The Cost of Cuddling: A Social Review of Edmonton’s High Priced Platonic Prostitution
By David Metcalfe
May 21, 2019
Some Absolute, Objective Laws Of The Universe
There are certain universal laws that govern the universe: among these are that gravity pulls objects towards the earth’s surface, that there are 24 hours in a day, and that girls don’t date David Metcalfe.
Now, there are certain times when these laws appear to be broken: a bird, a plane, or a hot air balloon can appear as if it is floating with no gravity, a day can seem way longer than 24 hours when at a boring job (and way faster than 24 hours when on vacation), and David Metcalfe can get random girls from Tinder to go on dates with him.
But, of course, the universal laws are not really being broken here, despite their surface appearance: gravity is still pulling down on birds, planes, and hot air balloons- there are just counter forces working against it, time is still going at the same pace whether you are at work or on vacation- your mind is just less constantly conscious of the time when it is engaged in enjoyable things, and girls are not dating David Metcalfe- he’s just taking advantage of desperate girls who want “some guy” to affirm their fragile self-esteem.
All these universal laws are commonly dreamed of being broken in the way we desire: Superman transcends gravitational laws to fly, things like Amway or the lottery promise a life without work (where enjoyable time is maximized), and David Metcalfe imagines what it would be like to date a girl that cares about him.
But these things are fantasies, and fantasies don’t do much practically: Superman is a comic book, and eventually a kid has to give up on becoming Superman and aspire toward a real job, the vast majority of Amway members and lottery ticket buyers spend thousands of dollars and hours of effort for no actual monetary gain, and end up having to earn their money from an actual job income, and David Metcalfe has gone on enough unsuccessful dates to know that a girlfriend is not a realistic possibility, and that he has to find some other way to fill this need.
Laws don’t get broken- they get worked around.
Working Around The Law With Platonic Prostitution
I’m not that interested in gravitational physics or criticizing the desperate naivety of Amway members and lottery players, so let’s just consider the third law in more detail. I suppose it’s this third law that had me researching, and seriously considering, paying a random lady $85/hr to platonically cuddle with me. The use of the word “platonic” is very important- this service is almost indistinguishable from prostitution without it.
Platonic prostitution is significantly less popular than sexual prostitution. In Edmonton, there are several “erotic massage” parlours that double as brothels. They operate on the very edge of legality by only charging for the massage, and treating any potential sexual encounter as “between two consensual partners, with no money involved”. Of course, there is money involved, but trying to prove that in court gets difficult and it seems the police do little to nothing to prevent what they know is, in every practical way, simply a prostitution ring. Because of this legal loophole, prostitution in Edmonton is a thriving business. Its main financial limitation is that it costs several hundred dollars per encounter. Its main social limitation is that for married men, it can cost their marriage if found out, and for politicians or people in high social positions, it can severely lower their credibility as a person. But for a single man with extra money and nothing to lose, there’s essentially nothing stopping you (and therefore young men from the oil rigs in Fort McMurray spending time in Edmonton during their time off are especially common clientele).
I might be the perfect client for sexual prostitution, if it weren’t for the fact that I care so much about moral living. I care about the preservation of the family unit, about using sexual expression in the context of holistic and reciprocal love, and beyond myself, about the lives that sex workers live, and what I see as a horrible industry that exploits desperation in both workers and customers, and perverts everything possibly good about sexuality and turns it into a selfish, impersonal, animalistic commodity.
Paying a lady to cuddle me is weird (like really, really weird), and it’s certainly strong evidence of my and my social community’s dysfunction, but it isn’t necessarily immoral. There’s no verse in scripture that says you can’t pay someone to cuddle with you. There’s no conflict with any major moral philosophy. There’s no law against it. It’s just socially dysfunctional.
Let’s talk about why that is.
Paying For Cuddling Is Really, Really Weird
In 1991, after decades of research in social anthropology, Alan Fiske developed one of the most popular, long standing and effective theories in social relations: the Relational Models Theory (RMT).
RMT has four categories that define and describe all possible social relations that any individual or group can have. The four are as follows:
Authority Ranking: one of the individuals or groups have a higher social status than the other and therefore is granted the dominant position in the relationship, which society agrees upon. This is like the relationship between a boss and employee, or a parent and child.
Equality Matching: this is based on reciprocity between the two individuals or groups, like “eye for an eye” or “favour for a favour”. This is like the relationship between gangs (they killed a member of my group, so I will retaliate by killing a member of theirs), or roommates who agree to take turns doing the dishes.
Communal Sharing: a group of people share a common bond that makes them equal members in each interaction, and both sides feel a mutual benefit. This is like the relationship between siblings, coworkers, or good friends, where everyone gets along well.
Market Pricing: a certain value or utility metric (typically money) is applied in exchange for a certain service. This is like buying a meal at a restaurant or hiring a company to do your spring landscaping.
One of the examples Fiske uses is a dinner party. The host sends out invitations to their friends (communal sharing), goes out and buys the ingredients (market pricing), and decides what to prepare and where the guests will sit (authority ranking). When the guests arrive, they may bring wine or a side dish, or later on, host a dinner party of their own (equality matching).
But then, if you change just one of the types of interactions, the entire evening can change. What if you used market pricing for your invitations? $30 per guest! Well, what you have there is just a restaurant. What if you used authority ranking for what the guests bring? Well, what you have is a potluck. What if you used equality matching for obtaining the ingredients? Like, you own a pizza place so you offer the grocery store manager a free pizza in exchange for the ingredients, and you offered the same to your guests? Well, then you have a marketing promotion.
In considering romantic relationships, we can see all of these used at various points across time and cultures. For the vast majority of human history, romantic relationships were not so much a matter of falling in love, but of practical utility. Marriages were typically arranged by the parents (authority ranking), purchased by the groom or bride’s father in the former of a dowry or bride price (market pricing) or to maintain good relationships between various kingdoms or families (equality matching). While these all exist today, they are very uncommon in modern America. Instead, we engage in communal sharing- an equal partnership bonded together by sincere love for one another…or so we wish.
Realistically, how many romantic relationships in modern America are really communal sharing? How many “trophy wives” marry their husband for his money? (at least 3 with Donald Trump alone). How many lonely people try to simply quell each other’s loneliness by getting and staying together? How many men manipulate women into dating them (or vice versa)? And, of course, how many people literally pay money for things that a romantic relationship would bring (cuddling, sex, companionship, etc.)?
As I look at “cuddlery.ca”, I notice the prices, and try to decide whether it’s a good deal, economically. Cuddling for one hour is $85. There is a skin-to-skin option, where the guy wears just shorts and the woman wears shorts and a tank top; that’s for an additional $29 per hour ($104/hr total). There is an emotional coach option for $125/hr; apparently you cuddle her while telling her your life problems and she gives you encouraging advice. There is a movie night option for $99/hr; you can watch a 2 hour movie and cuddle the whole time. There is a sleepover option; it costs $325 total, and you get 8.5 hours worth of cuddling, with approximately 8 of the hours asleep. And then there is the most expensive option: an entire day of hanging out and cuddling the entire night; that costs $1000.
You can choose what girl you want. They have a first name (probably fake) and no last name. Some of them are as old as 50, but there are some in their 20s, and some of those ones are very good looking. There are a lot of rules- no sexual contact of any kind, no kissing, no obtaining the cuddler’s personal phone number or address, no visiting beyond what you paid for…the list goes on.
In considering the prices, I realize one very crucial thing: this is a service that the vast majority of people get for free. In fact, it’s a lot like charging people for air. Cuddling is like breathing- it’s been done by every person ever in the history or mankind, for no monetary exchange whatsoever. So if it’s free and easy to obtain for everyone in the whole of human history, across all cultures, why has it suddenly become a commodity?
Paying For Romance: Market Pricing’s Dominance In The Absence of Social Capital
In America, we’ve praised individual freedom (don’t tell me what to do with my life! I’m my own person!). When it comes to our social relationships, we try to reject authority ranking, equality matching, and market pricing in favour of communal sharing. Problem is, the key facilitators of communal sharing are void of engagement: church attendance is down, people hop from job to job, move from city to city, and spend a lot of time online. These, among other things, contribute to a greater sense of individualism, but also significantly reduce social capital and cohesion. Successful social relations among groups of people tend to form around a set of similar values and goals. Churches, workplaces, civic identities (like sports teams or community projects), schools, and various clubs all have established values and goals, and create social communities based on them. When the individuals engage in and share these interests, good relationships develop, and thus, communal sharing is possible and achieved.
So let’s imagine some 25 year old, single man who works in the oil rigs in Fort McMurray. He spends 12 hours a day, for ten days straight, moving pipes from one place to another. His coworkers are all about work, and when the day is done, everyone just wants to shower, eat dinner, and go to sleep. He doesn’t make any friends, doesn’t meet any girls to go on dates with, and doesn’t have any valuable mentorships or guidance. But the one thing he does have: a ton of money. In terms of social capital, he’s destitute. In terms of financial capital, he’s rich.
When he comes to Edmonton with his week off, he is lonely, and has a strong desire for social relationships. The most immediate and significant form, sex, is readily available, in exchange for money. This seems like a very favourable transaction for him. But there may be some men who not only desire sex, but also companionship, in the form of shared activities (movies, dinner, etc.), cuddling, and talking. The cuddlers service of “platonic prostitutes” can meet those sorts of needs. The exchange of money for social capital is a simple and beneficial one to make, and thus, romance becomes a commodity.
But, we may wonder, why does Tinder, Plenty-of-Fish, Match, or other dating services not effectively fulfill this desire for social capital? Well, for one, matching rates are typically very low, and it’s a lot of effort to chat, get to know someone, get them to meet up with you, and then actually form a relationship. There are men who “right swipe” on Tinder for months before ever getting any significant physical or relational intimacy. Beyond that, attractive women can get dozens or even hundreds of matches per day, and most don’t even read the messages they get, or ever meet any of the guys they match with. This means that men are spending months to get women of below average attractiveness to have intimacy with. In the world of prostitution (sexual or platonic), a man can get a very attractive women to share intimacy with, in the matter of one text message and a few hundred dollars.
Should I Purchase Romance With A Platonic Prostitute?
For me personally, I don’t work on the oil rigs, but I have a similar level of social capital to someone who does. In recent months especially, my income and savings have increased far beyond my basic expenses. This has put me in a situation where I have way more financial capital than social capital.
I do have friendships with both men and women. Not tons, but enough that I am ok with my friend situation. So I don’t really need increased social capital in that regard. Where I do have a need for social capital is in romance, so really, we could reduce it to just “romantic capital”. In the Mormon church, of which I am philosophically and religiously intertwined, but barely at all socially, there is a strong and direct facilitation of romantic capital. Young single adults is built around developing friendships, devotion to the beliefs and principles of the church, and marriage. These three things can be achieved simultaneously- like at a church service, a young man might sit with his friends and chat, listen to sacrament talks, and then ask a girl on a date after the service. The same thing can happen at institute or FHE.
A less socially acceptable way to establish capital, but nonetheless very possible, is through Facebook. Mormons add each other on Facebook very easily (I have Mormon Facebook friends that I don’t even remember ever meeting in real life). Essentially all Mormons will respond to messages on Facebook messenger, at least initially. For this reason, it is possible to initiate friendships or romantic relationships through Facebook that transition to real world relationships by means of a meet up invitation (albeit, many Mormons will respond to the Facebook message but not accept a hang out invitation).
My inability to establish social and romantic capital with the Mormons stems from the fact that I do not share similar values and goals, find their social facilitations of capital to be much too boring, and lack results when making attempts to establish capital in my own way. So basically, even if I find a Mormon girl that I would like to date, she will friendzone me very quickly, leaving me without the capital that I am actually seeking.
This leaves me in a position where I have not been able to really date even one Mormon girl in over a year of being in the church, and it is getting more and more likely that it will never happen. Since the church community is not successful in providing me that form of capital, I am forced to either go without it or find my own way to achieve it. With extra money, it seems that exchanging money for romantic capital is a worthwhile pursuit, and that can come in the form of platonic prostitutes. In fact, I could forgo getting a wife altogether and simply be single and purchase both platonic and sexual prostitutes from time to time, in order to fulfill my need for emotional and physical intimacy.
But there are a great number of limitations associated with that plan. Most notably, it ignores many of the most important needs that marriage fulfills. Marriage is a lot more than cuddling, sex, and the occasional activity. Those are surface things that express much deeper and more significant types of relational intimacy. Marriage is, in its ideal form, the greatest of all possible human relationships all rolled into one. Your spouse is like your best friend- someone you have fun with, share life with, and enjoy spending large amounts of time with. Your spouse is like your parent- they take care of you when you need it, and you take care of them when they need it, and you have a kind of unconditional love that stems from a permanent and innate bond. Your spouse is like a prostitute- they fulfill your sexual needs. Your spouse is like a platonic prostitute who gives you cuddles, emotional coaching, movie nights, and sleeps beside you all night and hangs out with you all day.
Desperate men, void of social capital, pay desperate women, void of financial capital, for an interaction that could be completely solved, and in a much more significant way, by a loving marriage.
People are paying massive amounts of money to meet their needs of physical and emotional intimacy, and only being robbed of its true depth. Market pricing works well for random strangers exchanging goods and services, but is terrible as a means of social capital. It fails because it’s inauthentic, void of agency, and misses out on the essence of the sincere and authentic love that people so desperately need.
Being romantically lonely is difficult, and after being rejected by the kinds of girls I would actually want to date, perusing Tinder makes me feel better, as well as the prospect of potentially just purchasing intimacy from a platonic prostitute. But in the big picture, there’s nothing in those pursuits. It’s like smoking cigarettes- it might make people feel a little better for a while, but has no real benefit, and some potentially very substantial detriment.
My own difficulties have caused me to empathize more with men who use prostitutes, Tinder, and clubs in order to get immediate emotional and physical intimacy. I know what it’s like to want it so badly, and go just about anywhere, do just about anything, and pay just about any price to get it. But the results of this pursuit in the wrong context are ugly- the sex trafficking industry is massive, and many of the women are technically or literally in slavery, the pornography industry routinely infringes on consent laws in making their workers perform acts they do not want to, rape culture is facilitated by men who want sex at all costs and treat women who say “no” as if they are wrongly denying them their right. Beyond these really terrible things, is some just kind of bad things- “hook up culture” fails to deliver on the things people most need, and distorts the real value of physical intimacy. This distortion of sexuality and intimacy can have damaging, long-term effects on an individual and their future and potential for marriage.
Marriage not only answers these surface lusts and desires, but does so in a much deeper, more effective, more humanizing and well, cheaper way. You can’t buy love. I used to wonder why Bill Gates would ever stay married to Melinda. She’s not spectacular in any way, and Bill Gates could get basically any woman he wants, however many he wants. And yet, he has stayed faithful to her for 25 years and counting. I guess if I had to close this article with one takeaway, it would be: Bill Gates got something right.
Microsoft was a great investment, but all it got him was money. His wife was a much greater investment, because it got him love in its greatest human form (along with the children they had together). Sometimes, to make a great business investment, you have to sacrifice for a while. You have to forgo certain things, stress about whether the business will ever be successful, work hard to develop yourself as a business person and on the success of the company, and cling to a hope that something great will happen.
So I suppose my recommendation to myself and young men who struggle with singleness is that you need to look at the bigger picture: what do you really want, and how are you going to get there? And secondly, that you need to be patient. Just like Bill Gates waiting for Microsoft or Mark Zuckerberg waiting for Facebook to take off, trust in yourself that you are great, and that things will work out in time as long as you live true to your morals, develop as a person, and be kind and engaged in positive social communities.