Through sleep-filled eyes, I can barely make out the headline on the cracked screen of my partner’s phone, which she is holding at an accusingly close distance to my face: “What Your Sleeping Habits Say About Your Relationship”. In Corey’s voice is a hostility I’m not yet lucid enough to understand, the same tone someone might use with a dog before remembering its endearing lack of agency.
“Why do you hate me?” she demands.
She’s pointing at a photo of a couple sleeping with their backs to each other, with more than a foot of mattress real estate separating them, a seemingly unbridgeable gulf. My brain beginning to boot up, I realize that our bodies had somehow drifted apart in the middle of the night, and that this article I’m blinking at is supposed to be evidence that our relationship is now imperiled.
“Why do you hate me?” she insists once again.
We take cuddling seriously in our household.
Cuddling is a lesbian word that means “breathing”.
I don’t feel left out by the aggressive heterosexuality of movies and television as much as I feel concerned that these people don’t touch each other nearly enough in a non-sexual context. In the movie of our own lives, Corey and I come home from a hot date and, in a series of jump cuts, the keys are hastily thrown on the table, our shoes fly off, jeans get unzipped, pajama bottoms take their place, and then we’re on the couch, settling in to binge-watch Netflix. We have sex, sure, but cuddling is an event in and of itself, not an afterthought to share over a post-coital cigarette.
For Corey and I, cuddling is not so much an activity as it is a default state. Newton’s first law of motion states that a body at rest remains at rest until an outside force acts on it but Sir Isaac didn't say anything about what happens to two bodies. That’s where our own version of the law comes in: two bodies at rest will remain at rest until someone gets a charley horse or one of them has to pee.
There are moments when I wonder if our commitment to cuddling would seem unusual, even to other disciples of Sappho. When I have a particularly busy day lined up, Corey will set a timer, sometimes for as few as three minutes, to ensure that she gets the bare minimum amount of snuggle time she needs to make it to the other side. On winter nights before we go to bed, we turn the heat not just down but completely off so that we’re subconsciously motivated to cling to each other for warmth throughout the night.
Cuddling while we sleep isn't just a luxury, it’s mandatory. On any given night, Corey and I will cuddle like two adjacent rotisserie chickens, rotating in opposite directions at slightly different speeds. In intermittent lapses of semi-consciousness, I’ll take stock of our positions: I’m spooning her, she’s spooning me, we’re back-to-back, we’re face-to-face. We’ll move through them all eventually, with enough turns around the spit. If all goes well, we wake up feeling warm and evenly toasted on all sides.
At this point in our marriage, too, we've perfected the dance of rearranging positions in the middle of the night, a dance with surprisingly intricate steps that neither of us have ever acknowledged aloud. Corey feels my arm slipping out from under her neck, like the surf being sucked back toward a forming wave, and she knows instinctively that we’re moving from a Samantha Big Spoon to a Corey Big Spoon position. Wordlessly, heads are lifted, pillows are adjusted, bodies are shifted, and we sink back to sleep to await another quarter turn of the spit.
There’s only one awkward move in this entire midnight dance: finding a place for our arms.
Arms are cuddling’s natural enemies. Cuddling is supposed to be soft, plush, and dreamy. An arm is hard, sinewy, and if you don’t position it in the right place, it will fall asleep long before you do, trapped beneath your lover’s surprisingly weighty head. Some people think that God cursed Adam and Eve to work the soil and bear children, respectively. Wrong. God gave Adam and Eve arms so that they could no longer spoon as expertly as they did in the Garden of Eden.
And Adam said unto Eve, Behold, mine arm is trapped beneath thine head. Could you just, like, lift it up for one second so I can get it out? Eve? Seriously, wake up!
But maybe our arms are a necessary encumbrance, given to us in order to protect Corey and I from the full undiluted strength of cuddling. I have a theory that if we ever discovered the ideal cuddling configuration — if we ever arrived at the moment in which our bodies fit seamlessly and frictionlessly together, all of our extremities snapping into position at once — that we would hear a booming sound from below as if we had awakened some ancient evil, our eyes would become beams of pulsating light, our jaws would be forced open by some preternatural force, and we would chant in unison in a strange but familiar tongue before exploding together into a ball of pure energy.
But so far it’s just a theory. One day, I hope, we’ll put it to the test.
“Do you think cuddling is worth writing about?” I ask Corey one night as I plunk some notes onto the laptop perched atop my stomach.
Given the centrality of cuddling to our lives, we both know that what I mean is: “Would anyone else think an essay about cuddling is worth reading?”
But trying to talk about cuddling in the abstract with Corey is like trying to have an intellectual conversation with a puppy about the relative merits of going for a walk versus staying inside. Her ears perk up, she props herself up on one arm in the bed, and before I even have time to save my notes, she has already shut my laptop with a summary flick of her wrist.
“Cuddling?” she says. “We need to do some research.”