Because of the extremely isolating world young professionals now live in, it’s unsurprising that “cuddle parties,” supposedly non-sexual events where strangers “practice consent” and intimacy by smashing clothed flesh together, are quite popular in places like San Francisco. In the Bay Area, most people I know work in tech and travel almost exclusively in herds of Twitter sweatshirt toting backend developers, shuffling from one career mixer to the next. When not finding new ways to speed the endless climb to the top of Salesforce Tower, they’re stuck in a dingy cubicle, living on powdered protein snacks peddled by the startup that runs the company break room, wondering if they’ll meet someone to date at Dreamforce 2021. No wonder manufactured intimacy has caught on—at least, that is, until coronavirus struck.
Business Insider reports that Cuddle Party, a company that organizes “non-sexual” meetups around the world, has canceled March’s monthly event, citing concerns over a coronavirus. An outbreak in Santa Clara County and beyond also prompted the city to issue an edict that San Franciscans practice “social distancing.” According to a statement by Mayor London Breed, this practice will impact transit, hospitals, schools, and workplaces across the city; the mayor urged the “canceling or postponing of large gatherings,” and “finding ways to create physical space to minimize close contact as much as possible.” Because cuddle parties require you to press your body up against a stranger—albeit non-sexually—of course the event would be canceled.
I was curious about how these events are even facilitated when not racked by pandemic anxieties. According to the company’s internal documents, anyone can apply to host their own cuddle party after receiving specialized training and certification from a nebulous Board of Directors. At the parties themselves, the rulebook explains:
- Pajamas stay on the whole time.
- You don’t have to cuddle anyone you don’t want to.
- Ask permission and get a verbal yes before touching anyone.
- If you’re a yes to a request, say YES. If you’re a no, say NO.
- If you’re a maybe, say NO.
- You are encouraged to change your mind.
- Respect your relationship agreements and communicate with your partner.
- Come get the Cuddle Assistant if there is a concern, problem, or if you need assistance with ANYTHING.
- Tears and laughter are both welcome.
- Respect people’s privacy when sharing about Cuddle Parties.
- Keep the cuddle space tidy.
Participants are strongly urged to wear pajamas and things that are comfortable to the touch, like flannel. As the company puts it: “Think less lace, more flannel.” The structure of the event itself begins with a “welcome circle,” followed by two hours of “self directed adventure and connection” before closing out with a “puppy pile,” described in orientation documents as “human lasagna.” Sure!
Cuddle Party, which hosts monthly parties in San Francisco, said in a statement that March is the only month projected to be canceled. As the virus spreads, however, this may be subject to change. As for the so-called “social distancing” San Francisco is urging its citizens to engage in, I can’t imagine how anyone in this god-forsaken wasteland can be any more socially distanced than most already are. But with all those tech startups driving wedges into the idea of non-monetizable friendship, perhaps none are more prepared for quarantine and pandemic than we are!