Health professionals tout the benefits of stuffed animals in a child's development.
For infants, stuffed animals are considered safe toys, due to their soft texture, large size and throw-it-across-the-room-and-it-won't-break durability.
For toddlers, stuffed animals provide a vehicle through which they can practice giving affection. Early school age children become friends with their stuffed animals and have conversations with them.
But there comes a time when children move past stuffed animals, and no longer need the comfort and security they provide.
Instead of showing love to and having imaginary conversations with their toys, children make friends and interact with their parents and siblings.
In essence, they mature.
The stuffed animal is transferred from the bed to a shelf, then relegated to a closet or a box in the attic.
As adults, we enjoy keeping relics from our childhood.
It reminds us of happy times and induces warm feelings of nostalgia.
Case in point: I still possess my childhood collection of American Girl dolls.
As a young girl, I often played when them, pretended they were my babies and carried them around with me.
I have kept them all of these years, not only because they are meaningful to me, but also because they worth quite a bit of money as collector’s items. I hope to pass them along to my daughter someday if I have one.
In the meantime, they sit in a row on a shelf in my closet and collect dust.
Not once has the thought crossed my mind to bring them out when I have a man over. To give one of them a voice and have her ask to have her hair combed or to be rocked.
If I did do this on a date, I can guarantee I would never hear from the guy again.
Recently, in the course of our weekday emailing, I asked a friend of mine how things were going with a guy she’d been seeing for about a month.
Up to that point, she’d been into him.
He was sweet and solicitous, well-educated and polite. He treated her with respect and was easy to be around. But their last date hadn’t gone well, and the reason why took me by surprise.
My friend explained:
So he has this stuffed shark. And, honestly, this isn’t the first time it’s made an appearance. The first time I thought he was using it as a pillow, so I tried to do the same, but he freaked out. He threw it off the couch and exclaimed, ‘It’s getting crushed!’ Despite mentally recoiling, I didn’t say anything because I thought maybe I was being too critical or making too big a deal out of something that really wasn’t cause for concern.
But then the shark came out again last night. He was acting like a little kid with it, saying things like, ‘Ahh, it's coming to bite you!’ His grandparents used to buy him and his brothers stuffed animals, so I thought maybe it was from them. But when I asked him if there was a story behind the stuffed shark, he made a joke about it, and I said, 'Don't be creepy.' He never answered the question, and I didn't ask again. I haven't seen his bedroom, so I don't know if he has a whole village of stuffed animals in there. Okay, that was meant to be funny. I don't think he does, but why does he watch TV with this stupid stuffed shark, and why did he bring it out on our first night together at his apartment?
We found her situation intriguing, if not a little disturbing, and were moved to do a little research on the topic.
In our Googling, we learned that grown men who have stuffed animals is not as uncommon as we initially suspected.
In fact, according to a 2010 survey by Travelodge, 25 percent of men take stuffed animals, specifically teddy bears, with them when they travel to help “fill a cuddle-void left by distant partners.”
We were, in a word, shocked.
Twenty-five percent of men who travel are squirreling away stuffed animals in their suitcases. (That effectively ruined ogling men in suits at the airport for me.)
And, really, how many men out there are avid cuddlers?
Meaning, not only do they request cuddling at home, but their need for cuddling is so great that while they are away on a business trip, they need a stuffed animal to compensate for the loss of a body next to them.
And how many of these men wouldn’t rather use a pillow in lieu of toting a stuffed animal through airport security?
Over the course of the next several weeks, we continued to debate the topic: Is a stuffed animal an acceptable throwback to childhood, or is it just plain creepy?
My friend wondered, "What if he got the shark from my ex-girlfriend who died?"
I said that would be sad, but still a little creepy that he would play shark attack with his new girlfriend with it.
Apparently, after asking what was up with the shark, my friend was informed that her date bought a Nemo stuffed animal at a garage sale and the shark was thrown in for free.
Still, it was weird.
Eventually, she ended up breaking up with him. She told him she never understood the whole shark obsession. He was surprised it was even an issue. I was just being silly! I’m just a big kid!
Childlike spunk and being a kid at heart are wonderful qualities in a man, particularly for women who want to have kids someday.
There’s a reason why women are attracted to guys with kids at the park.
Men aren’t, by nature, nurturing creatures, so seeing them running around a jungle gym with their children is attractive to women who are looking for men to be hands-on fathers some day.
But again, this only works if there are children present. Otherwise, a man without a child lingering around a playground is creepy.
Same goes for a stuffed animal.
If a guy uses it when he plays with a child, or if it’s a relic from his childhood which he keeps on a shelf or in the closet for posterity’s sake, it’s a totally acceptable throwback to childhood.
But if he’s bringing it out during a date and giving it a voice, it’s just plain creepy.