Ladies, gentleman, and friends beyond the binary: it has come to my attention that some people hold the very outdated and very misinformed opinion that once you hit a certain arbitrary age, it is no longer appropriate to sleep with a teddy bear, or two, or three.
Folks, riddle me this: which age is that? At which age do you stop valuing comfort and companionship? Do we scoop crusty, matted bears out of our children’s hands once they reach a biological milestone?
“Hey, Sarah - congratulations on your first period! Not only are you now subject to 3-7 days of agonizing pain and suffering, but we’re taking away your favorite stuffed narwhal!”
“Hey Matthew. Great job on your bar mitzvah speech. Now hand over the bunny.”
More importantly, how do we tell the elderly people cradling their animatronic baby seals that they need to start acting their age?
The answer? We don’t. Ever.
Teddy bears, which I’ll be using as an umbrella term for all inanimate comfort toys (including “blankies”), are usually the very first gift we receive as children. We pop out of the womb - metaphorically of course - and are handed something soft and cuddly to help occupy our tiny baby minds before we experience our first twinge of raw hunger. In my case, it was a giant white bear, who I then proceeded to roll over and attack - at just an hour old, mind you - despite being premature and barely clinging onto my tiny baby life.
You get the picture. We grow attached.
These bears provide us comfort and distraction when we get our first booster shots. They’re our weapons when we want to play mind games with our parents by throwing them on the ground for attention. They’re our best friends as we grow old enough to speak and learn how to hold babbly conversations with something other than our own reflections. They often become pillows for us, and if you’re like me, they become our fashion models. Like my Winnie the Pooh bear, I too often waddled around my house wearing nothing but a red crop top.
So why is it that it suddenly becomes unacceptable when you become an adult? I know many people who still have old childhood relics in their basement - ratty blankets that bear the words “BABY BOY” (in case their parents, in a serious state of sleep-deprivation, confused their infant son for a loaf of bread, I presume), sloppy macaroni necklaces from grade school, crayon sketchings of their family in shades of purple and orange, usually with some sort of unidentifiable stain in the corner - but keep these locked away whenever they have company over.
Let’s break it down: you’re old enough to take yourself out to a bar, clinch a mate, take them home, and initiate some adult playtime, but you’re not mature enough to admit that you prefer to sleep with something that comforts you? No one would think twice if you let your golden retriever rest at your feet at night (or if you’re like me, your Maine Coon who likes to sleep on all your airways), so what’s the difference between one that’s alive and one that’s stuffed with cotton?
Live animals do require some degree of maintenance, so on one hand I can understand the difference in that real pets are a sign of maturity and responsibility. But to still have a stuffed animal you’ve had since you were single-digits? That shows some serious commitment. Isn’t that what everyone wants these days?
If the emotional reasoning behind this stance isn’t enough to sate you, here’s some numbers that might:
One survey from a psychology professor at the University of California found that respondents who slept with stuffed animals were less likely to snore than those who don’t. A UV University Amsterdam study found that adults who touched something comforting, such as the synthetic softness of a teddy bear, experienced lower anxiety and stress levels.
The Guardian also discovered that adults get unconscious stress, if anything happens to their stuffed animals. In the study, adults were shown photos of their personal stuffed animals, mobile phones, and jewelry given to them by their loved ones.
Each participant had to watch their personal items get shredded and provide a response. Based off of each adult’s response, the majority of them had a more emotional reaction to watching the picture of their stuffed animal get shredded than the other options.
Of course, if you reach the point where you’re unable to separate reality from your imagination (such as bringing your stuffed animals on dates or being completely unable to leave the house without it), it may be time to prescribe some distance. But as a nightly cuddle buddy, or even just quiet company when the shadows in your room begin to resemble the monsters you just saw in that horror movie you swore you’d never watch after dark, teddy bears can be a great way to lower your blood pressure and help you get some sleep.
So the next time a potential mate goes from 100 to zero after seeing your favorite stuffed dragon laying peacefully on your pillow, remind them that sleeping with a teddy bear isn’t some weird sex thing or a sign of immaturity. It’s self-care.