We may pay people to buy our food or take care of our kids, so why should we not expect some people to pay for hugs?

The thing is this worries me a lot.  I am very worried about people paying for hugs.

Where Touching Is Not a Love Language

Africa is still fresh on my mind these days.  And the thing that an American cannot escape when traveling to a foreign culture is just how much our traditions of affection differ.

Those Ugandan children did not have the word “stranger” in their vocabulary.  They had no qualms holding our hands or being held by us.  At the church we visited, we were hugged by our hosts.  Not the sanitized American “side-hug,” which avoids all but minimal bodily contact, but full-on, real hugging.  We saw more than one pair of men holding hands, because that’s what straight men who are friends do in many cultures.

The studies back this up.  Americans might experience human touch a couple of times per day.  People in other cultures experience hundreds of human touches every day.  There is no such thing as a “love language” of touch in some cultures because everyone touches each other.  A hug, a handshake, a kiss, an arm around the shoulder.  The idea of “personal space” is not part of many cultures’ vocabularies.  Not having “personal space” might sound like hell in the land where an entire episode of Seinfeld centered around a “close talker.”

America: Land of the Lonely

This is what worries me about Americans paying for hugs and snuggles.

It concerns me that by instinct, we cannot think of such a phenomenon happening non-sexually.  I am afraid that it is possible that we have made all human touch taboo so that all touch is bad touch.  

I am worried that we live in a culture where we do not trust our neighbors, much less embrace them.  We build homes with bigger yards and taller fences so we can have “privacy” from the world.  We assume that our neighbors are out to get us so we lock the doors tight to keep ourselves safe.  Then we spend our evenings watching ultra-violent movies about people getting murdered by their neighbors.

I am so sad that we live in a place where we are so walled off and emotionally unavailable to each other that some people would pay over a hundred dollars to be touched for a few fleeting moments by a stranger.  I am not worried that this is acceptable as “moral.”  I’m worried that this is acceptable as “normal” or “necessary.”

What this sad story proves is that we are not machines.  We cannot evolve and grow out of our basic human needs.  This is not Brave New World where we can be raised but not nurtured.

The world is desperately in need of love today.

What do you think it says about us?  Is “professional snuggling” a phenomenon to be worried about?

4 responses to There Is No Such Thing as a Free Hug: Our Society In Which People Pay to Be Loved

  1. Maybe I’m just stubborn, but I still hesitate to jump on the “everyone needs touch” train. Some people show affection differently. Now if you don’t hug family members, there may be a problem. But otherwise, I’d suspect people who pay for hugs feel the need to express affection in that way and never get the chance. Some of us have other needs that aren’t being met and leave us feeling unloved. I wonder if there are professional complimenters or encouragers, too? In our cynical, hyper-critical society I wouldn’t doubt it.

    All that to say, I agree with the bigger point you are making. It does show something’s wrong when people have to pay for “genuine” affection.

  2. “It concerns me that by instinct, we cannot think of such a phenomenon happening non-sexually. I am afraid that it is possible that we have made all human touch taboo so that all touch is bad touch.”

    Yep, Matt, and the church is at least partially responsible for this. Just a fact, not a blame game. I also find this trend astonishing, even disturbing at one level, but not surprising in a society that steadily becomes more artificially rather than physically connected.
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  3. In addition to how touch averse our culture often is, I think an underlying issue is that we’ve adopted the attitude that everything can and should be fixed with a paid service. We have paid services for every difficulty- from not being able to work out what to wear to providing a pet to play with to working out what to do with our lives, that would have once been needs addressed by friends and families.

  4. My first thought was that there are people out there that feel so alone and so ostracized and so unacceptable that they feel they need to pay for a hug. I don’t particularly care for physical touch outside of my immediate family. It’s awkward and I feel fake during most hugs. Sometimes they’re genuine, but not often. I don’t mind people hugging me if that’s what they do, but I will rarely initiate one. And I like my high fences. Maybe I need to go to Africa.
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