Sunday afternoon found me lying on the floor of the Castlegar United Church cuddled up to five other adults, listening to Sarah McLachlan.
I was attending my first cuddle party, which happened to be the first cuddle party thrown in Castlegar. Erica Scott was the party’s facilitator, and I first met her over two months ago when I interviewed her about this very party.
Scott is not yet an official Cuddle Party facilitator. She needs to host three review parties — each with a minimum of eight participants — before she can complete her certification.
Unfortunately Sunday’s party was a little short on participants — there were six adults, including Scott and myself — but she’s already hosted two parties in Nelson, one of which had eleven people attend.
The party started with the opening circle, where Scott explained the rules, and my fellow participants and I started getting to know each other through a few simple exercises.
In the first, I had to look my fellow cuddler in the eye and ask if I could kiss them, and they were supposed to tell me no. We also did this the other way around, and then paired off with different people to repeat the exercise, this time asking “Will you kiss me?”
It was slightly uncomfortable, but there was something reassuring about knowing that you were going to say no, and they were going to say no, and no one’s feelings needed to be hurt because that was the exercise.
Later things got a little weirder when we had to come up with our own requests and the person being asked had to say yes to everything. The exercise was just to practice saying yes, there was no commitment, but it still felt odd when at one point I agreed to hand over my car and job to another participant.
Once we’d practiced saying no and yes, and being rejected, and gone over the rules, the opening circle came to an end and we were free to use our new consent building skills to facilitate some cuddling amongst the group.
At first I just lay on my front in the cuddle area — an area covered in mats and blankets with some pillows and teddy bears thrown in — and was content to listen to music and talk to my fellow participants while they gave each other foot rubs.
Eventually I accepted a food rub and a hand massage, and then a back rub, but I didn’t end up offering any of these things to other people, principally because my husband has informed me that my back rubs are not great.
I was invited to be part of a cuddle sandwich, but politely declined. It was a little outside my comfort zone.
And the whole point of the cuddle party is to help you find that zone, and to help you communicate where that zone is to other participants.
For myself, I found that I was fine at saying no. I might have thrown in a “but thank you,” but I don’t think I really felt the need to excuse my no’s too much. As it turns out my yeses could use some work.
Whenever I accepted something I’d say “okay,” which came off a bit tepid. This led to a small discussion, amidst the cuddling, of whether or not an okay was really the same as a yes, and eventually led to a discussion of “sure.” Consensus seemed to be that sure always seemd to have an implied “why not?” behind it, which wasn’t quite what we were going for at a cuddle party.
At cuddle party, if you’re a yes, then you’re a yes, but if you’re a maybe then you’re a no. It’s rule number five.
Eventually the party started to wind down (about an hour ahead of schedule, but it was a small group) so it was time for a cuddle puddle, which is how I found myself lying in a heap cuddling five other people and listening to Sarah McLachlan.
If you’d like to try out this experience for yourself, Scott is hosting another Cuddle Party on Sunday, Nov. 22 at 2:30 p.m. Details are available on the Facebook event page (Kootenay Cuddle Party in Nelson).