I Spent My Life Consenting to Touch I Didn’t Want

We found a spot on the floor that was suitable for us and settled down. A young man with a nervous face sat nearby as well as a man in a teal onesie — like adult-size footsie pajamas — stroking the arm of a blond woman in fleece pants and a worn T-shirt.

As he reviewed these rules, the host spoke softly. The third rule, which states that you must ask permission before touching anyone, was the most important. He asked us to play a role-play with a person nearby. One person would ask another, “Does this make you want to cuddle?” And the other would respond, “No.”

I was the nervous young man facing him.

“Do you want to cuddle?” he asked.

“No,” I said, and my mouth involuntarily stretched into a smile, as if I needed to soften the refusal. I felt my face get hotter and started to blink quickly. Is it really that difficult for me to say the expected no? It made me feel uneasy and I was surprised at how strong my reaction was to the exercise.

Next, the host asked us to repeat the role play, but this time to ask our partners, “Can I kiss you?” Kissing is not allowed at the cuddle party, so this exercise was even more forgone than the previous one. Still, I had no interest whatsoever in kissing the young man, and to pretend, even in this transparent context, increased my discomfort exponentially. His face flushed after he said no, and I croaked when my voice was raised. My tone seemed so contemptuous that it was absurd when he asked me to repeat the question. I couldn’t seem to control my affect; like a pinched hose, the words eked out of me in odd directions.

After we had finished orientation, I was happy to leave. As people swam around the soft flooring, instruments of spa music were played. The teal-colored man crawled up to me.

He smiled and said “Hi” with great affability. “Want to share a spoon with me?”

“Sure,” I said. I didn’t hesitate to ask him if I wanted to share a spoon. I didn’t think much about it. I agreed, and we settled on the chenille blanketed floor. He curled about me. I didn’t think, he doesn’t want his body wrapped around me. My uneasiness did not occur as a thought at all. It was more like a shift of temperature or light.

He asked me, his breath on my neck.

I nodded. I didn’t even think about the verbal agreement requirement. His body was very warm and his touch did not move from my arm. I felt the onesie’s sleeves rub against my skin. I wondered how much longer I would need to be in this position to not appear rude. It would be generous to call the way I felt a “maybe”; however, I didn’t consider Rule 5 (“If you’re a possibly, say yes). I was not “encouraged or encouraged to change my minds” despite the cuddle party’s culture. It was not the cozy loft in my late 30s. It was a small, dimly lit space in the middle of which my thoughts wandered like half-remembered nightmares. It was a hallway, with a locked door at the other end. It was half of a strange hallway.

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