Stephanie got excited when she saw an email pop up from Nathaniel. She still couldn’t believe she’d found a guy like him on Craigslist. Just a few weeks ago, she had been perusing the site, looking at the personal listings. She hadn’t really expected to find anything until she came across an ad titled “Cuddle Buddies.” The poster said he was looking for someone with whom he could cuddle outside of the normal constraints of a relationship just for the sake of some intimacy until he found a real girlfriend. Stephanie thought the idea was laughable, but when she recognized she was on a questionable website, looking for love herself, she realized she too was longing for some intimacy.
Nathaniel’s ad went on to describe the woman he wanted as being of any race, aged between twenty and forty-five, not overweight, and at the least, decently pretty. That worked for Stephanie, a white, forty-year old spinster. She played volleyball on the weekends and worked out regularly. Many thought she was younger than she actually was, and while she wasn’t a super model, she still turned heads occasionally. Her figure was trim with some modest curvature around her bust and hips. The only thing she wasn’t pleased with was her hair. It had become stringy in recent years and it only looked presentable bobbed which she didn’t care for.
Stephanie sat at her desk and opened her email. Nathaniel’s message only said that he was on his way and would be at her house at one o’clock. Stephanie smiled slightly and closed her laptop. She couldn’t help but be a little nervous as this was their first face-to-face meeting, and it was supposed to be their first cuddle session. Stephanie wasn’t sure if she could go through with it, but in his emails, Nathaniel had come across as quite pleasant and intelligent—a true gentleman, especially for only being twenty-six, and just like Stephanie, he looked younger than that. He had accredited it to his low-stress career as a certified dog trainer.
Looking up, the clock read 12:30. Nathaniel would be there in thirty minutes. Stephanie jumped to her feet and went to her closet. She had no idea what to wear. Cuddle buddies wasn’t a common relationship dynamic so dressing for one proved to be difficult. Should she play it casual like she would with her friends, and wear jeans and a t-shirt? Or should she treat it like a date, and spring for khakis and a blouse? She stood in front of her mirror, holding up different garments and trying to get an idea of how she’d look in them and whether they were appropriate.
After about twenty minutes, Stephanie decided that since their relationship was supposed to be more casual than dating, and since they were supposed to be cuddling that day, she opted for something comfortable: an old pair of jeans and a long-sleeved tee.
She looked up at her clock again—Nathaniel would be there in five minutes. She quickly and haphazardly threw all her clothes back in the closet, and ran to her living room just down the hall. She perched on the edge of her couch at first, but her nerves got the better of her and she started to pace. She kept glancing at the clock on her bookcase and time slowly ticked away. She suddenly realized she hadn’t checked her breath. Stephanie licked her wrist and as she was about to sniff it, her doorbell rang. She jumped with a squeal.
With no time to do anything about her breath, Stephanie went to her door. She kicked her legs a couple of times and wrapped a lock of her hair behind her ear as she opened the door. “Hi!” she said with a strained smile.
Nathaniel turned around. “Hello,” he said with authority. “Stephanie?”
“Good. I got the right house.”
“Yep. Would you like to come in?” she said, opening the screen door.
“Yes. I would,” he said, stepping into the house.
Stephanie stepped back and let him in. She leaned forward a little to close the door behind him and got a whiff of his cologne. Stephanie could’ve kicked herself. She hadn’t thought about perfume, but then she thought that maybe perfume would’ve been too much. But then again, Nathaniel was wearing cologne, so maybe it wouldn’t have.
Stephanie’s mind kept whirring until she stepped back and took all of Nathaniel in. He was tall with a slender build. He had brown eyes and curly, black hair. He had a handsome, squared face that was caught somewhere between the stages of a boy and man. He definitely looked like he was in his twenties, his face still retaining some of its boyishness. But she clearly saw the man he would become especially when he smiled at her. Stephanie felt her knees grow weak and she became bashful almost as if the most popular boy in school had just noticed the shy, new girl. She returned his smile and looked up at him, but kept her face angled downward.
“Should I take my shoes off?”
“Huh?” she said. “Oh. Um, please.”
Nathaniel stepped on the heels of his clean, black sneakers one at a time and pulled his feet free. He was wearing white socks. Something about them along with the lazy way he took his shoes off helped to remind Stephanie that he was a normal person just like her. She stepped back to give him some room and noticed that he had opted for a pair of blue jeans, and he wore a dark red, collared, button down shirt over a black tee. He fiddled with one of his buttons. Was he nervous too?
“So, um, how would you like to do this?” he asked. “Did you want to sit and talk for a little while? Like I said in my emails, we don’t have to cuddle today.”
“But didn’t you say you wanted to?”
“Of course I want to—I’m a guy!” he said with an amused shrug. “But, I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”
“Well, um, sure,” she said, sitting on the edge of the couch.
“Great,” said Nathaniel, choosing a chair next to the couch.
Stephanie eyed him. “Why are you over there?”
“Uh, like I said, I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable. Plus, it’s an old habit. I prefer chairs to couches.”
Stephanie smiled. “Well, I don’t bite. Why don’t you sit here?” she said, patting the cushion next to her.
“Don’t bite, huh?” he said, moving. “That’s no fun.”
“But I do nibble,” she said vampishly.
Nathaniel smiled. “Sounds like some of the dogs I work with. Oh, sorry. I’m sure you don’t want to be compared to a dog.”
“It’s fine,” lied Stephanie. “But I thought you said you only train basic obedience.”
“Well, I do. But some dogs are mouthy, especially labs.”
“I didn’t know labs bite,” said Stephanie a little taken back. “My friend had a chocolate lab and it was the sweetest dog I’ve ever met.”
“Well, they don’t bite. They just get mouthy, especially when excited. They can’t help it. It’s a trait of the breed. They are retrievers after all.”
“Oh. Retrievers. Yes, I can see that now.”
Silence fell between them.
Nathaniel asked, “Are you nervous?”
“Uh, no. Why?”
“Because you’re sitting on the edge of the couch like you’re about to run away. Isn’t that uncomfortable?”
“Oh, well, I guess it is a bit,” she said, sliding back. “Are you nervous?”
“I am. I’ve never been in a situation like this before.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty new for me, too. I’ve never heard of anyone doing this before.”
“I have,” said Nathaniel. “But it’s not common. Most often cuddle buddies are just friends with cuddling benefits. There’s also a business somewhere in like Washington or Oregon that specializes in cuddling.”
“Yeah. They have rooms with beds set up and people come in and they cuddle.”
“And they don’t have any problems?”
“Not that I know of,” said Nathaniel with a shrug. “But they do offer more than cuddling. Mostly they sell their service as companions, so even if you just need someone to talk to or play a game with, they do that, too.”
“And there are women on Craigslist who offer companionship to older ‘gentlemen’ for a price.”
Stephanie jumped. “Are they hookers?”
“Some of them probably are, but some of them are just looking for a sugar daddy.”
“Why? Why don’t they just get a job? That’s what I did when I was younger.”
“Millennials,” said Nathaniel with another shrug.
“Oh, geez. How do they get away with advertising that on Craigslist?”
“They don’t. Those of us who want to keep Craigslist classy always flag their posts. The personals section is for friends and romantic relationships only.”
“Huh. You sound like you use Craigslist a lot.”
“Well, yeah. I used to use it more back in the day, but in recent years, it’s changed quite a bit. It used to be a legitimate place for online dating. Now it’s full of spam, hookers, and the lazy or easily broken-hearted.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s quite common to find a couple of posts, usually from women who are older or… wider, complaining about how they can’t find someone they like and basically pleading for someone to go out with them.”
“Those poor girls,” said Stephanie. “I understand how they feel. But why do you use Craigslist, Nathaniel? I mean, you’re handsome, intelligent, polite, and successful.”
Nathaniel smiled bashfully. “Thanks. I use it because before I was a successful dog trainer, I found it the best place to meet a girl. I’ve met a few girls from Craigslist. So, I’ve had a higher success rate with it than any other dating site. And it’s free, has flexible settings, and I don’t have a lot of time to go out looking for a girl. I get quite frustrated looking for a date.”
“I don’t know really. The girls these days just don’t seem to have any substance. There’s nothing to them. I mean, I’m sure there are women out there who do, but I can’t find them. Maybe they’re already taken. Hence, I tend to look for older women.”
Stephanie blinked. “What do you mean by that?”
“Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that older women are easy, I’m just saying that they tend to have the substance I’m looking for.”
“Oh.” She breathed easy.
“They’re… real.” He looked at her. “You’re real. You have real concerns, real dreams, real passions—you’ve got something going on in your life that doesn’t revolve around trivial things like celebrities or social media.”
“I completely understand,” she said, half-laughing. “I have a niece who can’t put her phone down.”
“This generation…” Nathaniel said, shaking his head.
A silence fell again. Nathaniel looked to the opposite side of the room; Stephanie couldn’t tell what he was thinking. She thought of something to say, desperately wanting to fill the space, but then she processed what Nathaniel had said about women and substance. She turned to him. “So, you’re looking for a woman who is real?”
Nathaniel jumped. “Um, yeah. I said that just now, didn’t I?”
“Yes. I just wanted to make sure that’s what you meant.”
Nathaniel’s eyes shifted back and forth. “Well, yeah. Why?”
“I was just thinking about how it seems like most men aren’t.”
“I don’t think that’s true,” said Nathaniel quickly. “I think most men are, but because of society and the media, they’re afraid to say that. You know, we’re conditioned by society to be and act as simple as possible because that’s how men are portrayed on TV and in movies. But most men I’ve met in real life aren’t that way. Sure, some use it as an excuse to fulfill their baser desires, but if they didn’t want intimacy themselves, they wouldn’t want to fulfill those baser desires to begin with, right?”
“That’s an interesting perspective.” Stephanie cast a glance down the hall. “Speaking of intimacy, what do you think about moving this to the bedroom now?”
“It sounds like you’re propositioning me for sex.”
“Oh, my,” said Stephanie, her hand going to her lips. “Well… it did actually. But what I meant is, would you like to try cuddling now?”
Nathaniel settled down. “Sure.”
Stephanie got up and led Nathaniel to her bedroom. She’d made sure to change the linens on her queen-sized bed and made sure they were white and cotton for a pleasant, neutral presentation. She had vacuumed the floor and dusted her vanity and dresser as well making sure everything was neat and tidy. Stephanie looked at Nathaniel, but he didn’t seem to have any sort of measurable expression even while he looked around. They stopped before the bed.
“So…” said Stephanie. “Um… how do you want to do this?”