Cuddle Culture

[Content warning: TMI, polyamory.]


Another one of those times three very different people writing three very different things all remind me of each other.

Ozy got very excited recently because Heartiste wrote a post attacking polyamory (Ozy reminds me that the appropriate trigger warning for Heartiste is “trigger warning: literally the worst person alive, I am so serious about this, you think I am joking but I am not”).

Reversed stupidity is not intelligence, but it’s still nice to know that somebody known to be generally evil takes time out of his busy day to dislike my way of life specifically. It’s like a weird sort of reverse validation.

But since the Devil sometimes speaks true, what exactly does he have to say?

Genuine, egalitarian, open polyamory for all practical purposes doesn’t exist among white Westerners. There’s always one or another party out in the asexual or anhedonic cold, nursing feelings of rejection and traumatic self-doubt. And if that party is a willing participant to his or her sexual/romantic exclusion, it’s a good bet he/she is psychologically broken, mentally unstable, physically repulsive, or suffering from clinically low sex drive. In other words, human trash.

Applying enough charity to fully fund the Red Cross for the next fifty years, Heartiste seems to be saying something along the lines of “Polyamory is especially well-suited for asexual people”. And I agree!

Many of the people I know in successful polyamorous relationships are sexual, sometimes even highly sexual. But I also know a disproportionate number of asexual polyamorous people – including myself – and the combination seems to work really, really well. Part of it is the ability for asexual people to date sexual people without having to worry about the partner having no way of satisfying their higher sex drive. Part of it is the free layer of protection against sexual jealousy. And part of it is the neat ability to sidestep most of the risks of polyamory, including infection, unintended pregnancy, and the sense of disgust that some sexual people – especially Heartiste – seem to feel at the thought of having sex with less-than-virginal partners.

For me polyamory doesn’t get into any of that. It just means lots and lots of free cuddles.


Which brings me to the second thing I read recently. There is a new app out, Cuddlr, which is “like Grindr, but for cuddling”. Unequally Yoked has come out against it, saying that cuddling people without knowing them first is “objectifying”.

You already know what I think of objectification, but the criticism is unusually jarring in this instance. For me, cuddling is the opposite of objectifying. I go into social encounters viewing most people as a combination of scary and boring. I can sometimes overcome that most of the way by spending months getting to know them and appreciate their unique perspective. Or I can cuddle with them for ten minutes. Either one works.

There’s a Graham Greene quote which, being a philistine, I only know because it was included in Robert Wright’s The Moral Animal:

He took another drink of brandy. As the liquid touched his tongue he remembered his child, coming in out of the glare: the sullen unhappy knowledgeable face. He said, “Oh God, help her. Damn me, I deserve it, but let her live for ever.” This was the love he should have felt for every soul in the world: all the fear and the wish to save concentrated unjustly on the one child. He began to weep; it was as if he had to watch her from the shore drown slowly because he had forgotten how to swim. He thought: This is what I should feel all the time for everyone…

Wright’s point was that, there is this pure universal love that we wish we could feel for everyone all the time, but in practice we’re only able to feel it for our children, presumably because of evolutionary imperatives. As for me, I have no children, but the pure universal love I wish I could feel for everyone all the time, I’m only actually able to feel for cute girls I am cuddling with. It is definitely a good, correct kind of love – Leah would be more likely to call it agape or philia than eros. And this is important to me, because that kind of love is definitely an important psychological nutrient and my brain is very bad at feeling it any other way without, like, knowing somebody for ten years.

So this is the second reason why I think polyamory and (my particular variant of) asexuality go well together. It allows me to cuddle whoever I want and fall in love with whoever I want and have absurdly fond and protective feelings toward everybody if I so choose.


The third thing that made me think of this was actually something I wrote in my post yesterday and realized I should expand upon:

Testosterone is said to affect sexual libido but not desire for “sensual touch”, and a lot of people have mentioned how anomalously some of the nerd communities I’m in tend to value cuddling compared to sex relative to the general population.

In the general population – let alone for people like Heartiste – men are supposed to consider cuddling to be that extremely annoying thing that women sometimes want to do instead of sex, and which they must be very careful to avoid lest women get the impression that this is acceptable.

On the other hand, in the nerdy, polyamorous communities I’ve been in, it’s been generally understood that people of all sorts, man or woman or Ozy, can like cuddling and there is no shame in it.

This has been really liberating. Like, if you ask someone if they want to have sex, they might say no, they might slap you, but at least they will understand the context: that is definitely a known thing people ask. If you ask someone to cuddle, they will usually just be very confused, which in a way makes it even creepier.

The formation of communities where it’s not creepy and you can just ask is, at least to this asexual, one of the more important pieces of social technology to come out of the weird incubator that is the Bay Area. It creates so many positive feelings and so much of the good kind of groupishness that it seems like a comical Publishers’ Clearing House-style $100 bill left on the ground in the relatively high-stakes Forming Cohesive Communities Game.

I am left speculating that it only works after you get a certain percent asexual, or a certain percent polyamorous, or a certain percent low testosterone, or a certain percent low jealousy. Or maybe that you have to have a certain amount of community cohesion before you try. Or maybe you need people with a certain amount of willingness to experiment and not take themselves seriously. I don’t know. I can certainly imagine most attempts to initiate it would implode horribly. I certainly wouldn’t want to be the one who tries to import cuddle culture to some other group where social cohesion is important, like the US Senate.

It just seems to be one of those really nice equilibria that form spontaneously in certain places for reasons that are difficult to pinpoint, just like the rest of civilization.

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358 Responses to Cuddle Culture

  1. a person says:

    In the general population – let alone for people like Heartiste – men are supposed to consider cuddling to be that extremely annoying thing that women sometimes want to do instead of sex, and which they must be very careful to avoid lest women get the impression that this is acceptable.

    This article claims that men prefer cuddling and women prefer sex. I’m not really sure what to make of it.

    Also I have a few questions about how this cuddle culture works:

    * Can you really just ask someone to cuddle with you, the same way you would casually ask a friend to play video games with you or something? Or is it more of a thing that’s stressful and difficult and requires courage to ask?

    * Do most people prefer to only cuddle with people that they find physically attractive and/or appealing personality-wise?

    * If yes, is turning down a cuddle awkward, because it’s tantamount to saying that you don’t find the other person attractive?

    * Also if yes, wouldn’t for non-asexual people the set of people who you would cuddle with almost completely overlap with the set of people you would have sex with? Yeah, sex is a little more complicated, but cuddling involves almost as much intimacy and close physical contact, making me question why it’s necessary to decouple the two acts.

    * Also if yes, do unattractive members of the community find themselves cuddle-starved?

    • lmm says:

      Not coming from the same culture, but some of my experience in my own:

      1. I’d compare it to inviting someone to your party, or to go for a coffee with you or similar. The stress level is probably what you make it; if it’s someone super-attractive it can definitely be nervousness-inducing (but then I find any interaction at all with someone super-attractive is usually nervousness-inducing), but with people who are already friends it’s something you can do casually.

      2. Yes.

      3. I think most people feel comfortable saying no. It would be pretty weird to have a norm in the other direction.

      4. I don’t see it as being quite as intimate as sex, though others may disagree. It’s not something I feel jealous over the way I do with sex which is super weird now that I think about it but does seem to actually be how I feel.

      5. Yes, though to a lesser extent than with sex.

      • Deiseach says:

        I, too, am curious about the rules – because I’m fairly sure there must be rules – and how unwritten they are, and how much people are supposed to just know them.

        When you say “cuddle”, do you mean only hugging? How about face stroking, hair touching, caressing arms, holidng hands and other things which I would find intimate but not indicating a wish to engage in sex?

        Are you supposed to keep all touching above the waist? How about putting your arms around someone’s waist? Or putting a hand on their knee?

        You see what I’m asking? For someone who never engaged in this kind of behaviour, how do they know when they’re going ‘too far’ and do different groups have different attitudes e.g. Paul’s group lets everyone exchange kisses on the cheek, Tina’s group only does it amongst people who know each other, Sal’s group thinks kissing of whatever sort is too intimate for the level of general non-sexual, non-initiating sex, atmosphere they want to maintain?

        • lmm says:

          Again just my experience: yes, different groups are different. The rules are very much unwritten and Drama can result when someone misunderstands them. Honestly I’m very surprised to see this suggested as a thing for strangers; to my mind it requires knowing each other quite well (arguably more than sex, because the shared cultural norms don’t exist)

      • MugaSofer says:

        >I find any interaction at all with someone super-attractive is usually nervousness-inducing

        I get the impression that one of the main not-quite-spoken PUA techniques is to self-modify so nobody is super-attractive.

        • Anthony says:

          Some PUA writes do make this explicit. Some variations on it are pretty big in PUA-land, especially as a beginning-level thing for getting over that one girl you still have a crush on.

    • Andrew C says:

      For me:

      It isn’t that hard but it depends on the social group.

      I like to cuddle lots of people I’m not sexually attracted to (e.g. the vast majority of men) but not with people who are actively unpleasant in some way – smelling bad or something. I can distinguish between finding people cute or pretty or sexy (all correlated of course) and cuddle desire is mostly based on their cuteness.

      I haven’t found being turned down awkward.

      There are lots of people I’d be happy to cuddle with that I wouldn’t want to have sex with. Men, unattractive women, kitties, etc.

      Not as far as I can tell?

    • JP says:

      Responding from a different (1990s East-Coast undergrad) cuddle culture:

      “Puppy piles” tended to coalesce around a nucleus of people who are already on cuddling terms and didn’t need to ask. Once the cuddle is started, new people can ask the current participants, “Mind if I join?” The idea of asking someone to cuddle with you feels weird and uncomfortable to me. “Cuddle with (someone)” is a different (and more sexual) thing than untargeted cuddling.

      I’d prefer attractive co-cuddlers, sure. All else being equal, I’d also prefer to ride the bus with attractive and appealing people. But for a group cuddle, the qualifications are basically “Do you smell good?” “Can I trust you not to get handsy?” and “Does someone already in the cuddle welcome you?” I’ve been in puppy piles with plenty of people that I wouldn’t want to have sex with, and as long as they don’t get handsy it’s all good. (And no, I’m not asexual.)

      The thing that made puppy piles work was a general understanding that they were not an appropriate venue for sexual advances. This was not a particular hardship, because undergrad life was full of other opportunities to make sexual advances if desired, even to the very same people you were in a puppy pile with the other day.

    • Thomas Eliot says:

      >* If yes, is turning down a cuddle awkward, because it’s tantamount to saying that you don’t find the other person attractive?

      Yes. Warning: I’m going to be honest about some things that will probably offend some people, but I do not think I can say in non-offensive ways. As someone strongly involved in these cuddling communities, who is more physically attractive than >99% of the people in these communities by any objective standard (such as “ability to charge $400 an hour to be naked near someone”), and who is only interested in cuddling with people of similar levels of attractiveness, the fact that I turn down invitations to cuddle has dramatically reduced my ability to participate in group meetings, many conversations, generally participate in the community, and I am quite sure reduced my status in the eyes of many people in these communities. I’ve lost at least two friendships by complaining about this.

      I am powerfully of the opposite opinion as Scott about this issue. Cuddle puddles are disgusting, and the fact that they are such a big deal in the Rationalist community is actively driving me away from it. I see no solution to this.

  2. lmm says:

    The “cute girls” sticks out a lot in your post. I think there’s a thread that should be pulled there. I would categorize the love I’ve felt towards sexual partners as the good kind – and I doubt I’m alone in this. I think if something is tied in with attractiveness then for many purposes it behaves like something sexual and it makes sense to treat it the same way we treat sexual things.

    I feel like I should be able to say something clever about the anime convention hug culture.

    I wonder if the thing that makes cuddles more acceptable is just general sexual openness. A polyamorous community is presumably more sexually open than baseline. At some point I will write an enormous post about sexualization in the anime convention scene but for now let’s just say that there are some sexualized aspects to the culture; people buy porn openly, talk in explicit detail about their fantasies, and there are some general liminal zone aspects to any kind of convention.

    • Deiseach says:

      Yes, to me the “cute girls” line made it sound less asexual and pointed more in the direction of “intimate behaviour that could lead to sex if both parties wanted”.

      Why not hug cute boys as well? Or non-cute girls/boys? In the context of polyamory, then I am assuming the attitude is always there that sexual attraction and the possibility of engaging in sexual behaviour is present and tacitly assumed; for my variety of asexual (and very definitely aromantic), I’d be a lot more comforatable with a ‘cuddle culture’ where anyone can hug and touch anyone else, but there is no assumption that hugging someone of any gender or orientation is saying anything about one’s own gender or orientation, and that this ‘cuddle party’ is a means of safely giving and receiving physical touch on a certain level of intimacy that is very specifically not linked to sexual expression, expectation of sex, tied to sexual interest, or anything more than “I really need a hug right now” or “I’d like to kiss you on the cheek but that is all I want to do and I’m not trying to escalate here”.

      Does such a thing exist? Can such a thing exist?

      • lmm says:

        I remember a news article pointing out that When Harry Met Sally makes no sense to my generation. To our parents’ generation, a platonic male-female friendship was fundamentally impossible; any friendly act was treated as expressing underlying sexual attraction.

        So I don’t think it’s impossible to disentangle these things. And I enjoy the results so far. I suspect that the differences between this and “sex” (which doesn’t always have to be about what goes into what) are overstated, as are the egalitarian benefits.

        (One thing I haven’t seen the poly folks addressing is that it may make it less likely for unattractive folk to find a partner, if medium-attractive people are all sharing the top people rather than pairing off)

        • veronica d says:

          Cuddle with other unattractive people?

          (For the sake of the silly I will pretend that a uniform notion of “attractive” is even meaningful.)

        • veronica d says:

          A better example, by the way, is to compare the relative levels of bi attraction in women compared to men and ask, if these women are hooking up with other women but the men (to a large degree) won’t hook up with other men, does that mean men get fewer partners?

          It probably does. Which sucks for the men.

      • ozymandias says:

        In my experience there are quite a lot of people who are interested in cuddling people that they would not be interested in fucking. In particular, there seem to be quite a lot of straight men who are okay cuddling dudes. (Possible confounder: do I even know any straight women?)

  3. mjgeddes says:

    Just for the record (for readers which may not know about Heartiste), he’s a known white supremacist and misogynist who takes scientific studies and twists and distorts everything to try to bolster his own very bizarre and extreme world-views. The manosphere as a whole takes minor differences between the sexes and massively exaggerates them to try to rationalize misogynist viewpoints.

    The central prank of the manosphere ideology ( quoted by Heartiste as ‘men dig looks and women dig status’) has no scientific basis – even simple reflection based on rudimentary knowledge of evolutionary psychology should tell you its implausible (in fact both men and women dig looks, and the mythical male ‘alpha attitude’ and male status plays almost no role in sexual attraction, although its true women may not value looks quite to the extent that men do).

    As regards manosphere sites in general and Heartiste in particular, I must again caution interested readers to take everything you read on the internet with a good grain of salt. Smart nerds in particular seem to be even more susceptible than average to embracing bizarre ideologies with no basis in science.

    • Richard says:

      male status plays almost no role in sexual attraction

      I am certainly not a part of any ‘manosphere’, but from personal experience, this seems a rather strong statement.
      I have an experiment that I sometimes perform when @ my summer house in southern Spain:
      I walk down to the local bar and sit down for an hour or two enjoying a couple drinks and watching the other tourists, then I walk home.
      Other times, I put on a Patek Philippe watch and drive the jag down and park across the street from the bar rather than walking.
      Without the watch and car, I am left alone for my entire stay.
      With the watch and car, I rarely even get to the bar without a drunk woman hanging on my arm.
      Given that the bar during off-season contains roughly 50 drunk, seemingly single women, my tentative conclusion is:

      ‘A proportion of drunk, English female tourists, with a lower bound of 2%, are attracted enough by outwards trappings of wealth for it to make the difference.’

      (The woman grabbing on to my arm is always English, never German or Scandinavian despite the tourists being more or less evenly distributed. Also; I am told that I am not directly painful to look at and I am in the 95th percentile when it comes to physical fitness, so there may not be a huge threshold to cross.)

      If anyone could point me to some actual research, it would be interesting, google seems to provide lots of hits, but few worth reading.

      • mjgeddes says:

        All the status thing does is grab attention. So *indirectly* it plays a role, in that if you have more status, you will come to the attention of more people, and some will be attracted to you. But (gold diggers aside), I think its effect on actual sexual attraction is minimal.

        • Richard says:

          That sounds like a plausible explanation.

          I’ll try with a cheap but flamboyant hat and see if it provides a similar result.

          • drethelin says:

            In regards to a flamboyant hat, it does draw attention and lead to conversation but rarely leads to drunk women hanging on me. Then again I’m not particularly attractive so the comparison is not direct. Dressing stylishly seems to have a bigger effect in that regard but this isn’t something I systematically measure. I also feel like I got better attention when I was like 20 pounds lighter than I am now but again, subjective.

          • veronica d says:

            Women have figured out the hat thing, and now it will mostly get “lulz fedora.” (It doesn’t matter if it’s a fedora.)

            Consider this the PUA arms race. (Speaking for myself, anything that looks vaguely like peacocking makes me feel sad for the guy. It just seems so desperate.)

          • peterdjones says:

            The fedora thing is US specific.

    • Salem says:

      male status plays almost no role in sexual attraction

      The reason that Roissy has an audience, and is necessary*, is that there are apparently smart and sincere people like yourself posting such clear falsehoods.

      *necessary in the sense of “there are some people who benefit from hearing this,” not that everything he says is necessary, kind or true.

      • coffeespoons says:

        Why is Heartiste specifically necessary? Other manosphere types like Athol Kay* say the same thing without being nearly as unpleasant.

        *I don’t agree with much of what Athol Kay says, but he seems like a pretty decent guy and a lot of the advice is very good for male/female D/s relationships.

        • Multiheaded says:

          Surprisingly, I take a nearly opposite view of this! Heartiste, despite being the absolute worst person I can imagine actively blogging, is kinda popular among surprisingly non-horrible people because he does some very specific signaling to a very specific audience trapped against toxic masculinity. People, stunningly enough, occasionally react to his vile bullshit by reshaping it into good and sex-positive ideas. I just shrug by now. (Of course, there are probably many people who take “be a sadistic rapist” literally.)

          Athol Kay, on the other hand, creeps me the fuck out with his uncanny valley understanding of what a “relationship” even is. And somehow “dehumanize your partner to emulate having a spine” successfully slides under a lot of people’s radar. Ew. I’ve read a lot of blogs about happy d/s relationships (mostly by submissive women) – for the porn, yeah – and it feels like there’s a difference between even more pronounced d/s roles (or outright sadomasochism) and this kind of creepiness.

          • i guess i'll be alone in my utopia says:

            With this one as context, I understand the comment you linked to. Thanks.

          • Lizardbreath says:

            I agree (though I guess I see Heartiste as more like Athol Kay than you do).

            I especially agree with this: “And somehow ‘dehumanize your partner to emulate having a spine’ successfully slides under a lot of people’s radar.”

            Which I’ve long thought explains the success of PUA (and even the historical prevalence of “women want you to dominate them!!11!!” ideas), but I couldn’t put it in a nutshell like that; bravo.

            And like the other commenter, now I understand your previous comment. Thanks.

        • Salem says:

          Because that’s the way some people need to hear it. What you find “unpleasant” – I assume the cruelty, the personal attacks, the misogyny – are necessary parts of the message, because they flip the implicit narrative the readers have been fed. If not Roissy, someone else would be filling that niche.

          And to be clear, it is a niche. Our host has written before about how some people need to read Singer, and some need to read Rand. Similarly, I know a lot of frustrated single men who would benefit from a bit of Roissy, and some who would benefit from reading Jezebel.

          • Multiheaded says:

            Um, no? Some fundamentalism survivors use Ayn Rand to cope and it helps them a lot; IMO this doesn’t mean that Ayn Rand wasn’t a genuinely nasty person (genocide apologist, serial killer fangirl, etc) – OR that an all-around better author wouldn’t have delivered an effective message against self-hatred not wrapped in awful and very socially “real” shit.

            P.S. I could even imagine a working alternative where the cruelty, personal attacks and toxic masculinity are instead targeted against the reader specifically, drill sergeant style, to create a calculated response. Occasionally it appears to work for some people IRL. (At the cost of more trauma and such, but that’s obvious.) When the point is to destroy something harmful and not to create something worthwhile, lots of means can accomplish that.

          • B says:

            Roissy IMO is a bit like Jim: Bad person, but that enables him to poke sore spots in the dominant narrative (even if mixed with much bullshit) that nicer people won’t, because they’re nicer people.

            One problem with an ideology that declares a lot of the things everyone can observe about the real world to be bad is that only bad people will say things that match with many people’s experiences. That strikes me as bad.

            May I suggest that this may be a real value of supernatural religious belief? If group-defining beliefs are about the unreal, matters pertaining to the real world can remain unconstrained.

            This is of course not my original idea but goes back to Moldbug. How it shakes out in practice seems to vary, Jim likes to cite restorarion England, of which I know nothing that’s not from him, and I have little trust in him as a fair reporter. In Habsburg/Catholic central Europe thought seems to have been very free, under a long-stable regime. If anything, too free: Cracking a few skulls among nationalist students would probably have done wonders for the 20th century.

    • Konkvistador says:

      Yet every piece of relationship, seduction or romantic advice by Heartiste pretty much works exactly as advertised.

      I rolled my eyes at “white supremacist” because it is a stupid word that muddies the waters of different kinds of racialist and “racist” views. A thought stopper and term of abuse, little else.

      Heartiste’s old blog was very much worth reading before 2010, even the comment section.

      • mjgeddes says:

        OK, we have to distinguish between his practical advice and his weird ideologies. Perhaps his practical advice has merit, but in so far as it works, I’m pretty confident that it’s not at all for the reasons he thinks. In other words, his romantic advice includes correct practical conclusions z, and…wild screeds of rationalization a,b,c,d that don’t support z at all.

        • Konkvistador says:

          Heartiste misuses official science, he first gets a conclusion, then goes out hunting for studies that confirm what he believes for other reasons.

          This was my complaint about this old LessWrong article as well:

          See my discussion with Vladimir_M on the problems this brings here:

          Anyone believing him on the basis of those studies is making an epistemic misstep, the studies because they where dug up to match an already written bottom line don’t add new evidence. But that doesn’t mean Hearties’s or Lukeprog’s advice doesn’t work. It pretty much does. I think this is explained by the process that actually generated the bottom line had a strong empirical foundation.

          The PUA community was built in the late 90s and early 00s on a rapid feedback loop, strongly encouraging its members to make lots and lots of attempts and try to learn from their experience, then write about it. And strongly shaming any authors for who it was revealed they had embellished their claimed success or who’s claimed effects couldn’t be replicated by unhappy men trying their best to follow the advice.

          The result is a body of techniques that work, but a theory that might not always work.

          • Andy says:

            The result is a body of techniques that work, but a theory that might not always work.

            This brings up something I suggested in the body of Ozy’s anti-Heartiste FAQ – a feminist version of the most useful PUA advice, centered on recognition of womens’ self-ownership, low expectations, and abundance mentality, especially without the “this will get you LAID!” sizzle that makes the PUA crowd so disgusting to me and many feminists.

          • social justice warlock says:

            This brings up something I suggested in the body of Ozy’s anti-Heartiste FAQ – a feminist version of the most useful PUA advice, centered on recognition of womens’ self-ownership, low expectations, and abundance mentality, especially without the “this will get you LAID!” sizzle that makes the PUA crowd so disgusting to me and many feminists.

            From a CDT perspective, this is clearly a good thing to exist. From an EDT perspective, it seems like another manifestation of what was valuable in old romantic ideals dying further out.

          • veronica d says:

            @SJW — I’m not sure I follow. Can you clarify this idea?

          • social justice warlock says:

            I mean it would be a positive thing that would be a clear improvement in terms of enabling a bunch of mutually enjoyable sexual experiences and/or serving as a prophylactic against misogynist ideologies, but that it (low expectations, abundance mentality) represents a further weakening of some memes that have done some good, at least in certain circumstances.

            Although now that I reflect further on it, couples do better with growth mindsets and so on than True Love ones, so I think that was hastily considered.

          • veronica d says:


            Speaking as a feminist, I’ve kinda given up on telling dudes what they need to do to get dates, cuz OMG that doesn’t work. I’d rather be as clear as I can on my boundaries, make double sure that men know that any Redpill nonsense is a huge red flag: bzzt! game over! — if your dating ideology includes the idea that women are terrible people, I’ll probably pick up on that and avoid you — and then to encourage them to figure it out within those limitations.

            Or not. It’s complicated. I dunno.

      • MugaSofer says:

        >Yet every piece of relationship, seduction or romantic advice by Heartiste pretty much works exactly as advertised.

        >Heartiste’s old blog was very much worth reading before 2010, even the comment section.


        I read some of his stuff before based on similar recommendations ad found it … wanting … but this is the first I’ve heard of it being much better before 2010.

        Was I reading the wrong articles?

        • Anthony says:

          I’m not sure 2010 was the breakpoint, but there definitely seems to have been a change, not quite coincident with the change from “RoissyInDC” to “Heartiste”, in the writing. Lots of people have speculated it’s not the same man anymore; others that he’s basically on autopilot.

    • Konkvistador says:

      (in fact both men and women dig looks, and the mythical male ‘alpha attitude’ and male status plays almost no role in sexual attraction, although its true women may not value looks quite to the extent that men do).

      This is wrong, but only completely and utterly. Male status matters ridiculously for female sexual attraction. To claim otherwise is an extraordinary claim that should be backed up by appropriate evidence.

      • mjgeddes says:

        Well, there *are* a couple of good sites in the manosphere that seem to back me up on this. ‘Good Looking Loser’ (Chris) for example, has seduced hundreds of women, he says its mostly looks. He recently posted a couple of videos where he approached women in a park and pretended to be really shy and timid and nerdy…it didn’t seem to make any difference, the girls still responded favourably. You can find the videos on his site:


        I will admit that status does play an *indirect* role, in that it grabs peoples attention (see my comment above). But I think as regards seducing women, the magnitude of the effect is way less than you think.

        • i guess i'll be alone in my utopia says:

          As a good-looking man, my experience validates this. I never had to play status games or go to bars or anything, just reject women’s advances until someone came up that I liked.

        • memeticengineer says:

          Looks being effective and status being effective are not mutually exclusive hypotheses, so self-reports of looks working for seduction are not strong counter-evidence.

          Reports of acting low status combined with good looks might be counter-evidence. Though it’s still consistent with the hypothesis that at least one of {looks, status} is sufficient. But let me suggest an alternate hypothesis for explaining the observation. If you consciously know you are good at seducing women and feel confident in it, and also are good looking and are confident in that, then it may be impossible actually fake low status. Low status behaviors will look like counter-signalling for high status, not like actual low status.

          Finally: I am bad at reading my own status signaling, so it’s hard to correlate sexual success with status. But I am pretty confident that, at least in my personal experience, pre-selection is a real effect. Whenever any women have shown interest in me it’s generally resulted in increased interest from other women. It seems like status is the most likely explanation (either as common cause or because pre-selection causes status) since there wasn’t a major change in my looks at these times.

          • veronica d says:

            You all are very resistant to taboo “status.” I wonder what such a conversation would look like?

          • a person says:


            To me status consists of two components. Extrinsic status, which is wealth, accomplishments, popularity, holding a position of power, etc. Then there is intrinsic status, which is something that is communicated in people’s mannerisms, speaking style, body language, etc, and also how people react to you. Some people are able to navigate the world in a way that forces other people to respect them. Compare a stuttering, stooped-over guy shiftily darting his eyes around and nervously laughing to a guy who is calm, confident, and nonchalant. Extrinsic status often begets intrinsic. PUAs are all about teaching people hacks to create the latter without needing the former.

          • memeticengineer says:

            @veronica d FWIW I responded before I saw the suggestion to taboo “status”. I’m not resistant to it. I would be down for a conversation on those terms.

            However, I’m not sure how to restate the opening point of this discussion, “male status plays almost no role in sexual attraction” without using the word “status”. Or at least, I fear I would be strawmanning it. If anyone can express that point without saying “status”, I’d love to discuss it.

          • veronica d says:

            Right. I think first you need to separate those two things. They are not the same, and people who respond to one might not care much about the other. (They might be correlated, but that is not the point.)

            Next we ask how is Intrinsic::Status different from SocialSkills? To me they sound very similar. Or perhaps the former is a subset of the latter.

            After that we ask, how important is this really? Can we identify it on its own? (Which means we don’t just point to men who have women and say, “Look, high status.” Cuz empiricism.) Can we measure it? Do some people have a little? A lot? Tons?

            Next we ask is this really the main factor that determines success in romance? Is it the one big thing?

            Cuz I think being sweet and shy is darling, and dudes who are that, but also have just enough confidence to approach me are OMG GOLDEN BRING ME THOSE MEN!

            The man who walks around like he’s the cat’s meow, all chest out and “look at me! I’m the game master! let me explain stuff to you!”: yeesh, ewwww, get it off!

            tl;dr: status schmadus.

          • a person says:

            Next we ask how is Intrinsic::Status different from SocialSkills? To me they sound very similar. Or perhaps the former is a subset of the latter.


            After that we ask, how important is this really? Can we identify it on its own? (Which means we don’t just point to men who have women and say, “Look, high status.” Cuz empiricism.) Can we measure it? Do some people have a little? A lot? Tons?

            I think you could sort of measure it if you monitored conversations of ~5 people and tracked to what extent each person’s contributions were acknowledged and responded to, or maybe at whom people glanced after they told a joke to look for approval.

          • veronica d says:

            There is plenty in discourse analysis on stuff like this. Those methods could probably be repurposed for this. (Make sure to control for gender!)

          • nydwracu says:

            The man who walks around like he’s the cat’s meow, all chest out and “look at me! I’m the game master! let me explain stuff to you!”: yeesh, ewwww, get it off!

            Yes, aggressively attempting to signal as high status as possible is in fact a marker of low status.

          • Cauê says:

            I’ve been looking at this in a very different way, apparently.

            I think of status as a kind of instinctive tracking of the social pecking order, that works very messily since our societies got larger than a couple hundred people.

            So status would be not something you have, but something others see in you. It would also be local, messily ordinal, and relative, not absolute.

            And wealth, women, posture, way of speaking, etc. would be the inputs that we use to assess someone’s status (where that person falls in the – relative, local, messy – pecking order). So that I’m finding it weird to see these things defined as themselves “kinds of status”.

            I also thought something like this was the standard way of thinking about it…

          • Susebron says:


            I’ve been thinking about this, and as far as I can tell, I agree with you. “Pecking order” seems a bit vague, though. My definition of “status” would be “perceived ability to get other people to do what you want” or something similar. Does that seem like it would work?

          • Cauê says:


            Oh yes, certainly. I suppose that’s why this would be an useful thing to even bother evolving a “sense” for.

            But people will want incompatible things, and even if you could get people to do thing X that you want, you won’t succeed if someone higher in the hierarchy wants them to do something else (but you would succeed against the wishes of someone below you).

            Maybe there’s not much of a practical difference in thinking of this as an ordinal thing, but people having different status positions in different groups does seem to point to that, rather than being an absolute thing that you have in lesser or greater amount than others.

      • Konkvistador says:

        I would agree that men’s looks matter for attraction and also attention grabbing. I would also agree part of why high status behavior works is because it is attention grabbing.

        I don’t think it explains most of the effect. Lots of people use PUA-like insight to run long term relationships, the Married Man Sex Life blog used to be a good example of this, but it has since commercialized.

        Maybe reports of such relationships and relationships improvements can be fully explained away by selecting for the women who do care deeply about status (there is variance in women’s preferences obviously!). We see this reporting effect in nearly any self-help community.

        From what I’ve observed conventionally attractive women usually consistently respond strongly to high status behavior. One of the reasons I think this isn’t due to a similar kind of selection mentioned is because they seem to respond to *unconventional* cues or sources of high social status as well.

      • Multiheaded says:

        You are both bad for not tabooing “status” and you should feel bad.

        • veronica d says:


          At this point what does status even mean?

          • Deiseach says:

            I’m glad someone made a division between Extrinsic and Intrinsic Status, because I was automatically taking “status” to mean “extrinsic” i.e. wealth, rank, power, visible signs of being rich and important.

            Being confident, articulate, calm, and so forth would not, to me, be considered ” high status” in that way. So when you say “women go for status”, you don’t necessarily mean “Girls don’t like boys, girls like cars and money”?

            Also, I wonder if the “men dig looks, women dig status” thing is because traditionally, unless the woman was Empress of All The Russias or the like, any status accrued from the man. A man could be less concerned about ‘status’ in a woman because (unless he was Albert marrying Victoria) he was the one who was conveying equal or higher status on the woman.

            Although there again, you have the traditional attitude that marriage is not about love, marriage is about alliances, cementing and maintaining family position and so forth; so it was acceptable for women to marry ‘above’ them, but unless a man was compensated in other ways (his status was so high, no woman could have equal status; she brought a huge dowry or made an important alliance possible), the emphasis was to marry a woman with equal or not too much lower status.

            Even if you’re talking about Peasant Jones and Peasant Brown arranging a marriage between their children, Peasant Jones may be swayed in choosing to marry his son to Peasant Brown’s daughter, rather than Peasant Smith’s daughter, by the extra goat Brown throws in to the bride-price.

          • veronica d says:

            @Deiseach — I see another side to status that did not get mentioned. It goes like this: How popular is the person you want to date, by which I mean, how much will their status reflect on you when you date them? Are they a catch? Will others look on you with envy and admiration, cuz you are now anointed by this exhaled person, or will you be mocked, cuz you stooped so low to date a freak?

            This is a real dynamic. What role it plays in cuddle-culture? No idea.

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            First, let me second that a critical reexamination of the term ‘status’ is in order.

            To define status, I’d go with Robin Hanson’s concept of “one’s estimated value as a coalition member”. But I think what a lot of people mean when they say ‘status’ is what I’d call ‘social attractiveness’ (which is probably a large contributor to status proper when first meeting someone). I think of the time in middle school that I heard a popular kid make a joke identical to one I had once made, to very different results. (You could say that they laughed for him because he was popular, but I think he was popular because he had the intangible social qualities to make people laugh).

            I think the metaphor to physical attractiveness is productive–neither makes one a better partner except in the circular sense that it makes you more attractive. This explains why it’s so hard to define without reference to social/mating outcomes.
            The disparity in both kinds of attractiveness is fundamentally unfair but currently not remediable, so we should acknowledge its unfairness but accept that we need to live with it.

        • Quixote says:

          +1 and then +1 again

    • Deiseach says:

      The tiny bits I’ve seen quoted from Heartiste remind me irresistibly of the Gor novels; the attitude that women are shallow bitches who are slaves to their sexual appetites and really deep down want a Real Manly Man to order them about, and that a Real Manly Man only fucks but never feels anything more than the sense of gratified superiority in his ownership and training of such women.

      Maybe I’m mistake, but the “human trash” line is not helping me in a better understanding of his views, i.e. if someone accepts that they are rightfully sexually/romantically unappealing, then it must be because they are “psychologically broken, mentally unstable, physically repulsive, or suffering from clinically low sex drive” and then jumping from there that such a person, if (for example) suffering from a genetically based mental illness such as paranoid schizophrenia, and thus not responsible for causing their own harm, is “In other words, human trash.”

      I mean, you could argue that “So you’re fat and ugly and nobody wants to bang you? Then go on a diet, take exercise, and fix yourself up, you loser!” You see that kind of attitude everyday, Heartiste is not unique in saying “You fat ugly bitch, of course no-one loves you, it’s your own fault, you’re making yourself trash.”

      But going from “So no-one wants to bang you because you’re crazy? Human trash!” is not very nice, to say the least, when nobody chose to have the set of genetic inheritances that blossomed into mental illness.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        Based on my regrettable reading of this link and one or two Roissy posts, Heartiste relies heavily on his own variation on No True Scotsman, in which he makes sweeping generalizations and then declares that anyone who they don’t apply to is [horrible invective]. In particular, it seemed like any female who doesn’t act the way he says females act is automatically some species of compoundcunt.

    • Anon says:

      For a leftist, “X is not scientific” = “X has been proven beyond reasonable doubt, but it’s not left-wing politically correct so I’m going to claim it’s false”.

      • Anon says:

        See also race/genetics/iq

      • Lambert says:


        for most people:
        ‘X is not scientific.’ = ‘X has been proven beyond resonable doubt, but I disagree with it so I’ll pretend it’s false.’

        The ability to resist tribal instincts and not easy for anyone, of any political stripe.

      • James Miller says:

        True, but the analogous also holds for nearly everyone else.

        • Anon says:

          You’re right that everyone does similar things (although the right is less likely to use this specific one), but I guess I have more of a grudge against leftist anti-epistemology because they have much more control over polite discourse in current society.

          And speaking of polite discourse I was definitely being overly snarky above so apologies.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Request more content/evidence or less generality next time or you will be banned.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I wish you hadn’t posted this, in that it’s a generally known thing, but posting it led to this whole long manosphere discussion that probably could have been avoided.

    • a person says:

      The central prank of the manosphere ideology ( quoted by Heartiste as ‘men dig looks and women dig status’) has no scientific basis

      “Men dig looks and women dig status” was literally in my intro to psychology textbook.

  4. Konkvistador says:

    For anyone who isn’t familiar with the concept of social technology


    I’m glad to see it has caught on, it originally came out of a twitter discussion between me and Nyan and has a very different meaning from what is usually called social technology


    • Multiheaded says:

      What if the discourse of “social technology” is too poor/crude a social technology? What if e.g. we should all talk explicitly theistic theology and ecclesiology instead?

  5. Happy Rationalist says:

    You’re probably biased due to your high status within your social circle. Cuddling events I’ve been to in the Bay Area have always had instances where women have scolded less attractive males for trying to cuddle with them. Ostracization from these events and the community in general is a common response to men with less than elegant attempts to get close. The issue is rarely discussed, as these men already have low status, and are quickly shut down by women and other men with more social talent.

    The unusually high rate of asexuality seems like an alternative sexual strategy for many men in an environment where the women have so much power that complete surrender and pacification is the only way these men will receive any attention and acceptance.

    • Deiseach says:

      Happy Rationalist, you do not seem to include that women may also be asexual/aromantic when you argue that asexuality “seems like an alternative sexual strategy for many men”.

      Any discussions of “Women! What do they want?” that only focus on the male side of the equation are not going to get very far.

      Strange as it may seem, women are not a monolithic slab of single over-riding imperartives; some women may reject less attractive men because they don’t find them attractive; some women may have “scolded” those men because their approach was too forward – being lunged at and groped when you are expecting to be asked if you may be hugged is going to get you a scolding; some women are status-conscious bitches (yes, it happens) and some women don’t like being touched and will push away attempts to touch them – if cuddle events attract high rates of asexual men, don’t you think they also attract high rates of asexual women as well?

      As to what constitutes “unattractive”, I don’t know what your measure is. Maybe you mean short? Wearing glasses? Not muscular? Not conventionally tall, blond, blue-eyed? I have no idea, so I can’t affirm or deny that their lack of attractiveness is why they were scolded and pushed away.

      I do think (a) men and women have different views on what is ‘too much’ when it comes to social interactions; what a man may consider a genuinely respectful attempt to engage a woman may appear to a woman to be inappropriate or even mildly threatening (Elevatorgate, anyone?) and (b) measures of attractiveness vary wildly because people have quirks, goddammit!

      I find a particular guy attractive. He has very pronounced wrinkles about his eyes, is a bit soft in the middle, has a truly dreadful dress sense, and a harelip (surgically corrected when he was young but still visible scar and asymmetric mouth). And recently I found myself rhapsodising over his knuckles, God help me! What attracted and attracts me to him? His personality. Trite, but true.

      Would I have let him hug me if we’d just met at a cuddle party? Doubtful. Would I have needed a couple of minutes at least to talk to him or ANYONE, even “Damn, you look exactly like Chris Hemsworth as Thor”, before agreeing to hug? Yes. Would I let “You’re wearing the same cardi my late father wore back in the 90s” guy hug me in preference to “Norse God” if Cardigan Guy was more likeable? Undoubtedly.

      • Deiseach says:

        The tl; dr version of the above? Socially awkward men may attend events like cuddle parties. That does not mean they don’t need to observe the niceties. I think men may have the attitude that, by going to such an event, everyone has given tacit and assumed permission to touch and be touched without needing to ask or negotiate this, whereas women may attend with the attitude that this is a safe place for non-sexual touching where consent is not automatically assumed.

        Need rules:
        1. ANYONE may APPROACH anyone.
        2. EVERYONE needs to ask first before hugging -yes, even if you look like a Greek/Norse deity and have won “Most Popular Person Ever To Have Populared” five times in a row
        3. NOBODY is obliged to engage in cuddling if they don’t want to. No matter how many times you’re asked, you can come here and go away without having hugged anyone if that’s what you want.
        4. Be a good loser and a good winner. If nobody hugs you, nobody has to hug you. He/She is not a bitch for saying “no”. If somebody refused to hug you when everyone else in the place did, nobody has to hug you. He/She is not a bitch for saying “no”.

        • veronica d says:


          “Be a good loser and a good winner.”

          Yes, yes, yes.

        • MugaSofer says:

          >NOBODY is obliged to engage in cuddling if they don’t want to […] Be a good loser and a good winner. If nobody hugs you, nobody has to hug you.

          This does not refute the grandparent’s claims. In fact, it doesn’t even seem related to them.

          -People should not try and force others to hug them.

          -IFF some sort of status dynamic in these events is ostracising unattractive males … then that’s bad.

          Both of these seem unremarkable and true.

          What matters is whether such a status dynamic exists. Of course, your point also matters. It just isn’t even vaguely relevant.

          EDIT: ah, I think that may have come out sounding unnecessarily harsh. If so, I apologise in advance.

          • Deiseach says:

            *spits on fist and rolls up sleeves*

            If Person A is going to be grabbing my boobs, it DAMN WELL IS RELEVANT if they ask nicely first, even if there is some “status dynamic” that exists in the environment where A is judged either high or low status even before they get into boob-grabbing reach.

            If Person A is the kind of person who grabs boobs uninvited, then Person A may well have low-status attributed to him by women warning other women “Keep away from this loser, he’ll just grab your boobs without an if, and or but”.

            I’d like to know first (a) what is the measure you are using to say “unattractive men”? You didn’t get back to me on that and (b) why do you assume that they are being refused on some status dynamic where all the power is in the hands of the women?

            Otherwise, it’s the same old refrain of “women are greedy bitches who use their sexual power over us poor, downtrodden males who can’t resist their feminine wiles and they make us dance, monkeyboy, dance! for their amusement”.

            Which frankly, if I wanted to hear that, I’d go read a sermon by St Jerome (famously bad-tempered Church Father) instead of somebody with a pseudo-scientific “I’ve seen unattractive men being humiliated by conceited women and it’s all down to this social dynamic status thing”.

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          EVERYONE needs to ask first before hugging -yes, even if you look like a Greek/Norse deity and have won “Most Popular Person Ever To Have Populared” five times in a row

          Then please enforce this. If I see some people (who area almost always closer to the Greek/Norse deity end of the spectrum) getting away with hugging / fondling / groping / dry-humping strangers without negotiation, while other people (who are decidedly more mortal-looking) get shunned and harassed when they are clearly and explicitly asking for consent, I think the latter has a right to be legitimately angry at the whole situation.

          You can stop this by ensuring that your “everyone must ask for consent no matter what” rule gets ENFORCED, especially on the people who are most used to not having to ask for consent. Otherwise it’s the same sort of selective enforcement BS that leads to racial profiling, and “well Nice Guys are more likely to be problematic” starts sounding exactly like “well brown guys are more likely to be criminals”.

          Sarah (who frequently posts here) had an excellent blog post, about there being four levels of privilege/lack-of-privilege:

          Level 0 – you’re too afraid to ask.
          Level 1 – you can ask, but it comes across as rude.
          Level 2 – you can ask adroitly and will more than likely get what you ask for
          Level 3 – you don’t even have to ask; you’re just offered what you want without asking.

          Note that level 0 and level 3 can look indistinguishable from each other, which is terrible.

          • veronica d says:

            Are you sure these people you are seeing don’t have some kind of pre-existing consent? That they don’t already know each other, are already comfortable with each other, in a way that you are not yet?

            In kink events, consent and negotiation are critical. However, people who already know each other and already have an established comfort level will behave differently from people who have not played before, and they will behave differently from people who are meeting for the first time. These differences are natural and expected.

            If you are new to a group, the rules for you will be different.

          • Ialdabaoth says:

            Yes, that’s a different phenomenon than the one I’m talking about.

            Example: people show up at a new BDSM-TNG meeting, make introductions, and the cute guy is immediately being cuddle-glomped by three cute girls, without anyone asking anyone for consent. Meanwhile, everyone else is just sort of sitting there, looking and feeling uncomfortably like the last-picked kids at dodgeball.

          • veronica d says:

            Right. That’s life. If the people in the cuddle-glomp were all okay with how the social interaction played out, then that is that. It is possible there is some bad-wrong consent violations here. However, it seems more likely to me that consent was given in a way invisible to you.

          • drethelin says:

            veronica: to someone outside the group pre-existing consent looks exactly the same as not asking for explicit consent and has exactly the same problem: Anyone who ASKS in a group where people mostly aren’t asking sounds weird and marks themselves as an outsider.

            “People who know each other and have an established comfort level” is exactly the sort of tyranny of vagueness explicitly following rules is meant to avoid. If you’re bad at knowing when you “know” someone, or if like me you’ve got a completely different comfort level than most people, it just collapses into the old problem.

          • veronica d says:

            @drethelin — I think most groups can do a better job at solving ingroup/outgroup dynamics. Which is actually a hard problem, and I’ve never seen a formula that works. Usually it comes down to group size and a small cadre of members who have high levels of social grace and the motivation to include newcomers.

            But, yeah, I’ve been the outsider. It sucks. I doubt it will ever be non-awkward.

            (The only groups I know that do it well are a couple local queer women’s groups. So that’s not going to help the dudes.)

            (And gender certainly plays a role in this.)

            I’ll say this, if your first contact with a group requires physical intimacy, such as cuddling, and you are a socially awkward person, you are probably setting yourself up for a hard time. I would try a lower stakes entrance to a social scene.

            I usually ask people to meet for lunch, try to build some warmth one on one. That might not work for you.

            Social stuff is hard.

          • veronica d says:

            And BTW, I have a big problem with “tyranny of vagueness.”

            Sorry, social rules are vague, because any bright line rules we give will be gamed by abusers, who will then seek cover behind the letter of the rules. So that ain’t gonna happen.

            Is that “tyranny”? OMG! If you said that to my face you WOULD BE DONE, GAME OVER, I DO NOT TRUST YOU.

            (Edit: okay, let me explain. When you try to present consent requirements or the right to object to subtle creepy behavior as “tyranny,” to me that is precisely the wrong kind of power play. Sorry. Big red flag. I know you guys feel like the poor downtrodden. And I’m willing to be sympathetic, up to a point. But not past that point. Abusers exists. There are honest to goodness real creeps, and “missing staircase” cultures that allow them. Changing this has been a hard fought battle and, yeah, there can be innocent victims. But this work ain’t half done and missing staircases are still easy to find — I can think of one or two still active in my local scene. We try to warn newcomers, when we can. But scenes are tricky. Anyway, this ain’t tyranny, hon. Not hardly. Step back.)

          • Anon says:


            You seem to be implicitly asserting that clear social rules will be exploited by abusers, while vague social rules will not, or at least will be exploited less.


            I feel this disagrees with my experience, let me say.

            (Aside: putting “hon” in a comment telling someone to stop being passionate about a thing which hurts them comes across to me as super incredibly condescending, and you may wish to consider not doing that. Or if it is your intent to condescend I would like to know so I can avoid reading your posts in the future.)

          • drethelin says:

            First of all: you seem to have completely misinterpreted me. Consent requirements aren’t the tyranny part. The tyranny of vagueness is when STATED consent requirements are NOT followed, on a case by case basis. I only realized this after typing this other part below so it might just be irrelevant now or whatever.

            Different things are tyranny for different people. Vagueness is what we ALREADY HAVE ALL THE TIME. So it seems beneficial that if you’re deliberately setting up a social structure catering to some subset of weird people, you might want to try non-vagueness. As has been said, abusers gonna abuse no matter what. But even if strict rules somehow enable abusers to be worse, abusers are still a minority of people. If your catering to some group of weird people that’s mostly awkward but still wants to socialize/cuddle/whatever, and has a few abusers, I surmise that concrete rules are probably a lot better for more people than they are for the few abusers.

          • veronica d says:

            But there are common rules, and they are reasonably simple: enthusiastic consent. You need to get that before you move forward. You need to keep it at all times. If it goes away, you stop.

            For some people, especially newbs and strangers, this will all need to be verbal. “Check ins” will have to be explicit. Yes, this can be a little bit awkward sometimes. Sorry.

            People with more experience/good looks/social grace may appear to skip these steps, but that does not mean they are skipping enthusiastic consent. They’re just playing the game at a higher level. You cannot see the moves.

            You get to be a little jealous of these people. I am. But if you become resentful — well, resentful is not attractive.

            You’re not going to get a clear cut set of rituals to follow, cuz rituals are weird and people will skip them and not miss them.

          • Anonymous says:

            >People with more experience/good looks/social grace may appear to skip these steps, but that does not mean they are skipping enthusiastic consent. They’re just playing the game at a higher level. You cannot see the moves.

            Jesus christ, the people you are talking to have been repeatedly saying THIS IS EXACTLY THE PROBLEM, and that not EXPLICITLY and OBVIOUSLY following rules fucks up the game for anyone not at that level.

          • ozymandias says:

            Veronica, you seem to be making the arguments “social rules being vague and unclear is inevitable” and “complaining about social rules being vague and unclear is unattractive.” These arguments seem unrelated to whether social rules being vague and unclear is bad or whether they hurt some people. It is incontrovertibly true that they hurt some people (for instance, many socially awkward people), but I am uncertain if they are bad on net.

            In particular, there’s a problem where, when you’re the only person asking for verbal consent, asking for verbal consent comes off as massively awkward. It’s probably a signalling thing– you’re signalling not being socially adroit enough to handle nonverbal consent and not intimate enough with the group to know everyone’s boundaries already. One way to deal with this is to require verbal consent from everyone for everything, regardless of previous relationship.

          • Anonymous says:

            Norse gods can assume, correctly, that people *probably* won’t object to them being very forward. Thus, they get to be very forward! And us mortals don’t. What’s the problem with this?

            “Otherwise it’s the same sort of selective enforcement BS that leads to racial profiling”

            In this case, some kind of selective enforcement is justified! Where the problem comes is that the enforcement is way, way too powerful and high variance. Anywhere from getting yelled at, to social suicide, and, if a lady gets angry enough, getting put in jail and possibly even prison subsequently.

            There should be consequences for acting like a norse god when you’re a grubby mortal, they just need to be the kind that is annoying rather than the kind that is terror-inducing. Asking people to treat norse gods like grubby mortals is a completely lost cause, and of questionable utility anyway.

          • veronica d says:

            @ozymandias — Fair enough, but I think there are many problems of perception here. Scenario: At a party, Sam and Nyome end up sitting side by side on the couch (and maybe Sam and Nyome used some strategy to find themselves in this situation). They share smiles. They shift their bodies. The attraction is obvious.

            Nyome is a bit awkward. She blushes and looks down, but to Sam this signals its own kind of interest. He touches her forearm.

            OMG PARTY FOUL!

            Well, actually no. This is normal human mating behavior, which is not only consensual but in fact wildly enjoyable to both Sam and Nyome.

            Maria observes from across the room. What does she see?

            This depends on Maria’s social intelligence. In this case, you read veronica’s point of view. You saw the parts I chose to show you, as the writer. That is my lens, not Maria’s. Maybe she is resentful and sees the whole thing in a really disparaging way. Maybe she is crushing on Nyome and is now wildly jealous of Sam. But asking, “Why didn’t Sam have to ask for consent?” is missing a huge part of how attraction works.

            I don’t know what to do about this, except to say I am Maria as often as I am Sam or Nyome. You deal. You work through it.

            You could perhaps try to set up a party where Sam and Nyome have committed party foul and would get called out on it. How well do you think that would work? (Remember Sam and Nyome really seriously like each other.)

          • ozymandias says:

            AFAIK (I haven’t been to cuddle parties) explicit cuddle parties (as opposed to parties where cuddle puddles break out) often have a “you MUST ask before touching we are SO SERIOUS ABOUT THIS” rule. (I am fairly certain there is usually an exception, tacit or explicit, for e.g. tapping someone on the shoulder to get their attention.) I suspect it would be possible to adopt this as a group social norm and that in general people underestimate how modifiable social norms about flirting are. For instance, there are definitely communities in which asking for a makeout is weird and awkward and you’re supposed to just go for it, but in pretty much every community I’ve ever dated in, *not* asking before you make out with someone the first time is the weird and awkward thing.

            ETA: And regardless even if it is *totally unfixable* I think that people are allowed to point out that the rules are really complicated and that sucks. Noticing that a problem exists is not conditional on having a solution. If we can’t solve a problem, we should at least validate the hurt of the people it’s hurting.

            I don’t think Maria is actually the person disadvantaged here. The person disadvantaged is Counterfactual Sam and Nyome who are way socially awkward. Counterfactual Sam really wants to touch Nyome’s forearm, but what if she’s not interested? What if she will be creeped out and yell at him? He can’t ask; that’s *definitely* weird and awkward, where touching her forearm is only *maybe* weird and awkward. He can’t really read body language, and anyway there are plausible she’s-not-interested interpretations of all of it, and AAAAAAAA. Nyome, of course, has similar thoughts, and thus no one touches anyone.

            FTR I don’t typically ask verbal consent before I touch people (although I would if that was a rule of the space) and I am uncertain if the advantages outweigh the costs of a “explicit verbal consent for all touch” rule.

          • Ialdabaoth says:

            Right. That’s life. If the people in the cuddle-glomp were all okay with how the social interaction played out, then that is that. It is possible there is some bad-wrong consent violations here. However, it seems more likely to me that consent was given in a way invisible to you.


          • ಠ_ಠ

            Ialdabaoth, could you elaborate? Is it that you don’t believe that non-explicit-verbal consent is real consent, or that you don’t believe that such consent existed in this scenario, or that even if non-explicit-verbal consent existed it’s wrong for other reasons to rely on it (possibly because it confuses other people or is conducive to bad social norms), or something else?

          • veronica d says:

            @ozymandias —

            I totally agree with this:

            ETA: And regardless even if it is *totally unfixable* I think that people are allowed to point out that the rules are really complicated and that sucks. Noticing that a problem exists is not conditional on having a solution. If we can’t solve a problem, we should at least validate the hurt of the people it’s hurting.

            There must be room for people to talk about the hard shit they deal with. However, there are some posts on this subthread that seem to go past that point. To me, they seem to veer off into a space of deep resentment and (in fact) subtle hostility.

            But wait! Who is the target of this? It seems to be — well — me, or at least people like me. Which I find pretty toxic.

            Furthermore, I suspect these behaviors are both alienating and self-defeating. People who get trapped in these kinds of loops can become pretty hard to deal with.

            Of course what gets lost is that I do not look like a norse god and I myself struggle with shyness and awkwardness. Which I deal with. It’s hard.

            But advice is useless.

          • Anon says:

            As far as I can tell, everyone seems to be assuming that the only form of explicit, non-vague consent is verbal consent (which can be awkward). For comparison, I’d like to describe how this goes down in my own country.

            In order to ask someone for a hug you orient your torso toward them and extend your arms in front of you, slightly apart. If the other person wants a hug, they will move toward you and wrap their arms around your torso. Everyone does this; gods and mortals alike. I’m not sure how this would look in touch-phobic North America but it doesn’t seem very awkward here.

            The only way I think our norms differ much is that who you approach to hug will usually be people you know and is unconnected to attractiveness. Also, unfortunately, the only socially acceptable pairs are male-female or female-female because there is a strong ‘no-homo’ thing.

            If you like this set up, please don’t adopt the ‘no-homo’ thing. It’s annoying as hell.

          • veronica d says:

            In my space we do this: I open my arms and face the other person. Then I say, “Do you hug?” If they do, we hug. If not, they politely back away.

            Sometimes I shorten “Do you hug?” to “Hugs?” where they rise in inflection is very clear.

            The idea is to make declining the hug very easy for the other person.

            So far the only person to decline my hug was my five year old niece!

            (Really. I’m kinda sad about that.)

          • Ialdabaoth says:

            Ialdabaoth, could you elaborate?


            I would fucking love to hear why precisely ‘non-verbal consent’ / ‘consensual non-consent’ / ‘if everyone acts okay with it afterwards it’s not a problem’ is acceptable in this situation but not the reverse situation.

          • Anonymous says:

            Is it just me or is veronica treating the fact that norse gods do as norse gods please like a missing stair?

          • veronica d says:

            Is it just me or is veronica treating the fact that norse gods do as norse gods please like a missing stair?

            I don’t think so. Please explain.

          • a person says:


            You’re wrong about American culture when you say “touch-phobic” and “the only socially acceptable pairs are female-male and female-female”. In mainstream American society men frequently offer hugs to other men and it would be consider rude to turn them down.

          • nydwracu says:

            In mainstream American society men frequently offer hugs to other men and it would be consider rude to turn them down.

            What? We do?

          • Nornagest says:

            In mainstream American society men frequently offer hugs to other men and it would be consider rude to turn them down.

            I’m with Nydwracu on this one. Outside of subcultures (e.g. rationalists, Burners), about the only hugs I’ve gotten from men have been from relatives — and only rarely after puberty.

            On the other hand, I might suggest that the mainstream US is quite a big place and there may be room for more than one norm re: hugs for adult men in it.

          • a person says:

            It’s not super frequent but I feel like it’s not super rare either. I feel like hugs are common in these situations:

            1. When seeing a friend for the first time in at least a few months

            2. When a friend needs comforting

            3. Establishing peace after an argument

            And then you also have the “bro-hug” which is more informal and can be used just to greet someone.

            I’m surprised you guys disagree, I feel like my local culture is pretty typical.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Sarah (who frequently posts here) had an excellent blog post, about there being four levels of privilege/lack-of-privilege:

            Link to post.

            Veronica: I would like to point out that there is a big difference between explicit vagueness (at the one end) and actively disguised vagueness (at the other end). (These are not the only possibilities, obviously, but they’re what’s relevant here.)

            Making things explicitly vague, like you are doing, is fine I think — noting, of course that vagueness includes being forgiving when people get things wrong (well, initially; the ability to stop being forgiving is a key feature of vagueness, as you point out). And being accepting of some possibility of error.

            What’s terrible is the disguised vagueness. Pretending “enthusiastic consent” is a simple matter, rather than intertwined with the general complexity of human social interaction. Some people may immediately grasp that, but there are a lot of people out there insisting it’s simple! (Probably due to common-sense-goggles/Moravec’s Paradox.) And so a lot of people end up in the trap Ozy describes: Going ahead without asking is not an option, asking is not an option either. (Because if things are simple and not vague, if you accidentally do something wrong, it must be because you’re evil and deserve to be ostracized.) While the people telling us these things don’t seem to even realize that they’re not following their own rules. (And then when they decide that someone has done something bad for whatever reason, they can pretend it’s a simple matter, the person violated such-and-such proscription, and apparently in this case it counts.)

            Basically, I find your position of vagueness reasonable, but I would caution you that if you go around saying “enthusiastic consent” and by this mean complicated vague social things rather than explicit verbal declarations… expect to be misunderstood. If you go around promoting “enthusiastic consent” without such a clarification, you will not be promoting what you intend to promote, you will be promoting paralysis. And that if you see someone promoting “enthusiastic consent”, you cannot be certain that they’re on your side, promoting vagueness and feeling things out rather than paralyzing broad proscriptions and double-binds.

            (Ialdabaoth’s question remains a good one though.)

      • MugaSofer says:

        >some women don’t like being touched and will push away attempts to touch them – if cuddle events attract high rates of asexual men, don’t you think they also attract high rates of asexual women as well?

        This swaps between two different meanings of “asexual”.

        People who want cuddling without sex are not the same thing as people who don’t like cuddling. The latter are not disproportionately represented at cuddling events.

    • veronica d says:

      There is a subtext in posts such as these that social skills are a mixture of impossible goal and cruel imposition. Which seems weird. Ask yourself, what are social skills?

      If you think the answer is games played by those who oppress nerds, you’re missing some important stuff.

      • Hainish says:

        “Ask yourself, what are social skills?”

        I ask my self that a lot, actually.

        When social skills are being used for good instead of evil, they’re basically invisible. When used otherwise, “games played by those who oppress nerds” isn’t too far off the mark.

      • Nornagest says:

        That’s such a weird subtext to me. I always thought of the social skills framing as, if anything, liberating: it implies that what’s holding you back is a skill, i.e. something you can learn, rather than some kind of ineffable scarlet letter attaching to you the first time you play Magic: The Gathering.

        More concretely, the only parts of the social-skills space that I’d describe as “games played by those that oppress nerds” is fashion. And I like fashion.

        (There’s also fitness, but that’s not really a social skill, even though it is something that makes you more attractive but tends to be held in contempt by your average nerd for spooky cultural reasons.)

        • veronica d says:

          Well, I’ll try to lay out what I was getting at: a cuddle party is an essentially social activity, which to me means it is about social skills from tip to tail. However, what I often sense in these conversations is a discourse that sounds like this: “social skills are the entrance fee and I don’t have them so I cannot pay so I’m being denied the cool, sexy fun.”

          But I don’t think that is quite right. Social skills are more than the entrance fee. They’re the whole deal. They’re what you bring to the table, for the other participants, the things that makes you better than a plush toy. It’s you smile, your ease, your warmth, as a full person not just a bag of bones with skin wrapped around them.

          Sure, looks matter, status matters (whatever status actually is), but personality matters most — particularly in “cuddle party” style subcultures.


          On the other hand, someone elsewhere mentioned ingroup/outgroup dynamics. That sounds like a big deal.

          I’ve been in the outgroup, not just in cuddle-space but in full on kinky-sexy space. It can be depressing to see all the sexy-hot-fun around you but not really know anyone well enough to approach.

          The answer is obvious: get to know people; let them see you’re really cool.

          • Ialdabaoth says:

            personality matters most — particularly in “cuddle party” style subcultures.

            Except that “personality” isn’t some monolithic, essential thing. It’s no more or less than a collection of contextualized skills, each compassionately trainable, and each solicited or repressed by the social environment.

            I had an opportunity this last week to observe this in action, first-hand. Many people, including our esteemed host, witnessed my behavior.

            I was at-ease. I was engaging. I was even fascinating – I had many people hanging off my every word, and inviting me to cuddle, and smiling enthusiastically while we traded anecdotes, and sometimes even blushing joyously at the attention and focus I was giving them.

            Contrast this with my experience at previous parties in other locales. I will start to gain a collection of rapt listeners when a heckler will show up and start bullying me, and then everyone stops listening and starts shunning me. I will sit with someone excitedly exchanging stories until someone shows up and intimates through body language that the person I’m talking with shouldn’t be giving me their time. Eventually I’ll sit alone, in the corner, wondering why I feel so excluded.

            My behavior at each party starts off identically.

            The parties I recently attended in San Francisco this last week felt just like the parties I used to attend in Phoenix in 2003 – 2008, and nothing like the parties I attended in Phoenix in 2009 – 2012. The only difference was how other people contextualized my gregariousness and excitement.

            Some people, for whatever reason, are just never given the chance to connect. I think that most of them lack a few ‘opener’ skills, and so they fumble the crucial first few minutes. Others lack ‘defensive’ skills, and so the first time some asshole sees a shiny person to attack and attacks, they get knocked off their pedestal and can’t recover.

            These are very teachable skills, and minor aspects of a person’s demeanor, and not at all part of some overarching essential “personality”. And claiming that they are is part of an active system of oppression against those people, and I am not being hyperbolic in the least when I say this.

            So check your goddamn privilege.

          • veronica d says:

            @Ialdabaoth — Oh, yes, I totally agree w/ everything you just said. Context matters a lot and there are terrible social scenes.

            Maybe our disconnect is this: I interpret much of what you say as “this is terrible in every social context everywhere OMG I’m hopelessly gamma everything sucks!” when you mean to say “these social contexts suck a lot but in these other social contexts I do really well, cuz I need a safe space to be me.”

            The latter is true for me also.

            Okay, so I still feel like you’re carrying around a lot of unhealthy resentment, and maybe if you get in a better place, more comfortable in your own skin, you might take another look at some of these spaces and realize that, hey, it’s not as bad as you think and the jerks can be worked around.

            Or maybe not. Your choice. There is a tension between the desire for separatism and the desire to reach out and engage. You get to pick your comfort zone.

            Anyway, I hope this does not come across as (too) condescending. I’m genuinely glad you found a awesome space. May you find many more.

            So check your goddamn privilege.

            Preach it! 🙂

            (As an aside, is it okay if I email you about job stuff? I only ask that you respect my anonymity.)

          • Ialdabaoth says:

            Please do! brent {dot} j {dot} dill {at} gmail {dot} com

            Also keep in mind that my resentment isn’t just about me, by a long shot. One of the worst feelings for me is when I’m in a space where I’m actually doing okay and everyone likes me and the success-spiral is winding up, and there’s someone else in the corner looking exactly like I felt six months ago.

            Maybe our disconnect is this: I interpret much of what you say as “this is terrible in every social context everywhere OMG I’m hopelessly gamma everything sucks!” when you mean to say “these social contexts suck a lot but in these other social contexts I do really well, cuz I need a safe space to be me.”

            And I think this is a big problem with your interpretation, and that your interpretation is actively perpetuating the problem. I’m pretty confident about the thing I’m about to say next, and would like you to take it seriously.

            You are misconstruing my statement for precisely the same reason we’re having a disconnect on the rest of this topic. You seem to be coming from a place where social skills are in some weird way innate and essential – and when you do acknowledge that they are teachable, your language is dripping with the underlying assumption that teaching them is not your responsibility or the responsibility of the “cool kids” / people you want to hang out with.

            All of this is harmful bullshit. We could, as a culture, approach social skill acquisition much more healthily than we do.

            For example, I fully acknowledge that there are times and spaces where I want to casually relax with other socially and sexually adroit people, and not have to worry about leveling up the somewhat awkward and possibly smelly noob. But having once been the somewhat awkward and possibly smelly noob, I very much resent the idea that we shouldn’t at least point him to the 101 space where he can safely level up to our game. It’s utterly unfair that we respond to join requests from noobs with ostracization, discomfort, and even outright hostility (“OMG fuck off shitlord” / “look you creeper, you’re the reason girls are afraid of rapists”) instead of compassion and offers of assistance, even if deferred (“this is private, but maybe you could join our Thursday game night? we talk a lot about nerdy stuff and it’s more open so it’s a lot easier for people to get to know each other there.”)

          • memeticengineer says:

            One of the worst feelings for me is when I’m in a space where I’m actually doing okay and everyone likes me and the success-spiral is winding up, and there’s someone else in the corner looking exactly like I felt six months ago.

            When I find myself in this situation, I try to include the person in the corner, when I can manage. Be the person the younger you needed, and all that. (My success at this is limited by the fact that I find large groups overwhelming and will easily stick to the comfort bubble of a smaller set of people paying attention to me; I find it easier in only medium-sized groups and when already in a more extraverted mood.)

        • Hainish says:

          “I always thought of the social skills framing as, if anything, liberating: it implies that what’s holding you back is a skill, i.e. something you can learn, rather than some kind of ineffable scarlet letter attaching to you the first time you play Magic: The Gathering.”

          Hm, interesting… You just described what I _don’t_ like about this social skills framing, because I do perceive it to be more of an ineffable, inborn talent than a learnable skill.

          • Ialdabaoth says:

            Hm, interesting… You just described what I _don’t_ like about this social skills framing, because I do perceive it to be more of an ineffable, inborn talent than a learnable skill.

            I am absolute living testament to the fact that it is a learnable skill. Maybe some people have enough of a lack that they can’t learn it, much like Stephen Hawkings will never learn to be a jiu-jitsu master. Maybe some people have enough innate talent that they don’t need to worry about the skill as much. Maybe some people’s talent is such that once they learn the skills, no one will ever be able to surpass them. But I feel reasonably confident asserting that many, many nerds that appear totally hopeless could be trained up in short order to have quite fulfilling sociosexual lives.

            Give me a few years of non-terrible environment to observe, reflect, and systemize, and I’ll see about formulating a rationalist+feminist-friendly version of PUA.

      • Deiseach says:

        Yes, thank you. I have dreadful social skills and often find myself replaying encounters later, thinking “Yeah, I probably shouldn’t have done/said that”.

        If I find myself being avoided as the weird loser (and honestly, that hasn’t happened nearly as much as it could have), then the fault is oftentimes mine for having acted like a weird loser.

        There’s a difference between honest ignorance of rules, and assumptions that no rules exist because this event or environment is not running by the old rules. If you (male, female or other-identified) think a cuddle party is an occasion where you can just walk up to anyone and without so much as saying “Hello, I am Robinson”, start flinging your arms around them and squeezing really tightly while you ‘drop the hand’ (as the slang of my youth had it), then I submit you are not going to find much success, acceptance or happiness even in that liberated and non-conventional environment if you don’t change your behaviour sharpish.

      • Princess_Stargirl says:

        I agree with you in the implied contexts this thread is about (cuddlign etc). And btw found your posts in the comments very interesting (they do not fit with my current mental model of feminism and I would like to learn more). But I sort of do think “social skills” often does mean cruel imposition and I feel the need to post about it.

        What if someone wants to where a fur suit in daily life? Or at least they feel much more comfortable if they can act like a cat at parties once in awhile? In my opinion this is cool. I like petting catboys/catgirls. But I think even wearing cat ears to the office would be counted as “bad social skills” by a large subset of the population.

        There are much more common examples. I used to get teased for playing yugioh cards (ok it was a terrible game but wasn’t the reason I got teased). In many situations it would be considered very bad “social skills” to admit to being involved in BDSM. Maybe it actually is a good idea to not where the cat ears or to keep BDSM a secret, but I do think those burdens are a cruel imosition of society.

        So while I agree with you that the social skills that lead to people cuddling with you are not a weird imposition, some things lomped together under “social skills” are.

        • veronica d says:

          I think we’re hitting a space where “social skills” becomes too broadly applied. But yeah, there are cultural signifiers and things “normal people do not do,” all kinds of “wear these clothes but not those clothes”, “play these games but not that weird stuff.”

          I didn’t fit in with the normal kids either. I still don’t.

          But I don’t think that is precisely identical to knowing how to relate to people from your own subculture, particularly how to relate to people in intimate ways. Intimacy is a two way street, where all parties bring something to the table.

          Part of what each person brings is their personality. In fact, for many of us that is the main thing. What I am trying to communicate is this: if the main currents of your intimate personality are fear, resentment, hostility, and suspicion, then social intimacy is going to be a minefield.

          I’ve had a lot of problems with social stuff and intimacy. Lots of fears. Much disabling shyness. But step by step I’ve been dealing with it, getting better.

          Thing is, all that hard work — I have to do it. It’s mine to do.

          • Nick T says:

            if the main currents of your intimate personality are fear, resentment, hostility, and suspicion, then social intimacy is going to be a minefield.

            This is unambiguously true.

            Thing is, all that hard work — I have to do it. It’s mine to do.

            I agree with this principle. And it makes sense that you don’t want to be around what feels like resentment and subtle hostility.

            However: When I read this and some of your other comments on this thread (e.g. “Anyway, this ain’t tyranny, hon. Not hardly. Step back.”), I feel shame — at the fact that I feel the kind of resentment that we’re discussing, at the fact that I believe that the thing drethelin called “tyranny of vagueness” is a real problem — and anger — because the message my brain is getting from you is that I should hide my feelings, feel shame for them, not receive empathy for them. That I should not just accept the reality of unwanted social outcomes and the feelings that come with them when they happen (which I agree with, because always accept reality), but that I deserve them if they happen. (Or something like that. It’s hard for me to get a grasp on exactly what message my brain is getting, and “deserve” may not be exactly the right word, but it’s something that goes beyond accepting reality and involves putting me down — “accept that I have low status” is another possibility.) I doubt you intend to send this message or cause these feelings, but it’s what I’m getting, and I suspect others as well (e.g. Anon’s comment).

  6. Konkvistador says:

    A reminder that an affectionate culture of common non-sexual touching and cuddling existed in the strange and alien 19th century.


  7. Anon says:

    From what I’ve seen of polyarmory I’d have to say that Heartiste is basically right in the factual sense (albeit excessively judgmental). It’s sex for people who are too ugly/weird/etc to be satisified-with-slash-able-to-have a normal relationship.

    • Andy says:

      From what I’ve seen of polyarmory

      I am sorry for typo-jesting, but this made me think of someone carrying lots and lots of weapons and saying “I can’t stay faithful to just one!”
      And I hear this viewpoint a lot – but what defines “normal?” The Mosuo people of China don’t have marriage, Catholics marry for life, Evangelicals don’t have sex before marraige – “normal” is defined by your culture. I suspect that polyamory is confined to a ‘strange’ (read: different) subculture not because that culture is filled with people who “can’t do normal,” but because that culture’s norms have expanded to include polyamory as an acceptable option.
      tl;dr your normal is not everyone else’s normal, and you might want to get this through your head.
      Edit: In monogamous “normal” hetero relationship, still smart enough not to think it’s the highest or only way to do things.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’ve seen a fair amount of evidence that most swingers/open/poly people are and were unattractive. [It’s a surprisingly common observation, common enough that I’ve noticed it as a pattern.]

      But I don’t think they’re unusually unattractive. Rather, I suspect that they’re just about average; whereas in most people’s fantasies, only the kind of people they fantasize about are having sex.

      Thus, no matter what you’re attracted to, most swingers are surprisingly unattractive. Unless you’re veryattracted to “willingness to become a swinger”, or you somehow only ever interact with attractive people in your daily life.

    • Anon says:

      I see this claim pretty often, and I normally don’t bother responding, but since we share the same variation of ‘anonymous’ as our names I feel moved to:

      My personal polycule is at least an existence proof of attractive poly people. I don’t want to get into claiming that I’m personally high-attractiveness, but my primary partner (of three years) really, really is. And it’s not just me: for a few months she was a highly successful stripper in an area known for having some of the most attractive young people in the world. Other people currently or previously in the polycule include a female model and a bi guy who is also one of the most attractive men I’ve ever met (as far I can tell as a straight guy, anyway). And in several cases, people had previously had successful monogamous relationships (defined as > 1 year long), and then discovered poly was a thing and did that instead.

      No, I’m not going to provide pictures. Point is, I’ve never really known how to engage with claims like yours, because they appear like claims that the sun is blue. All I can really say is, well, this is not my experience.

    • orthonormal says:

      Someone below mentioned the blues/swing dancing polyamory crowd, which serves as an example of what it looks like when polyamory happens in a group that’s selected for dancing ability: you have a pool of conventionally attractive polyamorous people. (I can personally testify to this.) When it happens in a nerdy circle, you have a pool of delightfully nerdy polyamorous people. In either case, I don’t think the people who go poly are all that different from other people in similar subcultures, except for the obvious things (more interested in explicit communication, for example).

      • Thomas Eliot says:

        Speaking as a conventionally very attractive competitive dancer: the overwhelming majority of blues dancers I have met are very much not conventionally attractive or good at dancing. They may have memorized a lot of dance moves and be able to have lots of sex with equivalently attractive people, but you are fooling yourself if you think they are in the >60th percentile of attractiveness, and they demonstrate a clear lack of bodily coordination that any classically trained (or simply skillful) dancer has.

  8. Andrew C says:

    combination seems to work really, really well.

    In polyamorous relationship with an asexual girlfriend. Can confirm. <3

  9. B says:

    The funniest aspect of this thread is Multiheaded, a person so ridiculously evil that he literally defended the communist enterprise, and the Soviet project in particular – a fan of genocidal violence if it promises to immanetize his preferred eschaton, in other words, somebody for whom every mass murderer is OK if they pronounce Shibboleth just right – calling a garden variety sadist / internet cool guy with sex issues the worst person.

    I lack words for how screwed up the fellow-travelling in even personally very decent liberal circles like the proprietor’s is.

    Against this subtext the actual text of some people vigorously evangelizing their private proclivities and others mocking them sadistically kinda pales in general interest.

    Edit: The author would like to kindly thank the utter monster under discussion for correcting his spelling.

    • Multiheaded says:

      You pronounced “Shibboleth” wrong! ;/)

      • social justice warlock says:

        Multi, I’m suffering from ~*~status~*~ envy here. How come I can literally and unironically call for people to be sent to gulags and call myself a Marxist-Leninist, while your whole schtick is renouncing authoritarianism and chastising the left for being too mean, and you still get all the 3edge cred? This is bullshit and my ressentiment can’t take it anymore!

        • Multiheaded says:

          Oh, everyone’s just slow to update on that latest turn IMO. Also, unlike you, I did use to aggressively direct aggression and disruption against commenters here, caught some bans, etc; you’ve always been just snarky at most.

          OK, folks, follow my tumblr for occasional anti-left-authoritarianism! Even Nydwracu does!


          • Nornagest says:

            In that case, let me be the first to say that I’ve noticed your turn towards the light side and I’m really digging it. Keep doing what you’re doing.

          • memeticengineer says:

            Since your decision to change, you’ve seemed nicer in your interactions and in general less evil on the metric of promoting active cruelty to SJ-disfavored groups. Kudos for that!

            It does kind of seem like you still endorse communism even if the path to it leads through mass murder or genocide. That is much less evil in consequentialist terms. Internet mobbing of wrongthinkers happens all the time, while there is no imminent threat of gulags. But it seems more evil in virtue ethics turns, since if gulags did happen, they would be *much worse* than scary internet mobbing.

          • Alejandro says:

            @memeticengineer: funny, I’d reverse consequentialism and virtue ethics there. Virtue ethics cares about what kind of person you are in daily concrete social interactions, and would say you are a bad person if you insult people on the Internet. It does not care so much about your Far Mode opinions on the ideal society. A communist and a libertarian who in their everyday life are kind, compassionate, etc. to people they interact with would both be considered virtuous.

            On the other hand, consequentialism would say that if your Far Mode political opinions lead you to support a political party which if in power would create an universal dystopia, then your are contributing a little extra marginal probability to an extremely bad outcome for millions of people, and this outweighs any effects of daily-life kindness.

        • veronica d says:

          Wait! What is “3edge” cred?

          That’s not even on Urban Dictionary. Is this really a thing?

          (I feel left out.)

        • B says:

          Don’t feel bad, except for being a terrible person.
          I probably just assumed that you were just a troll and/or beyond parody, given your nick.

          The difference between the authoritarian- and the anti-authoritarian left is overblown anyway: The anti-authoritarians discover that people don’t use their freedom as the libertarian left intended, and out come the gulags.

          In the end the authoritarians are probably better, from a sane perspective: They kill until they have consolidated their power, and then it’s merely stagnation and repression with the occasional famine until the whole retarded system collapses once again. Then their fellow travellers decide that that wasn’t really communism (although they defended it strenuously until just before, natch) and nobody learns anything.

          Whereas with the anti-authoritarian left, it’s a bloody mælstrøm until all the leftists have killed all the other leftists (fine by me, but too much collateral damage) or a Stalin arrives and stops the madness and then it’s back to type one.

          • Anonymous says:

            How do you interpret the nick “Multiheaded”?

          • Andy says:

            In the end the authoritarians are probably better, from a sane perspective: They kill until they have consolidated their power, and then it’s merely stagnation and repression with the occasional famine until the whole retarded system collapses once again. Then their fellow travellers decide that that wasn’t really communism (although they defended it strenuously until just before, natch) and nobody learns anything.

            Yes, Sweden is a well-known haven of famine and repression and stagnation. As are Norway and Finland…
            I am reminded of the “Horseshoe Hypothesis,” whereby the further ends of the spectrum are more like each other than the middle, and your comment seems to stand as decent evidence, especially the complete lack of understanding of the libertarian left, or any evidence of your position. Do you have any historical incidents where

            The anti-authoritarians discover that people don’t use their freedom as the libertarian left intended, and out come the gulags.


          • B says:

            @anonymous, 1:45p: I don’t know, I guess that has some connection to the self-diagnosed multiple personalities in the weirder fringes of Tumblr?
            If so: Not interested in debating people’s difficulties with themselves, it’s impolite.

            Andy: Either you’re trolling, or you’re a very bad reader. Either way, have a great life!

          • Multiheaded says:

            No, actually my handle originates in a (literal) dick joke that used to be a local meme on a forum I used to frequent. True story.

        • coffeespoons says:

          For what it’s worth, I was a far leftist in my late teens/early-mid twenties and myself and a good friend used to talk about sending people to gulags. Seeing these sorts of posts on SSC makes me feel all happy and nostalgic.

          [I’m now torn between social democracy and left libertarianism – I really miss the far left but I don’t think far-left views are true anymore :(].

          • Anatoly says:

            Well, what B says is true – your views were far more terrible and evil than anything Heartiste has come up with so far.

            Doesn’t mean you did much (or any) damage, of course, but it should count for something.

          • ozymandias says:

            Surely it matters whether or not the statements about sending people to gulags are serious? As I read Multiheaded, zir statements about gulags are supposed to be hyperbole, not well-thought-out policy positions. This is subject to many forms of critique (normalization of violence, misunderstandings, poor taste) but seems importantly different from *actually* suggesting death camps.

          • coffeespoons says:

            Yes, it was hyperbole when I talked about sending people to gulags.

          • social justice warlock says:

            gulags != death camps

          • Anonymous says:

            But gulags are concentration camps, and we ostracize people who joke about sending people to concentration camps.

          • social justice warlock says:

            Yes, and I would agree that liberals are correct (given their premises and commitments) to do so. I was being a pedant.

            (I suppose a further pedantic point would be that the central example of “concentration camp” is an extermination camp specifically, and thus there’s a noncentral fallacy at work. But I don’t think that sort of connotational tug-of-war is particularly productive.)

          • Anonymous says:

            Yes, it’s a pity that the center has drifted, but I am not ready to give up on the definition of the first users.

          • memeticengineer says:

            Forced labor camps are still pretty bad. Under sufficiently bad conditions, they are hard to distinguish from death camps in either effect or intent.

          • I’ve developed a personal policy of just not using the term “concentration camp”, because its popular connotations have drifted so far from its meaning as used by experts, and there’s a readily available replacement that doesn’t have this problem: “internment camp”.

            It’s rare to discover an opportunity to sidestep a complicated socio-linguistic-political issue this easily, so I like to take advantage of such opportunities when I find them.

          • Anonymous says:

            Memeticengineer, no I think you are wrong and death rate is an easy way to distinguish among the Nazi extermination camps, the Nazi work camps, the original concentration camps in the Boer War, the Gulag, and the Japanese internment camps.

          • memeticengineer says:

            Anonymous, are you saying those things should go in two buckets, with Nazi extermination camps in one category, and all the others in another?

            The worst gulags, according to a description quoted in Wikipedia:

            The camp network that came to symbolize the horrors of the Gulag was centered on the Kolyma gold-fields, where “outside work for prisoners was compulsory until the temperature reached −50C and the death rate among miners in the goldfields was estimated at about 30 per cent per annum.

            Would you classify that with Nazi extermination camps (death rate hard to find but for the worst, pretty close to 100% per annum) or with Japanese internment camps (death rate significantly less than 1%)?

            Or maybe you’re saying that each type of prison camp should be considered on a case by case basis? In which case I guess I agree; Nazi extermination camps seem worse than gulags which in turn seem worse than Japanese internment camps.

          • Anonymous says:

            If your point was that there was a lot of variance among Gulags, I missed that the first time. I did not know that any Gulags were that bad. But even the very worst were only comparable to the Boer camps not to the death camps.

            I meant five buckets. There is overlap, but they are generally far apart. And the Nazi work camps are more similar to the Boer camps than I had thought, though they had a lot of variance.

          • memeticengineer says:

            To be totally clear, when I said this:

            Forced labor camps are still pretty bad. Under sufficiently bad conditions, they are hard to distinguish from death camps in either effect or intent.

            I meant that forced labor camps with sufficiently harsh conditions can effectively be death camps. I think 30% mortality a year would qualify.

            I did *not* mean that all gulags were so bad as to be in the death camp category (it seems there was wide variance among them) or that the worst ones are just as bad as Nazi extermination camps in particular.

            Also, I agree with you that there is a wide range of different types of prison camps, and that putting them all in one bucket or even just two is probably wrong. I was not aware of all the different points on the scale before your post.

            Based on this, I think we probably agree on the main points.

          • B says:

            I know, I used to play Falangist execution squad with me lil friends when I was just a wee lad! That’s entirely normal!
            Oh boy…

            @ downstream comment thread re: death camps vs labour camps: I refuse the difference, “extermination by labour” is a thing, and if you have all of north Asia you’re probably less in a hurry to actually kill your enemies when you can have them far, far away with no means to get around.

            See also the original Jews->Madagascar plan for comparison.

            It’s a dumb argument in the same way that saying the Nazis were less bad than the commies because they killed fewer: Also technically true, but entirely circumstantial: They didn’t stop because they found Christ or something, they stopped because losing the war physically restrained them.

      • Deiseach says:

        RE: shibboleths –

        ’Take no heed! We speak as is right, and as King Finwe himself did before he was led astray. We are his heirs by right and the elder house. Let them sa-si, if they can speak no better.’


    • MugaSofer says:

      To be fair, Multi doesn’t usually need a content warning. Whereas Heartiste … is appalling.

      I doubt he’s doing much damage, but it’s almost physically painful to read – like the opposite of a really good Simpson’s episode, awfulness piled upon awfulness, with more awfulness inserted into the gaps between awfulness.

      If we put warnings on images of violent death and horrible disease, we should also put warnings on Heartiste.

      • B says:

        I think “content warning” is a misnomer then, it should be “style warning”:
        Heartiste says mean things in impolite ways; whereas Multiheaded is pure http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AffablyEvil

        [Maybe that’s what galls me about him so much more than about Social Justice Warlock: SJW to me radiates nothing but the clumsy outrage of the overeducated and under-experienced with a chip on their shoulder that the world doesn’t follow their ingenious ideas, Multiheaded is actually very charming; the right guy to really master The piano when he comes home from the day job routing kulak transports.]

        While we’re critiquing words: Heartiste is such a ridiculous moniker I can’t get over it. Nobody else seems to think so, though. At least I never heard anybody remark on it.

        My favourite ludicrous blogger name however won’t be easy to ever top: Lion of the Blogosphere! That’s some marrying your own daughter and founding the purest dynasty that ever was shit right there.

        • ozymandias says:

          For a while my friends were referring to Heartiste as the Heartiste Formerly Known As Roissy.

          “Content warning” just means “this thing is likely to severely upset a subset of readers, who may be well-advised to skip this post and peruse something more to their liking.” Affably evil people are, for better or worse, often less likely to severely upset a large enough subset of readers to be worth the content warning. (Particularly given the burdensomeness of editing it into all his comments.)

    • Anatoly says:

      Sure, the Marxist leftists are way more evil than PUAs, no argument about that. But think of the likely impact. What’s the worst thing someone like Multiheaded can do, even if he were a blogger as popular as Heartiste? Bully someone on Tumblr, Twitter and Jezebel? Help make campus life slightly more ridiculous on a bunch of liberal campuses in the U.S., but not nearly as ridiculous as things were during the heyday of the 60ies?

      I used to think SJWs were a growing threat. Well, I still do, but in 2014 I’ve had to reassess just how serious the threat is. This had something to do with me having relatives living in Ukraine. Having undergone a reality check, I don’t worry about SJWs as much anymore.

      In general, people just don’t think of far-left fringe people like Multiheaded as truly dangerous, so their evil ideology is given a pass. (In countries with active communist guerrilla movements, for example, the attitude might be very different).

      • Multiheaded says:

        Hey, if I lived in India and the Maoists there were, like, taking hostages or torture-killing rich people or such, I’d condemn them too.

        • B says:

          Either you’d shut up and fall in line, or you’d be purged into a ditch. Let’s have a bit of “socialist realism” here.

          Also, of course they’re not dangerous by themselves, unless you count things like https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=UoZZAmIVeK4. The danger is more that this is a ready-made mob with common language & shared, mutually supported (intersectionality) grievances & a persecution complex, whose craziness the press&courts are prone to indulging, at a time where their society begins to perceive a permanent crisis. That’s a combustible mix. Weimar repeated as farce if you want it marxist.

          So it’s not that reassuring to hear that it’s not a fire yet, and the gas pool in the basement is only ankle-deep anyway.

          BTW, this blog has a weird effect on its text area, I have a hard time using context menus on an iPad because it seems to refresh them constantly. Maybe a slow keypress handler?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Multiheaded has problems, and I ban him regularly from here because of them, and he’s probably past due for another banning, but I would like to generally discourage making an entire comment about how much of a monster another commenter is.

  10. kappa says:

    Cuddles are awesome. I was very charmed by the cuddlepiles aspect of the wedding reception.

  11. Berna says:

    I love cuddling! But only with my husband, family, and people I’m already good friends with.

    EDIT: I’d totally cuddle Scott though. I can tell just from reading this blog that he’s an awesome guy I’d love to have as a friend.

  12. Lambert says:

    I can gather some data from my incredibly nerdy circle of friends, if that would be useful. Just number of interactions between individuals (and, of course, anonymised heavily).

  13. J. Quinton says:

    In the (blues/swing) dance scene there’s a lot of cuddling as well. It sorta follows logically since we are dancing in close embrace all night, especially at dancer house parties. It’s very common to find cuddle puddles going on in some room during the night.

    At this point I have to note that the (blues/swing) dance scene attracts a lot of male nerds/STEM types. And, at least in DC, there’s one house that’s a poly house.

  14. gattsuru says:

    It creates so many positive feelings and so much of the good kind of groupishness that it seems like a comical Publishers’ Clearing House-style $100 bill left on the ground in the relatively high-stakes Forming Cohesive Communities Game.

    At least from outside, I’d /expect/ that it’s a technology with diminishing returns, and in more general communities, focusing the benefits of the technique within a small number of high-value relationships has serious benefits in other communities.

    ((I… don’t have a good enough understanding of human sexuality or sensuality to know if this is the general case versus the evolutionary cause, though.))

  15. drethelin says:

    I like cuddling and cuddle piles but I think Heartiste isn’t totally wrong when he points out people getting left in the cold.

    Specifically, I think people who might otherwise enjoy a large party can be basically kicked out from it if a bunch of interesting, attractive people are in a cuddle pile. I noticed this happen more than once during the recent wedding reception: People who seemed interested in hanging out and talking but not comfortable enough/forward enough/interested enough in joining the cuddle pile were left standing around with fewer people to talk to and eventually left. I’ve also noticed this plenty of times in myself in the past. Increased intimacy and closeness is fun when you’re ready for it but terrifying/gross if you’re not, especially if you have a poor sense of where implicit social boundaries are, or if you’re just reluctant to be touched by (variable).

    There’s also the whole ingroup/outgroup and alienation problem. Any large enough party is already going to have the problem of some people probably not knowing most of the others. But when people are standing around and mixing, there’s a certain osmosis/permeability. Cuddle piles tend to create a much less porous membrane of Cuddling/Not Cuddling around them. They sharply delineate the difference between Us and You. Which is specifically a problem for new people. Cuddle piles are innately unwelcoming to the polite. And let’s not even bring up how sad they can make a lonesome onlooker.

    On the other hand, like with other oxytocin encouraged impulses, cuddle piles are usually GREAT for the people participating. And as you say, there are unique psychological and social benefits to physical touch and intimacy. I’m not sure what the optimal balance is for hosting a party. It definitely depends on who’s invited and who’s likely to show up.

    There’s also the benefit/problem that cuddling is often a precursor to kissing, groping, and sex but I should really go about my day.

    tldr: Society probably cuddles less than is optimal but cuddling as a social (arrangement/instantiation/thing) is very much NOT without costs, even if those costs are just transactional (asking consent to touch etc.).

    • Said Achmiz says:

      This is very true. Being at a gathering where “cuddle culture” is in effect, as someone who is not into that sort of thing, and a newcomer besides, is quite alienating. I found “rationalist community” gatherings to be somewhat offputting for that reason among others.

    • Someone says:

      I’ve felt like that too, e.g. at the solstice. At the point of the night when all the action has turned into a cuddle pile, you kind of can’t talk to anyone if you’re not willing to cuddle. In my case, I like cuddling but I’m in a monogamous relationship, and cuddle piles are enough of a grey area that I’m not really comfortable joining in.

      I used to be part of a different, very cuddly, culture. It was super awkward for the one Bangladeshi guy coming from a culture with very little male-female touch. There’s a picture of the group posed with our arms around each other, and everyone is smiling except him, because he just realized that if his parents ever saw the picture of him touching women they’d be horrified.

    • Yup, I left some rooms/conversations/events in back when I lived in CA, because the polyamorous network was large enough that some events had a bunch of people in a cuddling/intimate touch pile, linked through relationships, and me on a beanbag chair feeling not so much excluded as unwillingly voyeuristic. Exit, pursued by a bear.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        Yeah, “unwillingly voyeuristic” is a good way of putting it.

        This is another one of those things I wish wouldn’t (have) become the norm in our rationalist communities. (See also: rituals, “the good kind of groupishness”.) It’s just so alienating and exclusionary of people who aren’t into it.

    • OldCrow says:

      Man. This post has basically killed my interest in hanging out with rationalists in person. Is ‘cuddle culture’ really that widespread in rationalist groups?

      • Anonymous says:

        Don’t move cities just to hang out with them. Test the waters.

      • drethelin says:

        something like 99 percent of the time I’ve spent hanging out with rationalists has not involved cuddling. This is a topic salient to the conversation at hand but I think it’s over-represented in conversations about hanging out with rationalists. In general official meetups tend to take place at places where cuddling wouldn’t really work such as coffeeshops, and less formal parties that take place at people’s houses are where cuddling happens but even then in my experience it’s not usually a dominant activity.

        I’ve had untold amounts of amazing conversations I couldn’t have had with almost any other group of people with rationalists. If I complain about negative effects of cuddle piles it’s more like complaining that my iPhone has a lower battery life than a smartphone. It doesn’t come CLOSE to making me not want to hang out with rationalists.

        This might be different in different rationalists groups also. I’ve spent the most time with Madison rationalists, as opposed to bay area or New York.

        • Said Achmiz says:

          For reference, I have interacted with the rationalist community in New York only.

        • Luke Edwards says:

          The fringe of non-rationalists or heterodox rationalists at rationalist parties host some of the best conversations I’ve ever had. The rationalists are pretty boring though – you’ve already heard their arguments if you’ve been hanging out around these parts of the internet. And they creep me out by rationally analyzing my jests as if they were serious…

          Similarly, the best bloggers are some ex-LW contributors.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            And they creep me out by rationally analyzing my jests as if they were serious…

            I, too, have been annoyed by this a time or few, but I want to point out that such literal-mindedness is a fairly common autistic trait, and autism spectrum disorders are strongly overrepresented in rationalist communities. I say this only as a precaution against the development of any meme to the effect that “rationalists are weird and creepy, ew”.

      • Creutzer says:

        Apparently, it depends. The Boston meetups I attended featured no cuddling (even when taking place in a private home).

    • ozymandias says:

      To be fair, this is a fully general argument against doing *anything* at parties. I’m phobic of drugs and alcohol, so pretty much any party where everyone is getting intoxicated will leave me feeling somewhere between excluded and panic attack. For a less dramatic example, if someone pulls out Settlers of Catan at a party, it excludes people who dislike board games, first-timers if everyone else is good players, etc.

      • veronica d says:

        Minor pushback on first timers to games: my employer does a big social thing on Thursday afternoons where games get played. And I’m like new to all of them. But I still join, cuz FUN! And I lose terribly and it is almost hilarious how bad I am. But still, FUN!

        And I’m getting better.

        Anyway, asking newbs to join people for a game seems fine to me, as long as everyone has a good attitude about it.

      • drethelin says:

        Sure: I’m not trying to start an Anti-Cuddling campaign. But I think trying to start a Cettlers of Catan game at a party can actually be pretty rude! If the party is small enough, everyone feels obligated to play whether they want to or not (though this is obviously mitigated by people probably knowing better whether everyone WOULD like to play and also by individuals proportionally having a bigger slice of the vote), if the party is midsize you can be monopolizing a table away from the 5 other people who are there, if a party is huge you’re probably not really bothering anyone on net by doing it.

        Tradeoffs are everywhere! I LIKE cuddling! I just felt like this post needed a better middle ground between “Cuddling is terrible for bullshit reasons” and “cuddling is amazing forever!”

        • ozymandias says:

          To be fair, my emotional reaction to your post is 100% “if I have to suffer [about parties where everyone gets drunk] so does everyone else [about parties where everyone cuddles]” so I admit this may not be coming from the highest-minded of places.

          • drethelin says:

            No that’s a legit response. I also kind of hate alcohol but that’s entrenched enough that I don’t really see the point of telling people parties shouldn’t be ALL ABOUT DRINKING. If cuddling funges against drinking I know what side I’m on!

          • potatoe says:

            What if I have to get drunk to stop being scared that I’m horrible and disgusting and stink and no one wants to cuddle me? Is there no intersectional party for losers such as myself?

          • Thomas Eliot says:

            The fact that I have never been to a party hosted by rationalists where any even got tipsy has been a source of negative hedons for me since joining the rationalist community in 2011. Your position is very much winning, and for the sake of my own sanity I really wish the pendulum would swing back in the other direction.

          • ozymandias says:

            Surely we can compromise. Parties where everyone is drunk and cuddling? Parties where everyone is not drunk and not cuddling?

            Hm. I think the ideal situation here depends on *why* people are not drinking. Like… if people are teetotal or light drinkers because they legitimately don’t like being intoxicated period, then attempting to get them to drink anyway seems kind of evil. (Similarly, I ought not respond to parties full of Said Achmizes by attempting to start a cuddle puddle anyway.) But if there is social pressure not to drink or nudges in a non-drinking-ward direction it is possible there are many people whose utility would be improved by eliminating that pressure or those nudges. I am not sure which situation holds– certainly people *I* interact in person tend to dislike being intoxicated, but that’s almost certainly selection bias.

            Reading this thread, I’m updating more in the direction that I should be involved in fewer cuddle puddles.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            Thomas: perhaps, a la my comment in another branch of this thread, you might host some parties for rationalists where cuddling is discouraged but where drinking takes place? (Combine it with something like a movie night (mainstream and cliche though that might be, it’s a fun combination), perhaps?) I’d attend!

          • coffeespoons says:

            I really like drinking at parties*, and the fact that lots of rationalists seem to disapprove of it does put me off a bit.

            *Mostly because it’s fun, and it relieves my social anxieties. I do find it makes parties and being around large crowds much better for me.

          • drethelin says:

            Can’t we just have really big parties where everyone does whatever they want without pressuring others to join in? When I went to the party at Asgard I neither drank nor cuddled and yet had tons of fun even though BOTH of those things were going on!

          • Thomas Eliot says:

            Said: do you live in New York? If so I very much want to hang out with you. I have hosted parties with explicitly this goal (it was literally advertised as I Will Teach You To Enjoy Alcohol), and though people attended, drank the fancy beer I bought and fancy cocktails I mixed, everyone kept to such moderate amounts that nobody became even slightly tipsy. Coffeespoons, if you live in New York you are also invited to my future drinking parties. If you want to talk off of ssc, my email is bgaesop@gmail

            drethelin: I moved away from the Bay before Asgard was founded, but I suspect I have partied with most of the people at the parties you’ve attended. When I did so, nobody drank to the point of any sort of intoxication, and around about midnight over half of the partygoers who remained were upstairs in a cuddle puddle and the only ones downstairs were having the ten millionth discussion about FAI.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            Thomas: yes, I live in New York. Will contact you by email.

          • social justice warlock says:

            The fact that I have never been to a party hosted by rationalists where any even got tipsy has been a source of negative hedons for me since joining the rationalist community in 2011.

            If it makes you feel any better, I’ve puked in Benquo’s toilet.

          • coffeespoons says:

            @Thomas Eliot I live in Cambridge, UK, I’m afraid, but thanks for the invite!

            Re cuddles, I’m surprised that this is such a big issue in US rationalist groups. The last party I went to with a cuddle pile was fine for non-cuddlers – some people were upstairs having a play party, some people were in a bedroom cuddling, and some people were in the kitchen and outside chatting and drinking. I spent most of my time chatting and drinking.

            [FWIW I quite like cuddles, but I probably wouldn’t want to spend all my time at a party in a cuddle pile].

      • Said Achmiz says:

        No, it’s not; and to the extent that it is, that’s intentional.

        Consider: ask people who dislike Settlers of Catan how excluded and put off they feel when everyone (or most people) starts playing it at a party. Ask them how often they have left because of it.

        The answers to those questions won’t be “not at all” and “never”, for sure! But will they match the amount and frequency of corresponding questions about cuddling, do you think?

        What about if you asked the same questions for drinking, and it turned out that widespread drinking at parties excluded and unsettled non-drinkers as much as cuddling does to non-cuddlers? Well, one person’s modus tollens is another’s modus ponens; I judge this to be a valid argument in favor of a “no serious drinking at our parties” rule.

        Please note, I am all for having parties that are all about board games, or drinking nights, or cuddle parties. The point of such things, in general, is to do these things without imposing their exclusionary effects on the general population of your friends, acquaintances, and newcomers; you don’t do these things at your “general-purpose get-togethers”, because not everyone enjoys them and those who do not, feel seriously excluded when most people at the party are doing them.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’ll repost something I added in the parallel Tumblr discussion:

      I know everyone else is engaged in actually working out this problem in the real world, but that’s boring. I want to know: what are the general principles we should be using here?

      Like, there’s a certain obvious liberal principle where everyone can do whatever they want as long as everyone involves consents. So everyone can cuddle at all parties (assuming all cuddlers are consenting), everyone can drink at all parties (given they are the only people directly involved in their choice to drink), et cetera, everyone can have sex with consenting partners on the kitchen floor, et cetera.

      The counterargument here seems to be that people can be “harmed” indirectly by having to view things or be around things they don’t like – or by the focus of the party shifting to some activity they’re not going to participate in. So some people might be creeped out by exposure to cuddling and/or sex, or other people might be upset to be around drunk people. Or the majority of the partygoers could be having drunken sex and the few people who aren’t are sitting in the corner reading a book feeling left out.

      Some people are proposing “you are only allowed to do these things at special Thing Doing Parties”, but that doesn’t seem right to me. Consider the analogy to talking about sports. I hate it when people spend an entire party talking about sports and that’s all they’re doing and I don’t have any interesting conversation to join in at all. But it would be presumptuous of me to suggest a moral principle that people can only talk about sports at specific Sports Parties – especially since the same caveat probably applies to EVERY possible topic of conversation, for somebody. Or that they can only play board games at specific board game parties. AFAICT, this ends with announcing special parties being a Trivial Inconvenience, and maximally inoffensive parties in which no one is allowed to do anything at all – meaning that whoever is allowed to determine which things are Special Things (ie cuddling vs. talking about sports) is allowed to bulldoze over the will of the majority.

      An Archipelago solution – where different people host different social events that have different rules – has much to recommend it. One might explicitly specify that one is throwing a +cuddling, -sex, -drinking party (and if there were more controversial things, one might have to add in more dimensions).

      But there are two problems there. First, unless everyone was very much on the ball, not all parties would explicitly announce their rulesets beforehand, which means there would have to be some default, which brings us back to the earlier situation of either default-off where you can only do things in a few special places, or default-on where people who don’t want to do things need special safe spaces away from them, and the people deciding which things are default-on vs. -off having disproportionate power.

      And second, one can imagine situations where if a few really popular people had the same opinions, all of the good parties thrown would be a certain way and everyone else would be excluded. Compare to a situation where everyone is allowed to do whatever they want with their own businesses, but in practice white people own most of the good businesses and you end up with segregation.

      There is an added complication that if there is a certain subculture with very different preferences from the main culture (for example much more into cuddling and much less into drinking), then attempts to protect unusual members of that subculture might have the actual effect of being cultural imperialism of the main culture onto one of the few niches where people who were different from that main culture could go.

      I feel like this question might be politics-complete, in that if we could solve it in a principled way we could also solve all the rest of human society.

      • Mostly I just figure if I want weird/unusual things, I have to create them (and if I want unusual safe spaces). Because I find a lot of parties not as much fun as I wish, I throw monthly debates (that are pretty structured, no booze, etc) and other parties that are more bookclubby (read this book chapter, come over, watch this movie, and then we’ll have a symposium on friendship), and people know what they’re getting into, and that it’s fine to skip (I won’t be mad) if this isn’t the party you prefer.

        I think my friend group has gotten better as people have thrown more high variance events, rather than keep defaulting to the generic, booze and board games, model. We don’t see everyone at all the parties anymore, but you tend to see most of the people you would have seen, just in smaller, more focused groups.

  16. Cuddle culture, as SA describes it here, strikes me as very creepy.

    That said, it seems to me that what you’re describing is not a new social technology, but a very old social technology which was only recently lost in the west, and has been rediscovered by a few subcultures. Almost all cultures which aren’t Northern European have much, much higher levels of causal non-sexual touch, especially between members of the same sex. In Romania, it’s not uncommon to see young women walking down the street holding hands; men will carry on conversations with their faces and bodies much closer together than would be normal in the US, and will frequently put their arms around each other, grab the other’s arms, and otherwise initiate casual touch in ways which most American men find off-putting. And of course there’s the ubiquitous greeting-with-a-kiss, which has made some inroads in trendy American cultures as well.

    This is the human norm. The current US/Northern European culture, in which you don’t touch anybody except to shake hands unless you’ve known them for a long time, is an outlier, and it’s unsurprising that many subcultures are evolving towards something more typical. (Plus, the touch-less norm in the US is only 100-150 years old; there’s lots of photo evidence from the early 20th century of men holding hands, sitting on each others’ laps, and otherwise engaging in kinds of touch which would seem odd or gay today. (Konkvistador has the link.) What I find interesting is that cuddle culture seems to be going at this by desexualizing sexual touch, rather than amplifying the available forms of non-sexual touch.

    The one exception is that in most cultures I’m aware of, this kind of non-sexual touch is limited to same-sex friendships. This is because, between two opposite-sex individuals of normal-to-high libido, “cuddling” will tend to escalate towards actual sex pretty quickly. The fact that the cuddle culture allows opposite-sex pairs probably depends on its high proportion of asexuals and demisexuals, and this norm won’t be able to cross into the mainstream.

    • drethelin says:

      well part of it is that cuddle culture focuses more on groups than on pairs, which tends to mitigate how quickly you can devolve to just fucking the other person, in most crowds.

    • Andy says:

      You were doing great right up until “This is the human norm.” which… ehhhhhh.
      But I agree on the observations from the second paragraph – here in Los Angeles, I’ve heard multiple anecdotes of people assuming Chinese and Japanese tourists are gay because they’ll see a pair of girls holding hands and aren’t aware of the different cultural norms. I’ve noticed this in my own mental reflexes.

      • Do you dislike the bit about “the human norm” because you think I’ve overstated the evidence, or because you don’t think there are any human norms?

        • Andy says:

          I think you’ve overstated the evidence and privileged your cultural norms as broad human norms. Typical Culture Fallacy, shall we call it?
          There are human norms – the fight-or-flight reflex, for example, the adrenaline high. Endorphins. Sleep Paralysis is present in enough cultures’ legends that it’s probably the result of a biological system glitching. But a “touching good, sexual touching bad” norm… maybe not. I’d need to see some pretty strong evidence before I believe that there’s a “Human norm” overriding cultural software.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      I’ve seen that in other cultures, and as someone said above, in our 19th century cultures. I lazily think of it as pre- and post-Freud.

    • Joshua Slocum says:

      I’d have to disagree with your last paragraph. It seems to presume that the only reason any two [sexually active, mutually attractive] people don’t have sex is lack of proximity. There are plenty of reasons two people might not want to have sex, even if they are physically affectionate:

      – they might be related
      – one might already be in a relationship that prevents them from having casual sex
      – one might simply not be interested in casual sex
      – one might not be interested in sex at that point in time
      – the cuddling might be happening in a context where sexual escalation is not kosher
      – one person might already have their eyes set on someone else
      – one person might not be interested in sex with the other person
      – etc, etc, etc

    • Diego says:

      As an adamant defender, practitioner and advocate of a more touchy and cuddly culture, I feel obliged to mention that even for people withhigh libido there’s a simple asolution to the problem of inter gender attractive people escalation, which I call arbitrary pruning. For allnew people you interact with and touchyou arbitrarily pre commit not to have sex, no matter what, with some of them. So there will always be nodes in your cuddle network which won’t escalate, no matter how tractive the individuals. For me this has basically solved the problem of system two preferring friendships and system one preferring sex entirely. Furthermore it benefits all attractive people by &) increasing their number of uninterested friends and b) giving them a

      • Matthew says:

        For allnew people you interact with and touchyou arbitrarily pre commit not to have sex, no matter what, with some of them.

        If this system actually sounds practical to you, then your libido probably isn’t as high as you think it is.

      • Diego says:

        A)Increasing their number of uninterested friends and B) Giving them a more challenging environment in which to try being social or sexual.

  17. Someone says:

    I grew up believing that men wanted sex, and that cuddling would turn them on and make them want sex more, so if I wasn’t going to offer sex I should not tease them by being willing to cuddle.

    This led to much confusion at a time when I didn’t want to have sex, because I avoided touching my partner at all so as not to turn him on and frustrate him. In fact, 90% of what he wanted was any kind of touch, and he would much rather have cuddles than nothing. Our sexless periods are much easier since we realized this – I communicate that I am up for cuddling but not sex, and we both get to cuddle.

  18. Anatoly says:

    I wish Heartiste really was the worst person alive. That would have been such a great alternative world.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Definitely. I don’t even think he has killed anybody.

    • memeticengineer says:

      He seems pretty evil by deontologist or virtue ethicist standards. But by a consequentialist standard, he’s not even in the running. Heck, even people who find him completely evil and gross concede that his writings may have some good consequences.

      I am kind of surprised to find people in this community judging him by apparently non-consequentialist standards.

      • veronica d says:

        Right. I prefer to call him “gross” or “loathsome,” which comes closer to summing up my response to the man. Does he do harm? Probably. As much as a dictator? Surely not. (Although perhaps his harm effects my life more. Not sure.)

        In any case, ewwwww.

      • drethelin says:

        Arguably he’s actually much more evil by consequentialist standards. By the other two he’s unvirtuous and sinful, but only as an individual. Consequences wise, he’s arguably causing way more evil through blogging than anything else he could be doing.

  19. Elissa says:

    It’s frustrating to read the comments asking, “but why only cute girls? and what about rejection?” because one feels as if they are missing the point, which is that we *should* feel this universal embracing warmth, and some is better than none. But really I think they point out a central and inescapable difficulty. It’s a fact that human beings experience unrequited love as pain, and so our brushes with agapic love never fail to be as sharp and strange and unsettling as they are rapturous.

  20. Benquo says:

    Scott, would you mind putting content warnings on claims or descriptions of claims or links to claims about what all people universally want? This wasn’t literally triggering in the PTSD sense, but it did make me want to hiss at the prospect of anyone coming within five feet of me for a few hours:

    On the other hand, in the nerdy, polyamorous communities I’ve been in, it’s been universally understood that everyone, man or woman or Ozy, really likes cuddling and wants to do as much of it as possible and there is no shame in it.

    I don’t dislike being asked to cuddle, and I sometimes don’t even dislike cuddling, but I very much dislike being expected to like it.

    The ITYCD thing had a similar effect on me, though this one will probably only last a few more hours.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Will add.


      • Benquo says:

        Thank you! 🙂

        International Tell Your Crush Day.

        • Deiseach says:

          There is a thing about “International Tell Your Crush Day”? That is even worse than the commercialisation of St. Valentine’s Feastday as Valentines Day buy our cards balloons soft toys chocolates flowers hotel breaks romantic dinners for two so you can participate in the mandatory coupledom of all normal persons!

          Again, this makes me extremely glad not to be American. And yes, I’m leaping to the conclusion that the “International” day originated in the good old U.S.A.

          • International Tell Your Crush Day is not an element of mainstream American culture in any respect whatsoever. It is a tiny internet movement that started as somebody’s random idea and that a few other people linked to because they liked it. Googling “tell your crush day” returns about 36,000 hits; by comparison, “talk like a pirate day” gets nearly 4.5 million.

            The only reason anybody assumed Scott would know what it was is because he’s one of the people who linked to it.

        • Liskantope says:

          This is slightly going off on a tangent, but ITYCD reminds me of something else I’m curious about concerning poly culture. Is it normal (or even encouraged) in poly culture to openly express one’s romantic or sexual interest in someone else, even casually to third parties? Of course this is far from taboo in non-poly groups (unless of course the object of one’s affections is in a relationship), but I wonder if such feelings are significantly more publicly acknowledged and discussed in poly groups.

      • Benquo says:

        The changed version is much better 🙂

  21. Ialdabaoth says:

    This last week, I have been privileged to participate in no less than five large-scale cuddle piles with members of your community, two of which included you.

    Primates are meant to groom each other and reinforce positive pack bonds through affectionate touch. We’ve had multiple millions of years of evolution priming us to need something like cuddle piles, or polyamory, or ‘open source boobs’, or whatever other implementation people are coming up with these days.

    Of course, the stress and tension that builds up when you suppress and deny those needs can be very easily harnessed for martial purposes, but as we evolve into a less violent culture, we probably want to try to reclaim some of the prehistoric social bonding technology that our ancestors enjoyed.

  22. Liskantope says:

    Posts like this one (as well as occasional mentions of cuddling in other posts) really make me want to experience the kind of “cuddle culture” Scott describes. I can’t be 100% sure I’d like it, but something about it sounds so refreshing that it would be well worth trying. (Plus, rationalist culture sounds awesome in general.)

    I have noticed some elements of this culture in theater groups (at least among those of high school or early college age), where it is considered normal and acceptable to spontaneously form cuddle piles. I don’t think anyone is expected to ask permission before cuddling someone, though, and I doubt it really has quite the same vibe as what Scott describes.

    • Viliam Búr says:

      You can send a link to this article to some of your friends and ask them: “I found this interesting article, what do you think about it?”

      When you get a positive response, invite that person to your cuddle party. When you get a negative response, remember to never mention the party in front of that person.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        When you get a positive response, invite that person to your cuddle party. When you get a negative response, remember to never mention the party in front of that person.

        Ok, I normally hate it when people say “this sounds like a cult” w.r.t. rationalist communities/memes, but good god, man.

        • Nornagest says:

          …why? I do essentially the same thing when I’m talking about, say, running.

        • Adele_L says:

          I agree with Nornagest – this is a very common sort of social filtering most people do instinctively.

          • Viliam Búr says:

            Well, there is a certain taboo against debating “what most people do instinctively” explicitly. We have this intuition that if you do something without reflection, you are not fully responsible for it, but if you do the same thing on purpose, you are super evil. (For example, pick-up artists are super evil for doing on purpose what “naturallly” successful guys do automatically.)

            Therefore, while telling people what they want to hear, is perfectly okay as long as you do it without realizing what you are doing, it becomes cultish if it is your explicit strategy.

            This taboo has a point, because unconscious reactions are often not well synchronized, so they on average do not have the same effect as the same amount of conscious actions, synchronized to achieve a certain goal. (E.g. if someone harms you intentionally, there is a high chance they will harm you again; but if they harm you unintentionally, probably the next time they will harm a different person, so there is less reason for you to worry.)

            Unfortunately, this creates a horrible double-bind on us folks who try to reflect consciously on everything. Now either we have to behave super-morally to a self-destructive degree no one else does, or we have to become evil.

            I do not have a good solution for this, and my heuristics meanwhile is that a certain amount of evil is acceptable as long as it (a) serves a greater good, and (b) is something that would be completely excused for an average not-much-reflective person. (For example, I realize that eating meat is evil, and I still do eat meat. I just try to eat meat much less than an average person.) On a meta level, explaining this algorithm explicitly made me even more evil.

            I follow my intuition that people should not be punished for being more reflective. (“ There’ll be times / When my crimes / Will seem almost unforgivable / I give in to sin / Because you have to make this life livable” “Hide what you have to hide / And tell what you have to tell / You’ll see your problems multiplied / If you continually decide / To faithfully pursue / The policy of truth“)

            In the spirit of our usual intuitions, I was drunk while writing this, so I am completely excused from any negative impression you may get from reading this text, and you are not allowed to have any negative opinions on my sober self. Hail alcohol; it gives us the plausible deniability of the average unthinking muggles!

          • Alejandro says:

            I nominate this (Viliam’s) as a Comment of the Month candidate.

          • Protagoras says:

            Second Alejandro’s nomination.

          • Nornagest says:

            telling people what they want to hear

            Interesting. To me, “telling people what they want to hear” implies lies or bullshit (in the “tailored content-free platitudes” sense), and that’s why it’s considered evidence of malicious intent or at least game-playing. On the other hand, avoiding topics that make people uncomfortable is just polite and implies no duplicity whatsoever.

    • Deiseach says:

      Not being expected to ask permission is the part that makes my flesh creep, because I’ve had people put their hands on me without asking before and I have NOT liked it, so someone assuming that 17/18 year old me would have been perfectly fine with a casual acquaintance slobbering all over me would not have gone down well.

      • Liskantope says:

        Yeah, I also would not be comfortable with a casual acquaintance cuddling me with out asking first. The only way I can imagine being all right with completely spontaneous cuddling is with a group of close friends who I had already a history of cuddling with. But I’ve never been deeply involved with a social group that ever got into that kind of thing.

  23. Anonymous says:

    (Ozy reminds me that the appropriate trigger warning for Heartiste is “trigger warning: literally the worst person alive, I am so serious about this, you think I am joking but I am not”)

    Even if we grant this comically hyperbolic premise, I’m confident that the net impact Heartiste has had on other people has been large and positive. (and I’ve definitely benefited from reading him.)

    • pwyll says:

      Whoops, forgot to input my handle.

      Another question this article raises is, do non-normal people benefit more from being encouraged to assimilate to the mainstream, or from segregating themselves off as a separate group? I think the answer may depend on whether the particular non-normality is a positive or negative thing.

    • Anatoly says:

      How do you even begin to approach the task of getting some kind of nontrivial data to back up such a bold claim, and back it up to the point of being confident?

      People seem to be so sure of things. It’s weird.

    • coffeespoons says:

      I think reading Heartiste and other nasty parts the manosphere of has had a net-negative effect on me. I spent ages not going on dates because I was convinced that I’d slept with too many people in my early-mid 20s for men to want relationships with me. Also, in general I felt good about my appearance beforehand, and I feel a lot worse about it now, which again has led to me not really dating much (apart from one friends-with-benefits relationship with a male friend that I’ve had for years).

      [FWIW, I am 30 years old, female and single and probably average looking by conventional standards, but good looking by the standards of more nerdy communities].

      • ozymandias says:

        The effects on me of several years of Heartiste reading were less dramatic, but also probably net negative– it’s led me to alieve that I am ugly and doomed to eternal loneliness because I possess traits Heartiste is not attracted to, despite absurd amounts of empirical evidence that I am not doomed to eternal loneliness.

        (Have I stopped reading him? Of course not.)

      • a person says:

        Reading Heartiste seems like a terrible idea for women, but for certain men a good one. I don’t really know what useful information women would get out of Heartiste other than “most men evaluate female attractiveness primarily based on looks”, which, I mean… duh.

        • social justice warlock says:

          Oh, I’d say it’d offer more of an insight into how some men think than that.

          • Deiseach says:

            Does it inform women as to the optimum amount of sexual partners/sexual experience they can or should have, so they fall safely into the magic limit zone of “not a frigid prude but not a dirty slut either”, which means they receive the “You May Safely Bang This One” seal of approval?

          • @Deiseach: If nothing else, reading Heartiste may help one spot and avoid a particular kind of man.

        • Emily says:

          It helped me understand a certain set of behaviors men to in order to be attractive/get laid. By demystifying them, I could better understand my own responses and make better romantic decisions. Some of those behaviors are ok (to me) in certain amounts, some were red flags that I hadn’t previously recognized that meant that the person doing them needed to be completely avoided.

          • veronica d says:

            I think Clarisse Thorn’s book gives me enough tools to “defend against” the PUA types, and saves me from having to wade into the deeper parts of the sewer.

            Plus watching shy, awkward guys get PUA stuff wrong is adorable!

            I have this secret fantasy about some cute but shy PUA-wannabe trying to neg me and me saying, “Oh, hon, that isn’t working. But on the other hand, what’s your opinion of kissing? There’s an alley behind the club.”

            (In my fantasy this leads to the alley. I assume in real life I’d make a wiser choice of location.)

    • BenSix says:

      Whenever I read the man his theories seem plausible but his overarching ethic appears so soulless that I don’t want to have a cold shower so much as jump into the sea. If his only pleasures are his ego and his penis that is his lookout but that this is widely shared is rather bleak.

  24. somnicule says:

    This happened to my high school friend group. Perhaps not quite enough ask/tell culture to go with it, but a lot of camping trips and limited space lead to it being really common for cuddle piles and the like to occur and be comfortable for all concerned.

  25. coffeespoons says:

    I just realised something! I know people (through the UK poly/bi community) who go to cuddle parties and do a lot of platonic cuddling. A couple of times at bi events I’ve been asked if I want to cuddle by men I’m not attracted to. I’ve assumed that they were essentially asking if I wanted to sleep with them, so I said no, even though I might well have been happy to cuddle them. It looks like they may have actually just been asking to cuddle and I could have said yes without it leading to the expectation of sex. This is good news – up til now I’ve only really been comfortable cuddling women and men I’m dating or male exes. Thanks for this post :).

  26. EoT says:

    Asexual cuddle piles remind me of a common coping mechanism (behavioral sink) exhibited during the Calhoun rat experiment. Many rats would withdraw completely from sexual activity and assemble in large piles, leaving much of the remaining enclosure sparsely populated.

  27. Matthew says:

    For at least n=1, I would like to strongly disagree with the underlying theme that desire for sexytimes and desire for cuddles are either a dichotomy or something people want in inverse proportions.

    I’m high testosterone/high jealousy/totally unsuited to polyamory and I have a raging libido, but I like cuddling a lot (with a monogamous partner or with my children; I think a cuddle pile would make me uncomfortable, but then crowds usually make me nervous).

    • Andy says:

      I’m about the same – high libido, not terribly jealous (I trust my partner a great deal) but very very monogamous – and I looooooooooooove cuddling even when it’s not even coming close to firing the engines, as it were. Fortunately, so does she, and our joint study sessions have usually turned into multi-hour cuddling sessions, each of us reading our own articles and not saying a word. It’s nice, but I don’t think I’d ever join a cuddle pile, as crowds make me nervous and touching strangers make me very nervous.

      • Matthew says:

        I would distinguish jealousy from suspiciousness. I also trust my partners, or I wouldn’t choose them as partners. But I’m super-duper-not-okay with them being with other people.

        Actually, the psychology of jealousy is probably worthy of a post of its own. For example, my system 2 can claim all day long that a partner cheating on me with another woman is just as big an emotional betrayal as cheating on me with another man, but my system 1 has no uncertainty about the fact that the latter is orders of magnitude worse as a physical betrayal.

        • Luke Edwards says:

          A man can cuckold you, a woman cannot.

          Over millions of years of evolution, there are some in-born emotions built up around this. But it makes rational sense too.

  28. I find this post beautiful, somehow. It seems like the kind of thing that I’d like to have more of in my life. Which is kind of strange, because I don’t actually like physical contact that much.

    I don’t really have a tribe of my own and never really have, and I think that’s part of what I’m wishing I had. But a “tribe” is a lot of things, and there are some other things that factor into how I feel about this that probably aren’t really “tribe” things, and I’m still trying to disentangle my thoughts about all of this.

  29. Dave Rolsky says:

    I don’t understand why Heartiste (or anyone) cares so much about whether you like cuddling. I for one cannot tolerate extended touching with anyone other than my wife, but if it makes someone else happy, that’s fantastic. I’m happy you’ve found a way to be happy. It really doesn’t affect me (I assume you won’t force-cuddle me), so why would I have a strong opinion about it?

    • Matthew says:

      I don’t read Heartiste, but I can only assume he would work hard to suppress any cultural norm that might undermine the advantage he (thinks he) currently has as a master PUA.

    • drethelin says:

      Like Ann Coulter he’s in a position wherein he profits from being “angry” and “outspoken” about anything he talks about it. I don’t know if he really hates that cuddling happens or honestly thinks it’s terrible/weird but he gets hits from being outraged.

  30. Mike Blume says:

    > I certainly wouldn’t want to be the one who tries to import cuddle culture to some other group where social cohesion is important, like the US Senate.


  31. Lavendar bubble tea says:

    I attend a yearly retreat where cuddle culture is a big thing. In the context of the retreat, everyone gets to know each other and bond on multiple levels. I personally found the cuddlr app to be a little surprising/awkward for me to think about but I don’t really see it as an overall bad thing. I do personally prefer cuddling with people who I am already forming some emotional bonds with but I don’t really see causal cuddling as bad. (In the context of the retreat, I was told that there used to be a drug culture there years ago and that the cuddling might/is likely a product of former wide spread ecstasy use.) Not really that coherent at all, I just have thoughts on this that I am not really sure how to express yet. The whole dialogue has this veil of awkwardness around it for me that I haven’t really felt before.

  32. Peter says:

    You might want to reconsider testosterone as part of your thesis. It’s much more likely to be social conditioning:


    “Researchers have found that the majority of male athletes spoon each other when sharing beds with their teammates.

    Researchers found that 97.5% of heterosexual, male college athletes have shared a bed with another man and 93.5% admit to having indulged in spooning.

    Researchers say the athletes even spooned with others who were not necessarily close friends.”

  33. Allison Rea says:

    Reading this made me feel horrified and disgusted, and want to run away from the LW community and denounce it as a cult to anyone who asks.

    Knee jerk reaction aside, I very much dislike cuddling people I don’t want to sleep with. I’ve been in rationality social circles for a while now, and because of this, frequently am rejected socially by people I have or want friendships with. At a certain point in the party, ANY party, I will be completely unable to interact with anyone without being willing to touch them. Sure, people give lip service to the idea that I can participate without it, but in practice, unless you’re in the pile, nobody makes eye contact or listens to anything you say.

    As a “cute girl” (also ha ha saying that you feel agape/philia only for cute girls is clearly misuse of the term), I am constantly, unceasingly having my boundaries pushed by people who want to touch me. I can’t walk to the grocery store without being hollered at and asked for my number/date/sex, rudely, insultingly. The idea that my own community, as well, would insist on physical contact with my body in order to engage in any sort of discourse with me is repulsive and incredibly unpleasant. And it is an insistence.

    I like socializing just as much as th next guy but if the price is admission is people fucking touching me I’m out of there. The whole situation reminds me of the main failure mode of sex positive culture, which is that if you aren’t feeling positive about it you must be some sort of prude who hates fun. This shit is toxic.

    Have opt-in cuddle parties and don’t invite me. Please. And don’t ever cuddle at any other party. Put it explicitly in the event invitation that there will be cuddle piles.

    • Said Achmiz says:

      The whole situation reminds me of the main failure mode of sex positive culture, which is that if you aren’t feeling positive about it you must be some sort of prude who hates fun. This shit is toxic.

      Oh my god thank you

      Seriously, I hear this view articulated so rarely; I think the last time I’ve seen it was an almost-throwaway line of internal monologue in The Lathe of Heaven (which also made me go “YES THANK YOU”).

      However! I don’t think this cuddle thing is actually the same phenomenon (not that you said it was, I know). It seems different in a way I am having a hard time putting into words. Perhaps part of it is that Scott is suggesting that everyone should cuddle with everyone? I am not sure.

    • Matthew says:

      Have opt-in cuddle parties and don’t invite me. Please. And don’t ever cuddle at any other party. Put it explicitly in the event invitation that there will be cuddle piles.

      Never having been anywhere near a rationalist meetup that was at someone’s home, I had sort of assumed this was what Scott was talking about in the first place. But if not, I’ll second this. There’s a big difference between establishing multiparty cuddling as something many rationalists enjoy and explicitly setting aside time for it, and creating an unspoken norm that mass cuddling is just something that any rational person in good standing does.

      (In regards to Ozy’s observation elsewhere in the thread, as someone who has had more than one alcoholic beverage in a 24 hour period exactly once in my entire life, I’d also endorse explicit norms about drinking over implicit ones. Also, Settlers of Catan is a mediocre board game that was in the right place at the right time, but I digress.)

      • Allison Rea says:

        Yes, Scott seems to be suggesting that everyone cuddle with everyone. That is the reason I find it creepy. Anything of the form “activity X is objectively good, therefore we should all be doing it” is creepy.

        This should have been a reply to the comment above >:(

        • James D says:

          I actually find it very hard to interact with people who don’t like to be touched; partially because there’s a loud voice in my head that yells something like ‘they don’t trust me, so I can’t trust them’, but also because if neither of us can touch each other it means I can neither understand them well nor express myself because I’m continually concentrating on not touching them. It’s about as jarring for my ability to communicate as if someone demanded that we converse without eye contact.

          I’d never insist that someone put up with being touched if they don’t like it… but I always find someone else to be friends or do business with.

          EDIT: It’s not that I communicate by touch, rather that I communicate AND touch, without thinking about it. My ‘personal space’ is about three inches deep at most.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            Out of curiosity, does this need to touch the person you’re talking with extend to conversational partners of both genders? (Relatedly, are you straight, gay, bi …? If you don’t mind answering, of course.)

          • James D says:

            I’m straight, but this applies to both sexes. Not just to touch them, either – people who don’t touch back feel standoffish. I’m aware on an S2 level that this is an unreasonable and uncharitable way to feel about them. I also make an effort with strangers to maintain quite a significant distance, because making people uncomfortable doesn’t benefit me.

            I’m friends with people (and am someone) who ruffle people’s hair when they’re being daft, who grab their arms when making a point, who hold their shoulders when they need to pull themselves together. We emphasise speech with touches and motion, and greet with hugs and often cheek kisses (I believe this is rare in America, it’s fairly normal here). If we’re just sitting and reading or watching films or something we’ll probably be touching; it’s almost just an ‘I’m here’. Conversation distance when standing is about enough to gesticulate, but when sitting is frequently zero (feet up on each other’s laps, or shoulders touching, etc).

            The issue is also evident in body language and closeness. There’s a joke about American and Japanese ambassadors ‘waltzing’, where the latter is attempting to maintain a comfort distance of about an arm’s length and the former is attempting to run away to double that without seeming rude – this used to happen to me frequently until I worked out what was happening and learned to stand still until people found their equilibrium distance.

            The vast majority of these people I have no sexual interest in, either because they’re male, or because they’re female but don’t match my preferences, or because we’re related; several of them are my immediate family.

            [Went and found that ‘joke’; turns out it’s not actually a joke, I was remembering this: http://westsidetoastmasters.com/resources/book_of_body_language/chap9.html about halfway down the page.]

          • Said Achmiz says:

            I see, thank you. Well, the conclusion seems to be: if we were to interact with each other, at least one of us would be uncomfortable — but that is ok, because we would both prefer not to interact with the sort of person that the other one is. (Since I prefer not to be touched, and that my conversational partner maintain more distance from me than you describe.) Right?

            Also, which country do you live in?

          • James D says:

            I live in Britain, though I do travel. If we were to interact, given that we don’t know each other, I would be my usual level of uncomfortable-with-strangers (because they always have relatively huge Personal Spaces which I deliberately but not instinctively respect) and you probably couldn’t tell anything was amiss unless I was drunk or otherwise impaired. I don’t hold this against anyone; it’s I who am aberrant, though not unique, so I just deal with it.

          • Andrea S. says:

            Uh, no offense intended but you sound a bit scary to be around. Interesting that you compare to eye contact – I have almost as strong an aversion to it as Allison Rea describes to social cuddling. It’s simply too intimate for casual use.

      • ozymandias says:

        Cuddle puddles spontaneously break out in rationalist parties a *lot*, so yeah, it is not just designated parties.

    • veronica d says:

      Allison Rea

      The whole situation reminds me of the main failure mode of sex positive culture, which is that if you aren’t feeling positive about it you must be some sort of prude who hates fun. This shit is toxic.

      Do you mind talking more about this, because I’ve never seen it. In fact, I have a fair number of friends who are some flavor of asexual, and that is totally fine. No one considers them a prude. Likewise, pretty much everyone in my social circles does the “Do you hug” thing before going in for a hug. If you hung out in my sex-positive space, I’m pretty sure there will be very little expectations of touch.

      Anyway, not saying your wrong, just “that doesn’t sound like the sex-positive that I know.”

      • Allison Rea says:

        Sure. I’ve been to lots of sex parties, poly stuff, and in general hang out with a sex+ Crowd. You are right that nobody explicitly forces touch – but there are certain expectations, and if one is not sufficiently touchy, they appear standoffish and not One Of Us and will be implicitly excluded.

        The example that sums it up in my head occurred when I was at the Pride Parade, and a lady came up, talked a bit, and then said, “So are you going to take your shirt off, or are you not here for the parade?”.

        And yes, avowed asexuals tend to get a free pass for having a Special Snowflake Sexuality that we Must Respect.

        • nydwracu says:

          And yes, avowed asexuals tend to get a free pass for having a Special Snowflake Sexuality that we Must Respect.

          Shit! Are we losing the ability to navigate preferences that aren’t transmuted into identities?

          • Said Achmiz says:


            That ship has sailed. (Sexuality is the big example, but food preferences are another, and much of the talk about neuroatypicality has elements of this as well — this is why formal diagnosis is such a big deal.)

            Have you really just noticed? I’m not being snarky — I’m actually curious; I’ve bemoaned this unfortunate consequence of the “human rights movement” and “social justice” and so forth for some time, and as Some Sort of Neoreactionary Or Something* I sort of assumed you’d have this as a standard talking/thinking point already.

            *I don’t know your actual preferred political label or whatever so I’m just going by what I’ve gathered, sorry

          • coffeespoons says:

            I would say we’re losing (or have maybe lost) the ability to navigate preferences that aren’t transmuted into social justice categories. When I defend my preference for drinking alcohol at parties, I seem to be taken much more seriously if I point out that it helps with my social anxiety, than if I just say that I enjoy drinking.

          • veronica d says:

            I would not be alive without my (what you call) “special snowflake” identity group. But seriously, I did not know there were others quite like me. Furthermore, if there were not spaces for people like me, and if I had not found them, I would be dead now.

            And yes, having a name for us is part of all that.

          • coffeespoons says:

            I’d say social justice categories rather than identities, because being e.g. a golfer is an identity, not a social justice category, whereas my anxiety is an SJ category but not an identity. Some things like asexuality seem to be both SJ categories and identities.

          • veronica d says:

            I’m not sure if I quite see the difference. A member of a marginalized group will receive all the lovely disadvantages of their “identity” or “social justice category” regardless of what happens on Tumblr.

          • Nornagest says:

            A member of a marginalized group will receive all the lovely disadvantages of their “identity” or “social justice category” regardless of what happens on Tumblr.

            I’m… actually not sure about that.

            One of the reasons I’m not a big fan of modern identity politics is that it tends to interpret identities primarily in terms of exclusion, disadvantage, and, where possible, oppression. (This isn’t just a Tumblr thing; it’s all over gamer culture, for example. Hell, even Christian fundamentalists do it, which is kind of grimly hilarious.)

            It’s plausible to me that thinking of identity in those terms primes people to find disadvantage that they otherwise wouldn’t, e.g. by being more prone to interpret interactions as zero- or negative-sum. There’s an undercurrent of suspicion in geek culture, for example, that’s likely related to this sort of thinking.

          • nydwracu says:

            Have you really just noticed?

            I’d suspected it for a while, but I couldn’t think of other examples and wasn’t sure if I was imagining things. That seemed like a good place to fish for examples, so I did, and now there are other examples. (The alcohol/social anxiety one is something that I wouldn’t have thought of.)

          • Lizardbreath says:

            @veronica d:

            I would not be alive without my (what you call) “special snowflake” identity group. But seriously, I did not know there were others quite like me. Furthermore, if there were not spaces for people like me, and if I had not found them, I would be dead now.

            And yes, having a name for us is part of all that.

            I completely agree (about mine)…but that’s not the point of this conversation.

            I guess an SJW would be all “LOL you derailed the discussion.” Their terminology can be useful: You did. Where I disagree with them is where they go on to, “SO YOU’RE EVIL!!!111!!!” Because like I said, I understand where you’re coming from.

            I also think you’re (understandably) sensitized on this issue, and I can see that (and why) you decided the existence of “identity groups at all” was under attack (because of the “special snowflake” terminology) and needed your heated defense, but I think you were mistaken. (All debates are bravery debates.) (To use the old-fashioned way of putting it: you seem to have a chip on your shoulder.)

            I agree with Said: We have lost (what nydwracu called) “the ability to navigate preferences that aren’t transmuted into identities.”

            So people who have a real need to defend their preferences are meeting this need by reaching for more and more finely differentiated identities. Thus the use of the term “Special Snowflake Identity.”

            I dunno. I’ve seen “special snowflake” used–as I think it was here–as a way to characterize and even push back against proliferating, not-possible-for-most-people-to-keep-track-of identities/categories. I’ve also seen it used (often) to dismiss the existence and the needs of groups of people who did have real things in common and did have real needs which differed from those of the norm. I think both the remark and your pushback have their place (because all debates are bravery debates).

            In the context of this discussion…all I can say is we shouldn’t forget that there may be–there used to be!–additional ways to solve this problem (of navigating preferences and needs) than solely by using identity groups or other “social justice categories.”

            (But I agree that the groups are useful and sometimes absolutely necessary.)

            Kenan Malik has some interesting thoughts on this. He’s focusing on religious identity groups, but he addresses similar issues:

            The experience of living in a society transformed by, among other things, mass immigration, a society that is less insular, more vibrant and more cosmopolitan, is to be cherished. It is an argument for open borders and open minds.

            As a political process, however, multiculturalism means something very different. It describes a set of policies, the aim of which is to manage diversity by putting people into ethnic boxes, defining individual needs and rights by virtue of the boxes into which people are put, and using those boxes to shape public policy. It is a case, not for open borders and minds, but for the policing of borders, whether physical, cultural or imaginative.


            Multiculturalists and the clash of civilisations warriors have different views about the nature of Islam. Both, however, look upon Muslims as a distinct population, homogenous in its outlook, defined almost solely by its faith, and whose difference must dictate the way that wider society deals with it. In viewing cultural differences in this fashion, both sides have been led to betray basic liberal principles….

            Twenty years ago, Rushdie’s critics no more spoke for the Muslim community than Rushdie himself did. Both represented different strands of opinion within Muslim communities…. In accepting that people “have to limit the extent to which they subject each other’s fundamental beliefs to criticism”, multicultural censors have helped undermine progressive movements within minority communities and legitimise reactionary tendencies….

            Multiculturalists and clash of civilisations warriors both start with the question: “Can Europe be the same with different people in it?” They give different answers. But the question itself is the problem. It assumes that minority communities are homogenous wholes whose members will forever be attached to the cultures, faiths, beliefs and values of their forebears.

            Being born to European parents is not a passport to Enlightenment beliefs. So why should we imagine that having Bangladeshi or Moroccan ancestry makes one automatically believe in Sharia? In confusing peoples and values both sides betray a lack of faith in their own abilities to win people of different backgrounds to a common set of Enlightened values.

          • Andrea S. says:

            Yes. Just try having an unusual food preference that can’t be reduced to health considerations or underlying philosophical motivation.

            (In my case, nearly-exclusive carnivory due to some strong and not consciously overridable taste aversions. Yeah, very far from neurotypical.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “As a “cute girl” (also ha ha saying that you feel agape/philia only for cute girls is clearly misuse of the term)”

      I kind of accept that criticism, and I knew someone was going to make it, but it seemed like the best way to get something complicated about sexuality across.

      This might be a personal mind design quirk, but for me sexuality kind of feeds into other kinds of positive feelings instead of staying sexual? It’s hard to explain. I understand that the origin of the energy is sexual, and that this is obviously why it mostly applies to “cute girls”, but I’m just saying it feels like really intense protectiveness and love and wanting to help someone, rather than a desire to bone them. I can sometimes feel some of that too, but it’s different.

      Or maybe everyone feels that way. If there’s one thing I learned from that comment thread in Universal Human Experiences, it’s that people’s understanding of sexuality and ways of describing their sexuality are so confused that everybody could be mostly the same or there could be as many ways of relating sexually as there are different people.

      • Two things in your defense:

        * Preferences for one gender over another that aren’t sexual or romantic in nature are totally a thing. I know that, at least in certain contexts, I’ve found it easier to make friends with women than with men. And this isn’t an n=1 thing, I’ve read about it in a few places (mostly online spaces dealing with asexuality).

        * Agape and philia don’t actually have agreed-upon definitions. Given the kinds of things that are talked about on this blog (and that you cited Leah Libresco), I’m guessing some people are thinking of C. S. Lewis’s The Four Loves. I’m more likely to think of John Lee’s theory of love styles (although I just checked and apparently philia isn’t one of those, but still, it’s not like Lewis is the only person who ever used that word).

        On the whole I’d guess that your mind design quirk is actually pretty common. (Of course “there are as many ways of relating sexually as there are different people” is trivially true, but we can still spot some patterns.)

      • Allison Rea says:

        That’s not unusual. It is a near universal feature of attraction that it bleeds over into feelings of kindness – see halo effect for example of this in action. To be honest I’m pretty dumbfounded that one would think of others’ sexuality as, what, pure animal lust without care or feelings? I think the only person like that is the Roissy formerly known as Heartiste, who is evil for this reason mostly.

        So what I’m saying is, the thing you think of as agape is actually Eros, Eros is great, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for parties. Trying to separate cuddling from Eros seems like a pretty big mistake.

        • Elissa says:

          So what I’m saying is, the thing you think of as agape is actually Eros, Eros is great, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for parties.

          Nnnnnn I feel like this whole discussion is being hamstrung by the whole eros vs agape business that wants to draw a bright line around Scary Dangerous Sexuality. And it’s not even that I’m unsympathetic to the idea that sexuality may be scary/dangerous; it’s just that you can’t really do that. Yeah sure it’s probably going to be easier to have cuddle-feelings toward people one is attracted to, and also boners are probably going to happen during cuddling. My husband tells me that he often gets erections just from being generally happy and sleepy, and it’s not some kind of special asexual erection either.

          Know what else? There are certain foods and works of abstract art that give me tingles, not like as some kind of a paraphilia, but just because I’m really into them. I myself haven’t had kids but I’m given to believe that breastfeeding can feel good in a very sensual and physical way involving the bits covered by a bikini, and I’m sorry if that squicks anybody out but there it is. We use oxytocin and dopamine for a lot of different things. We are embodied creatures; there’s not some perfect angelic sexless love I can or should be able to feel in every part of me except my cooch.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            This is a very interesting point! Follow-up questions present themselves:

            How would you characterize the different things that Scott (and others in the comments) are trying to differentiate between? The same thing in different degrees? Multiple dimensions of things, different but potentially interacting? Some sort of spectrum?

            Also: possibly related to this discussion is the concept of a squish.

          • Elissa says:

            I guess I’d say that there are several different dimensions and flavor notes associated with warm/attaching/attraction-feelings, any of which can– and will!– subtly shade and feed into the others. In particular, sexual feelings are not a contaminant that invalidates or overrides other forms of love, and which therefore must (even if they could, which they can’t) be kept hermetically sealed except in explicitly sexual contexts.

    • Viliam Búr says:

      At a certain point in the party, ANY party, I will be completely unable to interact with anyone without being willing to touch them.

      This is completely wrong. And I am saying it as someone who would actually want to have a cuddle party nearby.

      people give lip service to the idea that I can participate without it, but in practice, unless you’re in the pile, nobody makes eye contact or listens to anything you say

      This seems to me like plain rudeness. Unfortunately, nerds are not famous for having superb social skills, and in this situation we can’t just copy the norms of the majority.

      In can imagine, in theory, cuddling with one person, and paying attention to another one. In practice, I didn’t have an opportunity to test it. So maybe it is possible, and maybe it is not. If it is possible, then this is the polite thing to do.

      If it is not possible, then the polite thing is to strategically avoid this kind of inconvenience, for example by explicitly announcing that the party will involve cuddling, or perhaps even to divide the party into two halves: first half without cuddling, which at predetermined time changes to the cuddling part, and the uninterested people are free to leave (but they knew in advance that this will happen, and when it will happen, so they could make their informed decision).

      tl;dr – just have some empathy, people! if cuddling releases hormones that at the moment make you unable to empathise with people who don’t want to cuddle, then think about it strategically in advance.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        If it is not possible, then the polite thing is to strategically avoid this kind of inconvenience, for example by explicitly announcing that the party will involve cuddling, or perhaps even to divide the party into two halves: first half without cuddling, which at predetermined time changes to the cuddling part, and the uninterested people are free to leave (but they knew in advance that this will happen, and when it will happen, so they could make their informed decision).

        Insert xkcd comic link here, again

        “I will outline this simple and logical solution to your social-interaction problems. No, I haven’t tested it; it is obvious, from first principles!”

        I’m sorry if I sound like I’m just being snarky and bitter. But I really am wondering whether you think your suggestions will work. Does a view of people and their patterns of social interactions that would enable your plan to work really seem consistent with the described experiences of the people in the comments to this post?

        • I think it’s totally reasonable to think that such suggestions might work and at least are worth trying to find out if they work. You can’t have empiricism without theorists.

          The point of that xkcd comic is not “the status quo is optimal so never even think about trying anything else” and I wish people would stop citing it as such.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            That is not how I am citing it.

            My first point is that “geeks, with poor social skills [note: this includes me], who attempt to fix a social-interaction issue without a good understanding of existing incentive structures and nuances of social dynamics, are unlikely to be effective in such attempts”.

            My second point is that if people (at least, the people involved in the situations in question), and their social dynamics, were such that the proposed solution would be plausible, then we would be unlikely to have said situations in the first place.

            My third point is that presenting the proposed solutions as obvious and obviously effective (“just have some empathy, people!”) is completely unwarranted.

        • Viliam Búr says:

          I was reasoning by analogy. I have a group of friends who are fun to talk with. But some of them are big fans of various board games — they bring the games to a meeting, and they start playing, and then everyone only focuses on playing, and it becomes impossible to talk about anything else meaningfully. I don’t like board games, and when this happens, I feel completely excluded.

          So when I am invited, I ask plainly: “Are we going to play board games or not? Because I am not interested in playing.”

          And if someone suggests to play while I am there, I say: “I am not interested in playing board games, so how about we do all the other things first, and then I leave, and then you guys play the game?” I am not telling them not to play, merely to change the timing.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            Reasoning by analogy from a non-sexual situation to a sexual situation (and the whole “cuddling” thing is clearly a sexual situation, not because sex takes place, but because sexual feelings and preferences are involved)? What could go wrong!

            The situation you’re analogizing from could well work as you describe. I do not know you or your friends group, and so cannot comment.

            Also: I’m sorry if it seems like I am being antagonistic; it’s just that I am deeply, deeply skeptical about the existence of a simple solution to the cuddling thing, where everyone is satisfied and no one’s feelings are hurt — much less one as straightforward and reasoned-from-first-principles as the one you described.

      • coffeespoons says:

        I know several really smart and interesting people who really hate too much physical contact. It seems as though the rationality community may well be shooting itself in the foot by excluding people like this. The people who like cuddling don’t really seem to be taking this seriously and that surprises me.

        FWIW, I actually like cuddles myself, but I also really like having interesting conversations without physical contact, and I wouldn’t want to spend the whole evening at a party in a cuddle pile.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        divide the party into two halves

        At the one LW meetup I went to, this was done not in time but in space–someone started a cuddle group in the other room and about half the people went to it. This seemed like a pretty graceful way of handling it, though dependent on having two rooms and enough people who don’t want to cuddle.

    • Eli says:

      I like socializing just as much as th next guy but if the price is admission is people fucking touching me I’m out of there. The whole situation reminds me of the main failure mode of sex positive culture, which is that if you aren’t feeling positive about it you must be some sort of prude who hates fun. This shit is toxic.

      Solidarity, even though I’ve never been to the kind of party that involved cuddle piles.

    • anonymous says:

      Yeah, I think I’m a cute girl too, and this freaks me the fuck out. One possible difference between us is that I love touch–constantly touching my partner when we’re in private, and in situations where i have intimate platonic friends nearby (just moved, so not in the past couple of months) i’m very touchy–taking multi-person showers where we chat and scrub each other’s backs, sharing beds, holding hands. However, all of that ends when I’m in public–no touching at all, not my partner, not my friends, if you’re a stranger i’ll shake your hand but that’s it.

      Maybe public cuddle culture is more comfortable for people who aren’t as used to sexual touch being a threat–people who don’t need to restrict their touching to a trusted few to feel safe.

      For me, the freak-the-fuck-out thing here, is the public setting….cuddling is very intimate, as the author acknowledges; you’re going to end up involving people in your intimacy unwantedly, or else nudging out people who don’t feel like touching you?

      Rationalists are fun to interact with online, but yeah, I wouldn’t want to hang out with them in person.

      • Ialdabaoth says:

        This is increasing my intuition that rationalist parties need to set up two different spaces – one which is high-sensory-stimulation (cuddling, bright lights, shiny things, alcohol/recpharm+) and one which is high-intellectual-stimulation (board games, debates, discussions of fiction, story ideas, storytelling).

        It’s not a perfect separation, but everything I’ve observed suggests that it’s the most natural possible grouping.

        • Said Achmiz says:

          But at least two people in the comments here have stated that they enjoy alcohol but not cuddle piles! (I’m one of those; I also don’t want bright lights and such, and I definitely do want discussions of fiction, debates, (some) board games, possibly storytelling (depending on what you mean by this, exactly)).

          I don’t think this grouping is very good at all, I’m afraid. 🙁

          • Ialdabaoth says:

            Well, I think that there’s still ways to satisfy that – alcohol can be brought from the Dionysian side into the Apollonian side, but by default is kept on the Dionysian side, etc.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I like cuddles, debate, and discussions; dislike boardgames, bright lights, alcohol.

          Sorry, I don’t think this grouping works very well.

          • Ialdabaoth says:

            It’s sounding like we either need a few thousand tiny rooms, or we need to accept some compromises. 🙂

            (Also, I chose things like board games / debates / etc. because they’re things that can happen adjacent to each other without being particularly disruptive; on the other hand, trying to have a good board game or discussion can be incredibly difficult while bright lights and music and boisterous carousing is happening nearby)

          • Matthew says:

            Oh, come on, regarding board games…

            I think a slight retheming of this one could be the official game of the regrettable-posts comments sections — Ergo: Bravery Debate. Prove your problems exist and your opponents’ problems don’t.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            No, I full stop will not go to / stay at any party with loud music, there is no reason parties should have loud music, if you want to have loud music at a party bring your own mp3 player and headphones.

          • Anonymous says:

            there is no reason parties should have loud music

            Well, maybe you hate loud music, but it’s not just a matter of taste. There is a reason, a purpose of loud music at parties. It’s rude of you to assert it out of existence.

          • BenSix says:

            There is a reason, a purpose of loud music at parties.

            Indeed. It’s so that if you’re in a conversation that you want to escape you can say, “Sorry! Can’t hear you!”

          • drethelin says:

            Well there’s that and also the fact that people can actively enjoy loud music and like dancing to it. Also: Who the hell doesn’t like bright lights when playing board games? One of the most annoying things in the world is not being able to see what’s going across the table because the room is dim. Bright lights and board games go hand in hand.

          • Nornagest says:

            Indeed. It’s so that if you’re in a conversation that you want to escape you can say, “Sorry! Can’t hear you!”

            Also to promote nonverbal communication.

          • Ialdabaoth says:

            sorry, s/bright lights/bright flashing lights

        • Matthew says:

          I don’t think sensory stimulation is necessarily the issue with cuddles (though it might be for some people). I definitely have a problem with bright lights and loud noises, but (in the context of individual people I care about, in private, as opposed to a public pile) I like cuddling.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        Rationalists are fun to interact with online, but yeah, I wouldn’t want to hang out with them in person.

        I think this may be taking the sentiment too far. I mean, I’m an aspiring rationalist, I suppose, and I don’t think you’d have any problem hanging out with me (well, at least not for any of the reasons you mention; there might conceivably be others, certainly).

        More generally — being a rationalist doesn’t somehow make you The Sort Of Person that will do the bad things that you describe as making you not want to be around rationalist hangouts. It’s only in that certain sort of context — the social atmosphere of some “rationalist communities” or “rationalist parties” where the cuddling norm is in place — that we run into problems.

        • Anonymous says:

          Clarification, then–I’d probably hang out with individual aspiring rationalists, but avoid community events if these are the touching norms.

      • ozymandias says:

        I don’t think that’s true? I am used to sexual touch being a threat– lots of sexual harassment as a teenager, a sexual assault, being groped a fair number of times, catcalling, socially pressured into dating people I didn’t want to date and having sex I didn’t want to have, etc. I also fucking love cuddle piles.

        Conversely, I’ve known people who loathe cuddle piles and have no trauma history.

      • Benquo says:

        I have been to several rationalist parties. I have not participated in even one cuddle pile. At no point did this make good conversation unavailable to me, or was I expected to cuddle.

    • Lizardbreath says:

      “The whole situation reminds me of the main failure mode of sex positive culture, which is that if you aren’t feeling positive about it you must be some sort of prude who hates fun. This shit is toxic.”

      And that is why I identify not as “sex-positive” but as “an ordinary person [about sex].”

      OTOH, social justice warriors haven’t driven me from feminism–because I’m old (gen X), and it helped me, and I refuse to be driven away from a movement I’ve identified with since the freaking 1980s, just by the rantings of a bunch of obnoxious johnny-come-latelies who often, it seems, aren’t even sincere. :hoists banner: No True Scotsman! 😉

      (BTW, Scott, I’d like to apologize for how the No True Scotsmen have treated you. We never intended or expected that.)

      I suppose if “sex positive” culture had stepped in and helped me when I was young, I’d feel the same way about it–as it is, though, I’ve only experienced its downside.

  34. Said Achmiz says:

    The backlash against this idea is reminding of a certain xkcd comic.

    • The situation isn’t precisely analogous, because cuddle culture isn’t a product of armchair theorizing; some people are actually doing it in real life and finding that it really does work for them. But the main point of the comic is something that we’d all do well to keep in mind.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I worry that that comic is making the Bottomless Pit mistake.

      Like, suppose normal social interaction has the problem that a couple of people are really really unhappy with it and totally excluded. For example, maybe everyone is cuddling and having fun, but a couple of people feel like they can’t attend parties.

      If this is brought up, there’s going to be a lot of awkwardness and debate and maybe some hard feelings, but then end result may be trading off a bit of exasperation and drama for the people in the nice town (happy cuddlers) for doing something about the bottomless pit (people who previously felt totally excluded)

      • Said Achmiz says:

        I don’t think that’s what the comic is getting at (although I agree that what you describe may reasonably be thought of as a pit scenario).

        I think the idea is — normal social interaction has the problem that most people, at some point or another, have various issues. The well-meaning geek comes up with a solution that eliminates all of those issues. But oh no! When he attempts to implement them, it just causes MORE ISSUES for everyone, and fails to even solve any of the issues it meant to.

        • Matthew says:

          I assume the point of the comic is, to coin a metaphor, society has Chesterton Invisible Fences(tm). Sometimes, social norms have obvious costs because of status quo bias, but sometime it’s because the norm is the end result of a long process of weighing cost tradeoffs that are no longer readily apparent.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            Chesterton Fences is exactly a thing I was thinking about when I linked to the comic in this thread. The important difference is that a fence (and, by analogy — accurate or not — the sorts of traditions Chesterton was talking about) is put there deliberately. Social norms may not be.

            This has important implications. For instance, it probably makes it more likely that a social norm is a local maximum, and greater maxima might exist. Of course, the cost of transitioning to one might be quite high — assuming you can even correctly identify it.

  35. Princess_Stargirl says:

    Since there has been alot of dicussion of what group norms are best I feel like expressing my view. I am very against people who are arguing about what group norms are better than others. Beyond “don’t steal or randomly murder people” there is no answer to this question. People prefer different norms. And I really do not like attempts to get everyone to accept the norms they find enoyable. The best we can hope for is for different groups to have diverse norms, so the highest percentage of people can feel comfortable.

    I personally cannot stand anything that resembles a “practical joke” and do not feel even remotely safe around people who do these kinds of jokes. If one is aware of my preferences and palys a joke on me then they are being extraordinarily unkind and rude. However if I willing enter a social circle where such practical jokes are commona nd do not let the group know my preference then I shouldn’t get mad at the group for being jokers. Maybe the person who pulled a joke on me was actually trying to make me feel like I fit in. And if practical jokes are core to the group dynamic maybe I just shouldn’t join this group.

    I think if a person wants to fix the problem of people feeling left out or weirded out they should do it on a personal level, not try to change other people’s behavior. Many people have said they feel left out of cuddle piles. If I saw someone who seemed left out and I got along reasonably with them (we don’t have to be clsoe but have to enjoy talking) I would seriously consider talking to them instead of joining the cuddle puddle. I am sure talking to them is also alot of fun, and I would feel somewhat weird in the puddle if a friend/semi-friend was left out. Of course if someone else was already talkign tot hem I would jump in for some cuddle <3

    I think one does more good if you focus on your own behavior, not the behavior of other people. Focusing on other people is like politics. There is a very good chance you are on the wrong side of the debate and your efforts to do good are actually going to make things worse. And even if you are on the right side chanigng how other people act is extremely unlikely to work.

    In my opinion if a group has a social norm there is probably a good reason. And as long as people have a good number of choices of social groups there is not reason to try to change things. Except the marginal improvements you can make by being a nicer person yourself.

    For the record I feel the same about “Explicit consent” norms. They make some people feel safe and sexy. Other people (including many women I personally know) find them stiffling and weird. Ideally there will be groups with both norms. Though of course if you strongly beleive someone favors one norm or the other you should go with that. Though in this case err on the side of being explict as the errors are not equal in amgnitude in both directions.

    • Said Achmiz says:

      If I saw someone who seemed left out and I got along reasonably with them (we don’t have to be clsoe but have to enjoy talking) I would seriously consider talking to them instead of joining the cuddle puddle.

      A (large?) part of the problem is exactly that people do not, in fact, do this. It is very difficult to maintain such behavior, even more difficult to promote a norm of such behavior; there is no real incentive to behave this way. Instead, as mentioned in the comments here, people who are into cuddling just end up in the cuddle pile and talking only to other cuddlers.


      I personally cannot stand anything that resembles a “practical joke” and do not feel even remotely safe around people who do these kinds of jokes.

      I feel the same way.

      • Matthew says:

        I find pranking appalling as well. I suspect that in certain circles, though, the mechanism is similar to “friendship is countersignalling.”

      • Princess_Stargirl says:

        This is a purely academic point and I hope no one will interpret these as my MAIN motivations.

        I disagree there is no incentive to do this. In my experinece most people appreciate you hanging out with them when they feel left out. Usually people don’t want you to hang out with them JUST to make them feel better. But most people do like it when if your concern for them tilted your decision in the direction of not joining the cuddle pile/boardgame etc. The usual dynamic is that you should never make your motivation explicit but if they thank you then you are allowed to smile and give them a hug (assuming they like hugs).

        The other selfish incentive is that if they are your friend it will hurt you to know that they are left out. There are many situations where even from an egoist (for the record I am not an egoist) perspective I am better off stopping people from feeling left out. If the other person interprets your actions as coming partially from your concern for them then they may look extra kindly upon you. These sorts of situations are often a good oppurtunity to build intimacy.

        Finally ditching the cuddle pile is a credible signal that they can trust you as a friend. Lots of people say “I will be there for you” but words are not nearly as effective as actions for demonstrating this. Here I will admit to being a little selfish. I like when people trust me, and I like making them feel better. Imo since many people do not consider things like “I was left out of a cuddle pile” as a
        “real” problem by empathizing with them you show that you are genuinely thinking abou their wellfare, not just following a social script. All in all there seem to be many selfish benefits, at least as long as you have some connection to this person. And you are suffiently socially adept to realize they might want a friend at the moment.

        However you are probably right. Most people probablt don’t do this. I have many flaws (most of them to do with me being lazy and low energy) but I think I actually am unusually good at noticing when people feel left out/etc. Most people don’t notice imo, especially not when noticing could ruin their fun. Though again I think they are basically being foolish, in many social situations the “nicer” thing to do actually winds up being as or more fun and socially beneficially to you (and when its not, who really cares – I just repeat to live is to suffer to myself).

    • drethelin says:

      I kind of agree with not trying to influence arbitrary people’s norms but there’s two ways to get to be in a community with norms you like: Seek one out or change the norms of a community you’re already in. I think it’s perfectly legitimate to talk about what bothers you in case other people are willing to change or compromise. Maybe no one was ever really that attached to X, and it just happened to become a norm, or maybe there’s better ways to do it that are less alienating. If someone really likes most of what a community does but one specific norm ruins it for them, the community is not obligated to change but I think it’s a good idea for that person to talk to people and see if they’re willing to change.

  36. Zanzard says:

    You know, this post seems to have been posted at just the right time, as I’m looking forward to find more people to “cuddle” with, even though I’m interested more in the emotional and mental side of it than the physical one.

    I’m facing a very stressful personal situation right now, and shared my problems with a person close to me. In response, this person showed support for me, but all in a very “reason-based” and argumentative way which dismissed most of my fellings and frankly left me feeling worse in the end.

    As a counter-balance to that situation, I’m looking forward to soon reach out to another person, but before anything I’m going to say that the help I want is simply for this person to “cuddle me”. My hope is that starting from this point I’ll get help and also feel better, not worse.

    Two points I’d like to make:
    – For whatever reason, when I started looking for this emotional support, I did not think “I want emotional support” or “help”, I especifically thought “I want emotional cuddling”. Only now I realise the interesting choice of words in my mind.
    – The reason I chose this particular person to ask soon for “emotional cuddling” is because I can get physical cuddling from her too. So that helps.

  37. Eli says:

    Ah. This explains why I was always uncomfortable with cuddle couches at summer camp: I do have a sex drive.