Cuddling promotion

Tenderness and freedom

I would like to buy closeness.

I advise against it.


Because you’ll only get its illusion. A bond cannot be bought. This seems obvious, making it difficult to understand that people are willing to pay for contact with other people. Wouldn’t it be better if they hugged their partner, children, parents, friends? The problem is that the heroes of my book often lack such people or are unable to build a close enough relationship with them. Their loneliness and alienation last for years. They want to get out of it, but they can’t. And finally one day they say: maybe I will pay for what I cannot get for free? A psychology student thought so. In the cuddle shop, she first purchased a single hour of service, and then soon a full package of “platonic” physical affection. I took the title of the book from the rules of this business. This bunch of words says a lot about it. My teeth hurt from it. Because how can a service be platonic? It’s not a feeling, it’s not love. Of course, the slogan is that paid cuddling is not a sexual service. Therefore, the company emphasises in the regulations that it offers friendly and family touch. But wait! Who pays a friend, mother, sister for a hug? It’s terribly cynical and sad.

Or maybe the cuddler has really noble intentions?

I do not exclude them. I also do not exclude the fact that perhaps cuddlers would like to comfort the lonely in their suffering. But if we are to be fair, I imagine such an intimate service as volunteering. Meanwhile, here we have an extensive price list and high, increasing rates. Because of them, the psychology student I was talking about had to resign from using the service. She could no longer afford it. A 45-minute session at the beginning cost 79 zlotys, these days – 199 zlotys, and that is a ‘special offer’.

Some clients treat it as therapy.

Some cuddlers are even compared to therapists, although they are not educated in this field. On the one hand, they refer to psychological terminology in their messages, and often even suggest that it is a service recommended by psychologists. On the other hand, they compare it to a manicure or a massage. So I asked the owner of a Polish cuddle shop if a cuddler could hurt a client who comes to them with depression or anxiety. I heard that someone can hurt themselves at the gym by just dropping a weight on their leg. However, they will not sue the company for this and will blame themselves.

There are no educational requirements to becoming a cuddler. However, they have to undergo several stages of recruitment: upload a video about themselves, have a meeting in the company, complete a two-day training course, and finally pass a test. As part of the training, they learn the rules of cuddling. This includes security issues. When one person provides a service, the other employee is next door. In Polish cuddle shops, when the client gets an erection, he is asked to leave the cuddling room, it is about the safety and comfort of the cuddler. The user of the cuddling service should not by definition attempt to establish a private relationship with the service provider.

But it’s probably human to think: recently I was close to this person, I would like to get to know them better.

This is what Krzysztof, one of my heroes, thought. After the second session, he sent his cuddler an invitation to his friends on Facebook. It was not accepted. He received a dry e-mail from the company informing him that his cuddler had been changed. He felt hurt.

It is worth adding here, however, that the session does not have to involve hugging. The cuddler also offers spending time together. Watching TV, playing board games, hand clapping. On the company’s website, you can choose the person you will do this with. There you have photos and videos of employees introducing themselves. There are also descriptions in which they talk about their interests. This is also how Krzysztof made his choice. He was guided by the young age and gender of the cuddler. In an interview with me, he emphasised that he was not missing the figure of a mother or a grandmother. Rather, although he did not say it directly, a romantic, sexual partner.

Would you buy such a session?

I was thinking about doing this as an experiment for the text. In the end, however, I decided that it would make no sense – the reportage was not about my impressions, but about the feelings of people who went to the shop out of their own needs. On my own, I would never have had a cuddling session. And regardless of the fact that I know what it means to lack closeness. Such an attempt to deal with this lack can only make it worse.

But I understand people who go to these shops. I don’t feel any better than them. It might sound weird, but I have a lot of empathy inside me, which is possibly devastating. I also used it during conversations with representatives of another business – pick-up coaches. Many people are disgusted by them, I feel rather sorry for them. I tried not to condemn them. I felt it when they talked about their past: rejection, failure, loneliness. I experienced it with them and from this perspective I watched what they came up with as compensation.

Their courses are designed to prove to people who consider themselves to be nothing that they are worth something. The self-esteem that these clients so desperately need comes at the expense of women, unfortunately. And the trainees actually do it to their own detriment. Hitting on more and more women and getting phone numbers from them makes them addicted. They treat it like a sport. Coaches usually encourage people not to stop picking up even after they’ve entered into a relationship. After all, a woman may disappear, go away. So you need spare options, preferably a few. This is the desperate thinking of distrustful and unhappy people.

One of the coaches, Rafał Żuber, told me that he had long-term relationships with women mainly based on sex. And he added, “If you are single in a city like Warsaw, you must have several women. With one girlfriend, you can see her every two weeks.” I feel a bit of bitterness in his words, which arises from an unmet need for closeness. Since he couldn’t find one woman who would devote enough time to him, he dated several at once, but only superficially. Sad, isn’t it?

Some coaches do not teach pick-up but harassment techniques. One of them advised students to say, “Hi, from the moment I saw you, I started imagining ourselves having sex together. Come with me.”

This was said by a coach who would not talk to me. Others, who advocated equally radical methods, also refused to do so. Compared to them, Żuber is a seducer with a “humanitarian” approach as he called it.

However, let’s not forget that feminists do not, by definition, run pick-up courses. And yes, I am convinced that they often lack awareness and sensitivity. In addition, very shy people apply for their training. The coaches make them approach random women in the street and try out tricks on them. If the trick works, the trainee is given a telephone number. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to date this girl right now and they will have a relationship. He considers it a small success and goes back to hitting on more women. At the end of the day, the coaches account the trainees for their results. How many approaches were a success? What did the girls say? Training sessions take place in public places – on the street, in clubs, shopping centres. One of my heroes received instructions from his coach to suddenly kiss a girl in a shop. The security guards did not respond, as usual. This passivity only confirms that they aren’t doing anything wrong.

From the trivia related to the topic – there is another such thing as the ex-partner recovery service. I spoke with a client of this business, although the report did not appear in the book. He was pleased with the service. Not because the partner with whom he has a child has returned to him. No, he was glad to know how to get someone back in the future.

And why is the pick-up course so expensive compared to hugs?

It is sold as a one-off event that can change your life. Weekend training can therefore cost up to PLN 5,000. The coaches will tell you in advance that yes, you are still nothing now, but if you invest in yourself, everything will change. The high price may also result from what the owner of a marriage agency says in another chapter of my book. In her opinion, a man will get really involved only if he pays a lot. Is this true? Maybe to some extent, but it doesn’t have to concern just men. It is similar with dietary supplements. We pay for a nicely packaged product that gives us the illusion that we will feel better. And it may be so, but for a short time. These pills don’t heal, they just drown out what you are missing. Therefore, participants of pick-up courses receive a pill to raise their ego. There is a chance that if they dare to talk to a woman several times, they will feel better, more valued and maybe even consider whether to build a deeper relationship with a given person (against the suggestions of the coaches). I believe that such trainees exist, and then this business can do something good. But I haven’t met any. All the people I talked to preferred to build their ego instead of building relationships.

It was the same on the Speed Dates you were on.

I started my adventure with speed dating by visiting the website I may not have a sense of humour, but the very name of this site struck me as cringey. The photos on it showed sleek, well-groomed beauties from a catalogue. I felt that it was somehow insulting me. At the same time, these strange, embarrassing worlds somehow fascinated me. To meet other dating people, you must first pay to attend a meeting. The amount depends on age and gender. “Mature women” (according to the definition of one of the speed dating companies, this maturity begins at the age of 30) are charged 35 zlotys, and men in a similar age range pay 25 zlotys. After paying, you go to the premises where you get a name tag and a form to fill out. After each five-minute date, you mark in it who has caught your eye.

At first, I marked all the men. Everyone could be a potential hero of the reportage. At first, I told them that I was writing a book. And that was a mistake. Most did not believe me, and my declaration became a source of jokes. My truthfulness to single men with a fragile ego made it suddenly crumble even more. Further conversation became impossible. That’s why I used to hide it on subsequent dates. Besides, I hardly spoke then. The people I talked to liked to talk about themselves very much. When they realised that I was listening carefully, they did not bother to get to know me.

I also realise that talking to me could be a respite for these men after earlier dating women who expected them to constantly take the initiative in the conversation. One of the dating participants told me directly, “You chicks like to be talked about. We guys have to be interested in you all the time.” Interestingly, this man continued to speak for four and a half minutes. Of course, I do not exclude that his conversations with other women were different.

I had the feeling that the people on the dates weren’t looking for love or relationships at all.

Single people, as shown by American neuroscientists John and Stephanie Cacioppo, have a very low level of trust in others. They fail to build deep, close relationships because they are too afraid that someone will hurt them or leave them. Therefore, they prefer superficial relationships that do not carry a great risk of suffering.

When it comes to love, I haven’t really talked about it with my heroes. Another thing is that this word sometimes appeared in marketing slogans of businesses. This was the case with Nuga Best shops. In line with their advertising slogan, they offer clients “the warmth of maternal love”. This amazing slogan is to sum up the operation of the paramedical products offered by the company: soaps, toothpastes, massagers, heated belts, mats. Customers bought them in a package with the closeness, attention and care shown to them in the shops. All this is accompanied by a great sense of gratitude. Because in the shop they heard that they did not have to pay for anything, that they could and should use massage beds for free, every day – for weeks and months. It was enough to sign up for free on the list of people willing to receive “consultations” and “treatments”.

Did people believe that these products heal?

Of course, the company does not write on its website that its products “heal”. The company states that “they help...”, which is a clever legal procedure. But it is enough to attend lectures given by its salespeople. There we will hear straightforwardly: our health equipment must be used every day, it’s like brushing your teeth!

Nuga Best treats its customers, usually the elderly, as children who need to be looked after. These big “kids” get a long list of recommendations circulating around the company’s products. They also participate in joint, not too complicated gymnastics or art classes. It all revolves around brand worship. A quasi-sectarian community is formed around it. For many people, especially those with no alternative to spending time with family or friends, such activities are a tempting option. After some time, out of gratitude, they decide to buy – also very expensive products, on credit.

Of course, not everyone buys them. One of the characters in my book, Sonia, decided that she would not buy anything from Nuga Best because she simply could not afford it on the nursing pension. However, she liked coming to the shop in her city. There she met people similar to her – older people in search of community. But I think that Sonia’s approach, believing in Nuga Best as if only partially, is the exception, a rare glimmer of rational thought. And no wonder – the brand sellers are perfectly able to play on emotions. Thanks to this, their clients believe in the magic powers of a bar of soap for 400 zlotys or toothpaste with “tourmaline ceramics”, which should be used on scars to heal better.

What are we actually looking for in these businesses?

I have the impression that loneliness is primarily a feeling of being misunderstood. It results from a lack of a person who will accept us and satisfy our needs. Therefore, in the regulations of the company, we read that the subject of the service is, among others just “acceptance” and “presence”. The cuddler is supposed to envelop us not only physically, but also spiritually and emotionally. They are to show that they understand our pain and are with us. On the other hand, as part of the pick-up course, you buy a kind of bond with the coaches, a thread of understanding. “We understand you, we were like you!” the coaches say to the clients. It is similar to a relationship with an older friend or brother who is viewed with admiration. It’s just that we don’t pay him for talking and dating advice.

A compassionate mourning companion also offers a compassionate and understanding conversation. It’s a business addressed at people who don’t have anyone to talk to about their loss. After all, despite good contacts with family and friends, it is possible to have nobody around who would like to talk about death. In such a situation, some prefer to pay a stranger to help them go through the mourning process.

Many people instinctively despise customers of similar services. Language also helps us despise, especially when it comes to clients of seduction coaches. We call them “losers”, “incels”. I do not accept such condemnation and ridicule. I hope that after reading my book, more of us will consider whether there is a lonely person around us.

And I do not mean “good” solitude, chosen freely, with a book in hand and with holy peace. Only the long, persistent, bad one. Because the loneliness we desperately try to cope with using money is just suffering.


Oktawia Kromer – reporter, author of the book “Usługa czysto platoniczna. Jak z samotności robi się biznes” [“Purely Platonic Service. How loneliness becomes a business”]. Nominated for the “Newsweek” Teresa Torańska Award, Oktawia Kromer “Usługa czysto platoniczna”, Czarne Publishing House

Author: Łukasz Pilip

Illustration: Marta Frej

The text was published in „Wysokie Obcasy” a magazine of „Gazeta Wyborcza” on 10 July 2021