Confessions of a promiscuous cuddler

While my girlfriends had one-night stands, I sought more modest affection. It was all innocent fun -- or was it?

Published June 29, 2011 12:28AM (EDT)

In my 20s, I was a promiscuous cuddler. While my single friends had sex with older men on the terrace of posh hotels, or went down on guys in the alleyways beside the clubs we frequented, I was after something much simpler -- a neck nuzzle and maybe the gentle stroke of my hairline.

My desire for this physical affection was puzzling to friends, who saw the way I flinched when they approached for a hug. I'm not warm by nature and living in New York City for nearly my entire life had hardened me. I felt I earned the right to nudge people out of my way on the street, I would fight someone to the death for a cab at rush hour, and I had no problem telling any stranger exactly how I felt using as many expletives as possible. But I was devastated by the end of my first post-college relationship, and I sought out a different kind of casual fling: a man who could comfort me with his touch -- for one night, and one night only.

So when I met sensitive, oh-so-sweet Mark at a party, I was smitten. I may not have known his favorite up-and-coming emo band or the esoteric Dutch poet he likened to a Rubens painting, but I was sucked in by his eager smile. As the night wore on, his hug-and-run potential grew: He didn't have a job (strike one), his facial hair was unkempt (strike two) and he lived in D.C. -- hundreds of miles away from my Upper West Side apartment. The short of it was (and he was actually short), I wasn't threatened by the possibility of deep feelings blooming tomorrow or next week. No, Mark was the fix I was looking for, so as people left the party, I invited him home to my tiny studio.

On the cab ride uptown there was some tender kissing. His hands traced the curvature of my chin delicately. When the pad of his thumb paused in the dip of my collarbone, I thought, this is a man who knows an obligatory hug from a tender embrace. Upstairs, we undressed as if we were intimately acquainted with one another's bedtime habits. I slunk into the sheets in underwear and a tank. He slid in wearing only his boxers. Under the weight of his stocky body the sofa bed's mattress dipped in the middle so we awkwardly rolled toward one another. But Mark was no novice. He swept me up into his arms and began kissing me softly. I felt his warm skin and his quickened pulse. And then, elevating my cuddle-lust even higher, he turned me on my side with the expertise of a lifelong ballroom dancer before we fell asleep. Finally, my knight-in-spooning-armor.

Around 9 a.m. I woke up, ready to start the day. Mark didn't, and by 11 a.m. -- after I'd tidied up, showered and even ate a light breakfast -- my famous New York City impatience burst through.

I tapped him on the arm.

"Don't you have a train to catch or something?" I asked, glowering over him like Mr. Clean. In my world, the sun had risen -- and we were through.

He stretched, slowly. "What time is it?" he asked, yawning.

"Nearly noon."

"Wanna get brunch?"

"Um," I hesitated, unable to formulate the clever getaway I would need to extrapolate myself from his grip.

"Oh, I think you have time," he pressured. "Come on, just a quick brunch."

As Mark got dressed I ran through my catalog of places that would be quick. It was prime brunch time on Sunday, and I couldn't risk an hour-long wait. Would a deli be too rude? Then Mark crept out of the bathroom and came toward me, arms outstretched, a giant doe-eyed look on his face.

Deli it is, I decided.

We struggled for conversation over our stand-in-the-park-and-shovel-a-bagel-down breakfast. While young couples trotted by with their pedigree dogs, Mark asked a lot of questions. But I wasn't interested. Like an investment banker done with his latest conquest, I wanted Mark gone.

"Ready?" I asked, as Mark savored another bite of his bagel -- his second in 10 minutes.

"Oh sure." He shoved the bagel into his bomber jacket (strike three) and walked me home. As we said goodbye, I prayed he wouldn't contact me again.

Then days later, a package arrived at my apartment. The handwriting on the outside of the white padded envelope was unrecognizable though unmistakably scratchy and male. Inside I found a book of translated French erotica, a 5 x 7 postcard of a Sasquatch, and a photo of none other than Mark himself -- wearing a Hawaiian shirt and drinking out of a coconut. On the back of the postcard he'd written a bunch of niceties, signing off with, "I'd love to see you again." I did not feel the same sentiment. I did feel a little nauseous.

Over the next few weeks, exuberant text messages began to arrive. I answered a few, hoping to telegraph my lack of interest with lag time, but he was undeterred. As the messages piled up in the mornings and evenings, I fretted -- a mixture of vague guilt and annoyance with him. My friends, I knew, would be too brutally honest about the situation, so I took the case up with co-workers, hoping they would tell me it was his problem, not mine.

"Just tell him you're not interested. Right now you're sort of being a jerk," said one colleague, a sentiment that was echoed by many others. So I passed around the gifts he'd sent me, especially disdainful of that Bigfoot postcard, which only made them more vexed about why I was so disgusted. In a city filled with eight-plus-million opinions, I'd managed to unify an entire swath of people. The postcard, they told me, showed his sense of humor.

To show off my own sense of humor, I tacked his note to my cubicle wall. The Sasquatch loomed over me as I answered emails about marketing meetings and upcoming conferences. Then one day I took a closer look at the furry beast -- possibly extinct, perhaps a relic from thousands of years ago, or maybe just the figment of someone's imagination. Was Mark my Sasquatch -- an elusive cuddle buddy who was exciting to find (at first) but then, when he pursued me, alarming to be near? Many women would be flattered and touched by Mark's advances. Why was I so different?

The more I thought about it, the more it was clear: I'd become an eager cuddler as a way to cope with pain -- from my parent's divorce, friendships built and ruined, the ache of emerging into adulthood, and more recently, the abandonment I felt when my long-term, long-distance boyfriend and I broke up. As relationships around me fell apart, I'd wanted to connect to others without making an actual commitment, a step that, much like coming face-to-face with Bigfoot in a deserted forest, scared the crap out of me. But pursuing a hug over an orgasm hadn't provided me with any real intimacy. I had merely been salving my wounds by using guys -- and furthermore, only I was to blame. My co-workers were right. I was "sort of being a jerk."

The next day, Mark texted me. "What's up?" he asked.

I took a deep breath, knowing that I should call but only mustering the courage to punch in these words: "This isn't going to work out. Please do not contact me again" and turned off the phone. It was curt, sure, but I knew no other way.

The following morning I awoke to one new message. "OK, I won't," he'd replied.

A few weeks later I was out at a bar talking to another sweet younger-than-me guy who had ambitions of being a photographer, or filmmaker, or something of the creative sort. As the evening wound down he asked if I wanted to get another drink, which I knew would lead to him asking me home.

"Not tonight," I answered, to his surprise -- and mine. I can't say I was always resistant to a one-nighter from that point on. But over time, like a Sasquatch who realizes he's been caught on camera, my desire for a quick-fix cuddle-fest receded into the backwoods of my mind.

By Jessica Schein

Jessica Schein lives in Seattle, WA, and is currently working on a young adult novel. For more of her writing and intermittent musings, check out

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