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Big spoon or little spoon: an introspection on cuddling behavior

Imagine: the brisk chill from the morning breeze slips through your open window onto your sleeping form. A hint of pale light tickles your eyes as they open slightly and you see the rectangular numbers on your alarm clock that read 7:15am. It’s much too early to justify leaving the warmth and comfort of your bed, especially on a Saturday. So, you gently grab the arm that’s draped over the top of your torso and pull it close, all the while nuzzling into your partner’s embrace. Before long, you drift silently back into the sweet numbness of sleep, surrounded by each other’s warmth.

There are few things in the world that feel better than cuddling with your significant other, or someone you’ve had a crush on since freshman year, but waking up with their arms around you and their legs intertwined with yours is one of them. It is difficult to describe exactly the feeling of safety, trust, and general comfort that one feels while being the “little spoon.” Being held by a person you care about, or are at least attracted to, creates a calming and content feeling that is rarely matched. I have been the “big spoon” in the past and, though enjoyable, it has its downsides. Here are some downsides to being the “big spoon”: 

The first of which being that unless pillows and blankets are placed just right, the arm that goes under your partner’s neck will lose all circulation. As you can imagine, and probably have experienced, that is an extremely uncomfortable and awkward scenario. The last thing you want to do when both of you are going to sleep is move your partner’s head around so you can get comfortable. But let’s say that the stars align, and everything is where it needs to be so your arm does not go limp. 

Now that you solved the first problem, the second is that you still must find some place where you can lay your head so you can breathe properly. If you simply put your face behind their head you’ll get hair in your mouth, but if you move your face down you’ll literally be breathing down their neck, and if you turn your face upwards you’ll wake up with a neck cramp. Now some of this is an over exaggeration. Usually, a mixture of adrenalin, nerves, and hormones are enough to convince you to put up with most of these discomforts, but why bother putting up with them if you don’t have to?

My ex-boyfriend and I figured out quite the little system to ensure that neither of us got the short end of the stick all the time. At first, I flat out refused to even be the “big spoon” because logistically it just didn’t go well. He’s a towering 6’1’’ while I’m only a modest 5’11’’, you can probably see the complication there. And it worked for a month or so, but little did I know at the time that my stubbornness was tearing us apart. He would be so grouchy in the morning and sometimes I’d wake up and we would be sleeping back to back. At first, I didn’t think much of it, but over time I began to believe that we had started to drift apart, and I really began to miss our morning snuggle sessions. After a few weeks of torturous guessing I finally worked up the nerve to ask him why he’s so distant in the mornings. To my relief he looked as shocked as I felt when this all started. He confessed that he was usually in a bad mood because he would be woken up by the aching in his arm constantly throughout the night and that he was getting next to zero sleep. Eventually he just started pulling his arm away and facing the opposite way.

I was both relieved and a little stumped on how best to fix the problem. But after trying many positions in the bedroom we finally got it to where I was physically capable of being the “big spoon.” It only took one or two nights for me to understand his predicament. So, we decided that we would switch off being “big spoon” so neither of us would be too uncomfortable. It sounds crazy that we had a schedule when it comes to sleeping positions, but it was totally worth the time and effort. After that, nothing weird happened in the bedroom, nothing I’ll put in print at least (wink), and it gave us another way to show we cared about each other. For example, when he was going through a rough patch, I would be the “big spoon” even if it was his turn. Likewise, the weekend I got elected President of my fraternity he took my day. Little things like that meant so much and we wouldn’t have had those small gifts to give if we didn’t have a system. It was our own little quirky thing that I absolutely loved! Yes, being the “little spoon” is hands down the best position but it’s not everything. Like everything else in a relationship, you gotta learn to share.

Personal anecdotes aside, there is another dimension of this conversation that needs mentioning. When talking about things like “big spoon” and “little spoon” we are not discussing our own personal preferences alone. There is a whole other level of normativity and social expectations that’s messily tied into it. In western cultures, for example the United States, men are not supposed to show emotions in public. In a lot of communities, like the religious community I grew up in, it is a mark of weakness and shame for men and boys to cry, ask for help, and discuss extremely personal matters with others. We aren’t allowed to be vulnerable. This lack of vulnerability can turn into general mistrust that translates to behavior in the bedroom later in life. The “big spoon” “little spoon” debate for many men is not solely about comfort, but also strength vs. weakness when it shouldn’t be. There is no weakness in allowing yourself to be vulnerable with the person you are intimate with. There is no strength in closing yourself off from a person that cares about you. Yet, there are many men that will absolutely deny that they enjoy being the “little spoon” though they actually do. Intercourse is a special time to be intimate with your partner and to be honest with yourself and each other. Nobody should be ashamed of being vulnerable because that is part of what makes the experience so special.

In that way, I think it is important to distinguish, not seperate, the physical and emotional experiences that come with intercourse. Sex is meant to be fun and physically pleasurable for both people, yes, but it is also an experience that can show otherworldly love and compassion. This emotional experience can be quite complex consisting of trust, a sense of belonging, recognizing vulnerability in each other, the giving up of physical control, comfort, receiving control, kindness, intense partnership, surety, a sense of being desired, and a myriad of other wonderfully beautiful feelings. When someone understands and accepts that sex is not only a physical experience, they quickly realize they have no reason to be ashamed of anything. You are who you are and you should never be ashamed of that. 

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