I went to a cuddle party last Sunday. The rules are simple: wear sleeping clothes, like pajamas, no sex, kissing allowed but no tongue, and cuddle all afternoon.
I was invited by a friend. She just came back from New York a few months ago, where she experienced her first cuddle party, which had the same rules. It's strictly by invitation and you pay 1,000 PHP to participate, which covers the food and facilities.
As far as she knows, this is the first cuddle party in Metro Manila. At least, of this kind anyway. She was holding in her Makati condo.
I didn't know what to expect. I had visions of my high school soiree, with boys on one side of the gym and us girls on the other, and this huge basketball court in between. When I got there at quarter to seven (it was scheduled to start at 7:00 AM), there were already a handful. About three girls and two boys, plus my friend and her boyfriend. They invited ten people, and all confirmed, just to see how it goes.
No one under twenty-five years old. This is their own rule, not a New York rule. They have this theory that being a quarter of a century old means something. They oldest person they invited was 39 years old.
I was introduced to the group. It wasn't so bad. They were already in their pajamas and everyone looked so comfy. They each gave me a hug, it was part of it, just to break the ice, so to speak. I went to a guest room to change clothes.
By 7:00 AM, we were nearly complete. One guy was missing. We were all told beforehand that late people will be turned away and invited to the next party. This will be strictly implemented: they had to build trust within the group, based on a strict agreement on the rules.
Again, they ran through the rules. Anyone who breaks any of the rules will be asked to leave and not be invited again. The goal is to establish boundaries and intimacy.
And then they told us to begin.
Go ahead, hold each other.
My friend and her boyfriend approached us and started steering us toward each other, guiding us to the floor of the living room, covered with rugs and pillows and sheets, like a giant, endless bed.
Instinctively, I approached the girl next to me, about my age. I opened my arms and looked at her eyes. She agreed, and we hugged. I didn't know what to feel. It was scary and comforting, painful even. We fell to the floor and never let go.
We chatted a little. Hi. What's your name. What do you do. Then we just hugged. Her breath smelled good, minty, like mine. You had to brush your teeth and use mouthwash: that was one of the smaller rules. Bad hygiene is disrespectful.
After a few minutes, we quieted down, and I closed my eyes.
Bit by bit. I remembered all hugs and touches and holds and nearness throughout my life. The good ones, the bad ones. I remembered the violence.
I felt a breath on me, then a voice: you're crying.
I opened my eyes. My hug-mate was looking straight into my eyes. Grabe ano? she said. Want a glass of water? I nodded.
We let go and she stood up to get water. I looked around and the room was littered with clumps of people. I was in the middle. We looked like a litter of new-born puppies. We were so cute. It must have been the soft morning light and the pastel colors of the room.
Only then did I realize there was music, softly playing in the background.
She came back with the water and I drank it gratefully. She wiped the tear lines on my face with her thumb, then she gave me a kiss on the cheek.
Come, she said, let's join the others. And we did.
The cuddle party lasted all afternoon, until four o'clock. We were all shooed away, gently of course, even lovingly, to resume our regular lives. We were all invited to next month's party. Tell your close friends about it, they said.