Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you first came up the idea for this business.
The story behind all of this is a rather personal one that I haven’t shared publicly yet, but I feel like it’s a good time to start doing so.
I grew up really disconnected from people. My dad was in the navy so we moved every 2 years. I was really socially awkward growing up too, and I didn’t want to connect with people because I knew I would never see them again. I stopped myself from connecting to avoid being hurt in the future. I just spent a lot of life alone, outcasting myself from people and friendships at a young age. This, as you can imagine, led to a rather depressed childhood, even though I was really good at hiding it.
Fast forward to young adulthood, and I find myself in San Francisco. Just after I moved here I got sciatica, which happened very suddenly with a stabbing sharp pain like a lightening bolt through the lower half of my body. When it hit, my body completely shut down, and I temporarily lost my vision and memory, just from the shock. I was bedridden for over a month and had no friends or support. I was isolated, alone, and lonely.
I fell into a really bad depression. I began to question what I was doing with my life. I didn’t know if I could work again because the pain kept me in bed. I was in chronic pain everyday for 2 years straight, and am still recovering over 4 years later.
Eventually, I started finding friends and spent a lot of time with them. They were close and intimate and would cuddle casually with each other. Spending time with these friends allowed me to let people close, and to touch me. I was both consciously and subconsciously afraid of touch because I feared pain. But being touched felt soothing, relaxing, and calming and actually helped me not feel pain. In fact, being touched was one of the only things that stopped the pain. When I didn’t have touch in my life is when I felt it the worst.
All that cuddling plus getting a lot of massages is what led to my recovery physically, and it helped me develop and maintain deep friendships, a huge community, and it also helped me start and run a successful business since I was physically functioning again and very comfortable connecting, and so much of business is being able to connect with others. Especially in a business about connection.
Once I was able to function again, I developed Cuddle Therapy and brought this work to others, so that they could have breakthroughs in their health, relationships and their businesses just like I’d seen in myself.
Your business idea is quite unconventional. Did you have any sort of hesitation before starting it?
Once the idea came, there was zero hesitation. I noticed how therapeutic touch was when the expectations of anything were placed on them. Touch for the sake of touch, to provide healthy human contact, is exactly what allowed me to fill the voids I had been feeling in life, and so after years of experiencing, researching, and studying touch, I was ready to start this business.
Did anyone of your friends and family think you were crazy or doubt that it would be successful?
The large majority of my friends and family were in support of starting this business. Some had doubted its potential as a business, but almost all of them saw the need for this kind of experience. I wish that culturally and socially we were able to trust one another to genuinely connect, rather than for some purpose or desire. But until then, I’ve set up a business to set the scene for just that type of connection and give my clients a place to learn, practice, and inquire about the subtleties of connection and how that helps us expand our emotional and social intelligence. And these are two forms of learning we just don’t get in grade school.
From my research, you started the business about 4 years ago, which is around the time you stopped wearing shirts because you didn’t feel like you needed to. Does this mean you never wear anything on top anymore? Don’t you get cold in SF weather!?
Hahah, this is always an interesting point of conversation. I did, indeed, stop wearing anything on top, but that was a little less than 7 years ago, and I started Cuddle Therapy a couple years into it. This has been an extremely interesting venture in life, and isn’t really summed up simply. It’s changed my way of seeing the world immensely, since now there is no way I can ignore the realities of such things as social power dynamics and white/male/able-bodied/health/education/etc. privilege that I have. It also helped me have a healthier body image and connect more easily to those around me, two things I struggled with when I was younger. This obviously helped with the creation of Cuddle Therapy, as strange as that may sound. And, yes, of course San Francisco is cold, but I’ve got a lot of practice keeping my body heat up doing this every day!
You mentioned in a prior interview that sometimes your clients like to stay silent and nap or talk the whole time, what are some things you guys typically talk about?
Generally, a lot of the things people talk about in our sessions is some sort of problem connecting, whether that’s with their friends, a partner or potential partner, people in the work environment, and often times just connecting to themselves. A lot of my clients feel some sort of loneliness in life, and confusion about their direction in life. Many of them feel disconnected from the world around them, or isolated in one way or another. These are the general directions in which conversations head during sessions, not to say there’s not plenty of other topics they touch on.
Care to share any funny stories that have happened during a session?
Sometimes the clients like to be really playful in the sessions, in a very child-like manner. I had one session where the woman asked to play airplane, so I lifted her into the air with my arms and legs while she made airplane noises and pretended to fly. One man liked to share jokes back and forth to help lighten the stress and heaviness in life he’d been feeling. One woman also wanted to play peek-a-boo, which was certainly a throw-back to my early childhood. I couldn’t even remember the last time I had played that.
We hear that 70% of your clients are women, usually between their late 20s and early 40s. Tell us a little bit more about the types of people that walk through your door.
The clients that come in for Cuddle Therapy range between tech professionals, entrepreneurs, artists, other health practitioners, teachers, and even government employees and ex-military members. It’s quite fascinating the range of people who have come in for help in their lives of intimacy and connection. All in all, I’m touching on a part of people’s lives that is innately human, so there is no particular background, career, race, class, or status that makes the right fit. I’ve done work for trade in the past, too, for those in deep need of this service and simply no way of being able to afford it financially. I try to be as inclusive as possible, and will work with anyone as long as they respect the boundaries of the service and come in knowing the expectations of cleanliness and sexuality (meaning, be clean and no sexual activity whatsoever is permitted).
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned since starting your business?
Honestly, this work has opened my eyes so much and I didn’t even realize it was a major part of life. The work itself has done a lot, but it doesn’t stop there, as I’ve dedicated countless hours of discussion, research, and delving into personal stories to discover what’s going on at the root of this need for intimacy. To put it bluntly, there is an epidemic of social anxiety, social fear, sexual assault, sexual trauma, loneliness, and abuse. I don’t pull this information just from my personal experience but from research done over the years, also. I started this business as a service for individuals and am now realizing I need to take larger steps. That’s another of the big lessons I’ve learned. I can and I need to make bigger moves in helping create a culture that is more trusting and connected.
How do you market your business right now?
The biggest marketing as of late has been the myriad of interviews over the last few months. Local, national, and global media outlets, from television news channels, radio interviews, to web interviews, have all been spreading the idea of Cuddle Therapy as something worth looking into. This has inspired me to start a new venture that’s accessible all around the globe: Metta Connect, an educational and coaching business that is all virtual and accessible to anyone around the world, helping others understand their own blocks around connection and actually move through them to bring in more personal and professional success in their lives.
What has been most rewarding for you since starting Cuddle Therapy?
The job itself is the biggest reward. I’ve been so lucky to have found something that I’m extremely passionate about that is met with such a well-rounded response from the world around me. I’ve been both supported and challenged in my philosophy and modality around touch and connection, and having confidence in myself and the business has allowed me to believe so strongly that this is a service that’s working. I get such a great sense of joy each time a client speaks or writes to me about how their lives have been changed from being able to be so open, honest, and connected. That shift for them is my biggest reward.