Touchy Feely 

The Cuddle Party phenomenon snuggles its way into the East Bay.

Page 4 of 5

What she told David at the time, which she said seemed to give him some solace, was to look around and see that there was probably not one person in the room who hadn't been triggered at some point during the party. They're all grappling with their triggers, she told him.

Like David and Nora, other pairs who came together -- young Daniel and Amelia, Tantric teachers Annette and JC -- stuck together. This is in sharp contrast to Suz and her partner, co-lifeguard Roy, who consider themselves "bisensual" (or "trisensual," as in "I'll try anything once," they quip) and who cuddled freely about the space.

In the center of the room, people sighed and asked for water. Suddenly, it was quite clear what a Cuddle Party resembles most: an Ecstasy party without the Ecstasy. By the end, Zoidberg and Michelle were swapping spoons in the deep end, and the room's cuddle range spanned from whispered conversations to tender ear kisses, from hand rubs to "the lounge chair," wherein one person laid on another's back. The photographer on duty had her hair played with, and I'd allowed Mike to give me a lower back massage and, even, for a brief moment, to tickle my neck. He was the one who pulled away from that, saying, "Oh, I see," and chuckling.

About ten minutes before the party's conclusion, Suz rang her gentle bell again, calling attention to the center of the room. About three hours had mysteriously passed -- remember Dane's "timeless altered state that touch induces"? Samzy encouraged us to eat protein before leaving, and to ground ourselves before attempting to interact outside of the party. Violet added that we should be extra gentle with ourselves: Don't go straight to the grocery store or other less-than-cuddly places. Finally, Suz cautioned that after participants left this protected environment, it would be up to us whether to carry the freedom to say no, the respect inherent in asking constant permission, into our everyday lives.

Snuggles and Singles

"At every party there's something that hasn't happened before," Suz says. Like the time, and it's only happened once, she adds, when a guy left at the end of the welcome circle, with a refund, because he didn't find any women there attractive. Although leaving the party for that reason is unusual, it's not so out of the ordinary for newbies to view Cuddle Party as a dating scene. But people get past that, she explains: "More often than not, there's somebody at the end of the circle that will say, you know, 'I came in here and I looked around, and I went, 'Oh, my god, there's no one here I'd like to cuddle with.' And at the end, I thought, 'There's no one here I wouldn't want to cuddle with.'"

Founder Mihalko is more pragmatic -- he says the parties are clearly part workshop, part social event. Cuddle parties weren't meant to be singles' scenes, but he admits "they're definitely being taken advantage of in a really positive way by people who are single." If and when people decide to hang out or date after the party, he says, they have "this really awesome set of rules and communication skills built in that you can take into the rest of your friendship or relationship."

Maybe that's what young Zoidberg had in mind when he called the Express three weeks after the cuddle party, claiming to have just found the reporter's business card in his wallet. Though he had no particular insights into what Cuddle Party had done for him, he did offer that he attended because he was single, and that he didn't have anyone to cuddle with on a regular basis. He'd wanted to exchange contact info with people, he said, but I was probably the only one he'd talked to.

"I guess I'd be a little more comfortable with someone my age," he said. "I mean, I thought you were cool, but then, you're also, like, a journalist."

I informed him that I was not his age.

"You're close enough. But you're also a journalist, so you want to keep it business, right?"


Consistently Inconsistent

While every party is different, all must have, organizers say, a reading of the rules and the assertion of a nonsexual vibe. Apart from that, they can be adapted to fit any circumstances.


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