Why Can’t People Cozy up to Cuddle Capitalism?

Despite their restorative and intimacy-inducing effects, cuddling services are increasingly coming under attack. Are critics simply out of touch?

Photo by David Goehring

America can be a lonely place. Study after dreary study suggests that every year we feel a little more isolated and unloved. So it’s probably not surprising that a new business called The Snuggle House, offering up an unusual menu of emotional comforts, was set to open in Madison, Wisconsin last fall. The Snuggle House was exactly what the name suggested—a place where the disconnected could come and, for $60 an hour, cuddle with one of four cuddle technicians (three women, and one man). It might sound like a predatory, and maybe even ribald service, but owner Matthew Hurtado, a man who say’s he’s familiar with loneliness, considers cuddling a necessary, therapeutic service for those who are short on company. Still, the project didn’t sit well with some Wisconsinites, who delayed the storefront’s opening until November, ultimately concerned that it might be a front for or turn into a brothel. After just three weeks in business, the flack built to the point that Hurtado was forced to concede defeat, and the ostensibly innocent and honorable store shuttered its doors.

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Shut Up and Listen

Understanding the cold, hard truths behind the concept of empathy

People are talking about empathy more than ever. A search of New York Times archives reveals that while the paper mentioned the term in only 18 articles in 1960, the count had risen to 241 by 2000. And in 2013, empathy was referenced 563 times. Last week’s Sunday Review section of The Times even included a piece on empathy and its connection to social status. And the Gray Lady isn’t the only one. News organizations ranging from the Harvard Business Review to The Huffington Post are enumerating the benefits of getting in touch with other people’s feelings and advising us on how to do so.

Whether this is a reaction to a perceived pandemic of self-centeredness, a side effect of the recent interest in holistic “wellness,” or simply a spontaneous collective desire to be better people, Americans are, it seems, interested in increasing their ability to share and understand the feelings of the other.

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Watch: A Mini Documentary About My Free Advice Stand in NYC

This documentary chronicles what it's like to give free advice in a NYC park.

It's been one year since I stepped into Washington Square Park with a homemade sign that says "Free Advice." What started as a one-day challenge to be bold and daring in the face of my fears turned into a lifelong mission to connect with strangers by offering free advice.
I'm so grateful for the 3,000+ people who have had the openness to sit down and engage in the art of conversation. This has led to many exciting opportunities, such as being the subject of a short documentary film, Free Advice Girl, which became a 2013 Finalist in the International Documentary Challenge and screened at the Hot Docs Film Festival.
The story of how Free Advice Girl started is not an easy one to share, but if it reignites hope and resilience in just one person, then it will have all been worth it. If I’ve learned anything from listening to other people’s stories, it’s that there’s always something to learn from listening to other people’s stories! Please take seven minutes to watch this one. If you like what you see, go here and click on the Audience Award and vote for Free Advice Girl. Many thanks and I hope to see you in the park!