Platonic cuddling, and other adventures in self-delusion

Kate van Niekerk
8 min readNov 7, 2016


1. an idiosyncratic belief or impression maintained despite being contradicted by reality or rational argument, typically as a symptom of mental disorder.

1. the faculty or activity of imagining impossible or improbable things.

One of the few things I actually enjoyed when my long-term relationship ended last year (and during the period of long distance we did before that), was the space in my bed. A space I still have on most nights, although I am (shockingly) not single at the moment. In the space where a whole person used to fit every night, a world of opportunity lay, so to speak. A world mostly filled by my laptop, my phone, and my glasses, which I inevitably land up blindly scrambling for in the morning.

Even better, when I wake up in the middle of the night these days drowning in the night sweats I get as a side-effect of my anti-depressant — which I started after my post-break-up meltdown — there is a whole dry side of the bed to roll over onto. Which is obviously also sexy AF, so good thing I mostly sleep alone.

Of the many things I missed after that break-up, I didn’t miss cuddling — in and of itself. What I missed was cuddling with him. Or rather the fantasy thereof. Because no matter how angry we were with each other, even if there was a brief seething nap on the couch, ultimately I would get into that bed, and feel a familiar person roll over and put a warm skinny arm, which I knew as if it were my own, around me.

That moment was something I know neither of us ever got tired of. It felt safe, like everything was ok in the world. It felt like that wave of love that washed over us would stop us from tearing each other apart all over again the next day. I yearned for that love-conquers-all delusion.

Until one night. (That’s when all my stories start going downhill). I was drinking with some friends, at someone’s house. One friend, also a wounded being (him probably a lot more than me), and I, sought comfort in each other’s brokenness. Or, to be more frank, we got wasted and went back to his place.

For reasons beyond both of our control, the expected main act did not make it onto stage. But god dayum was that a blissful night of cuddling and smooching. It was a game-changer.

I came to a shocking realization (thank you 2016 #YearOfRealisations, I get it and also fuck you). I can legitimately give myself everything a man can — yes, everything. Except two things: cuddles and smooches. Some intimate human affection. I thought to myself, could it be that any man could bring my wild fantasies of hand-holding and soft kisses to life???

If so, how do I find someone who will just cuddle with me? Someone to temporarily make me feel like 2016 and the world outside isn’t an entire crock of absolute shit?

Do I change my tinder profile? “Not looking for hook-ups, relationships or friends. Only cuddles.” Yea right. Way to up the left-swipes on my profile. “Must be good at spooning.” Sure, that won’t be misread at all. I decided to leave it at my attractive “I tinder on the toilet.” Because fuck Tinder, my morning poop was all the time I had for it anymore.

But Derek the stuffed Dassie just wasn’t enough. Somehow I always found myself having to be big spoon.

And then an opportunity presented itself. A friend who has been a great support in the last year happened to text me that he took a girl home the week before just to cuddle with her. We were totally on the same page! “What if we just platonically cuddle?” I typed, a lightbulb going off in my head.

I should mention at this point that I have hooked up with this friend on and off a number of times in the last 9 years or so. Basically every time we’re both single. And the truth is that I’ve shed a few tears over those years because I never learnt my lesson that casual sex is bullshit and due to being a human being I always catch feelings eventually, and feelings suck.

Unfortunately, that means he’s not hugely popular amongst my friends, who have been the ones to dry those tears in the past, and it was therefore difficult to convince anyone except each another that platonic cuddling could be a thing. Where’s the fun in taking good advice though?

(Side story: he is also commonly remembered from a party I took him to many years ago as my date, where the theme was “primary colours”. Presumably he had a shortage of normal red, yellow or blue clothes, because he wore a very tight pair of bright yellow cycling shorts which made it unavoidable to stare at a certain distinctly defined body part, which was — how do I put it — not small. So he’s also known as “that guy” [with the dick, if you didn’t get it].)

Buuut, this time it was different. I have truly realized the importance of good friends in the last year, and he’s been one of them. His support has meant the world to me, even if he calls me socialist scum sometimes and I call him a dick sometimes. Our friendship has really matured. So why can’t we be mature and have a little innocent cuddle too?

To paraphrase our conversation:

Me: “Do you think it’s possible to do platonic cuddling?”
Him: “I think so. As long as there’s no confusion.”
Me: “Yes, we would have to have some ground rules.”
Him: “There must be a minimum amount of clothing that stays on.”
Me: “No kissing or touching of any inappropriate areas.”
Him: “Are sleepovers allowed?”
Me: “Yes I think so.”
Him: “I mean that’s one of the joys of cuddling… Except, the thing is, cuddling tends to induce erections.”
Me: “That’s ok, we just need to remember that that is a purely biological reaction and pretend it’s not there.”
Him: “Yes! This could work.”
Me: “This could totally work.”

I know, you’ve seen this movie before.

So anyway, one lonely Saturday night, I was sitting at home, having been blown off by a guy I was supposed to go on a date with, and feeling sad. I even had a little cry. I mean, I had shaved my legs for nothing. That’s worth a tear or two, amirite?

I was texting with my would-be Platonic Cuddling Friend (shall we call him PCF?) and pathetically asking him why I’m still not over a break up that had happened almost a year previously. “When does it get easier?” I wondered out loud, and in text. He offered me some words of consolation, and then invited me round for the pilot episode of Platonic Cuddling, which I declined since I was exhausted and ready to go to bed and cry myself to sleep.

Sooo… he came round to me.

Twenty minutes later I stood in my bedroom with PCF sitting on my bed and requested that he avert his eyes while I put my PJs on (despite the fact that it’s nothing he hadn’t seen before). “I am wearing my most unattractive Mr. Price panties as a precaution,” I told him. I went to brush my teeth and when I came back, awkwardly but totally platonically climbed into bed with my friend. He put his arm around me, and I felt that familiar safe sensation of a warm human holding me. It was a wonderful two minutes.

As I said, I know you’ve seen this movie before. Platonic cuddling is not a thing. Ground rules or not.

I woke up the next morning feeling a confusing mixture of failure and satisfaction. “I can’t believe we did that,” I laughed. “I can’t believe I did that with someone wearing Mr. Price panties,” he retorted. “Fuck you,” I said.

We cuddled on a fairly regular basis for about a month or so after that. In fact, it seemed like a pretty ideal arrangement. Full time friend, part time lover. Good conversation, no unnecessary feels, sex, cuddles. #winning #livingmybestlife #blessed #yolo

The problem is that this kind of arrangement is also a fantasy. And ultimately, not really enough. Eventually the novelty wore off, we started cuddling with other people, and we were like lol k that was fun but let’s not do it anymore. And (amazingly) we went straight back to being good friends who talk about mundane things like state capture and tinder dates (two separate but related topics).

Ok maybe we cuddled once more, but that’s all, I swear.

TBH it’s not that easy sometimes to work out what is a fantasy and what isn’t, and what is an ok fantasy and what is an unhealthy fantasy and how do you get rid of a fantasy that’s not good for you. It just makes my brain hurt.

Ironically, I feel now that recognizing that the things I miss about the relationship I left last year are just fantasies has helped me let go of them. They don’t exist. In a way, they never did.

At the moment I am non-platonically cuddling exclusively with one person. It’s pretty nice. Very nice actually. The only thing that really complicates this is convincing myself that it is not a fantasy. That it is a really rad thing that actually exists in real life.

My instincts usually tell me that things that are going well are always on the verge of falling apart. I’ve told myself to roll up my PhD in Self Sabotage that I got from the University of Childhood and Relationship Baggage and put it on the shelf for now with my old Discman and the vibrator I was given as a gift when I was 18 but no longer works (Yes I’ve tried replacing the batteries).

Plus, considerate emotionally available guys who are clever and funny and hot and appreciate communication and know where the clitoris is, do exist in real life, right? Too far? Too far. I’m still too cynical for that. At the very least, his arms seem to be made for cuddling.



Kate van Niekerk

Anthropologist. UX Researcher. Director. Design Enthusiast. Neurodivergent. Feminist. Jewish. Not in that order.