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Real First Kisses, Fake Porn & What They Really Tell Us

March 13, 2014
kiss

Our first kiss as husband and wife.

The last first kiss I had was a few years ago, with the man who is now my husband. I think about it often, it was that… Well, I don’t know what it was. It was electric and pure and kind of funny. It was telling. Although I remember a great many details about it, the most important thing was that when it was over, I knew I wanted another. And as he walked away, I was almost frustrated, not because I wanted another per se, but because wanting another meant that I was going to have to deal with this. “This” being a whole host of feelings that are messy and complicated and can somehow make life at once a thousand times better and also completely insecure and outside of my control.

That kiss confirmed that I was feeling big things.

Indeed, when most of us think of the phrase “first kiss,” there is a little heartbeat-skipping going on. Because there are stakes. That electricity we feel is the heady brew of hope and fear, magnified by so many nerve endings in our lips. “What if they don’t like me?” “I hope this feels good.” “What if they have a Saint Bernard tongue?” “What if our teeth clash.” “What if they smell bad?” “What if…..”

What if this kiss turns into sex? What if they want sex and I don’t? What if I want sex and they don’t?

Most of us, when we kiss for the first time, are laying a lot on the line. And it has nothing to do with camera angles or “readability” for an audience.  We kiss for a reason. Pleasure. Intimacy. Hope. 

Even hook-ups are high-stakes first kisses, because with no prolonged desire or witty reparte to “close the deal,” you have to sell it with that single kiss. Get it right, you get laid. Fuck it up, no fucking. High stakes.

But those first kisses between people who might be having romantic feelings for each other? Who are trying to decide if there’s chemistry there to pursue? Those are so filled with happy anxiety that even I struggle to find words for it.

Before I met my husband, I made it as far as cocktails with another guy. I was utterly undecided as to how I felt about him. (Which, really, means I knew I wasn’t interested, but didn’t know why.) He was nice, smart, attractive, but I didn’t think I felt that zing, that thing. At the end of cocktails, we kissed. And then I knew. No way. No fucking way, to be exact.

But there had been a couple weeks of emails, one cup of coffee and then that night’s cocktail date worth of energy leading up to it. There was a mystery that deserved solving. It was worth enough to kiss and find out.

And here’s what went down. He didn’t ask. Just grabbed me and pulled me to him and started kissing. For me, that’s a pretty cardinal sin. He smelled terrible to me. Sour. Which is not him, necessarily, but how my nose perceives him. Things like that are, quite literally, chemistry. Our chemistry, at an elemental level, was not right. And the tongue. All over the damned place, like a malfunctioning carwash that just kept working the door handle in a way that would eventually have disastrous results. As I pushed him away, my hand landed in gelled hair. Yup, that was the end of that.

Those are the stakes in a first kiss.

Of course, there’s also the VERY first kiss. That awkward one when we’re in our teens, and it’s more guess work and fumbling than anything else. But we don’t really know our own sexuality yet, so don’t know what we like or don’t like, or even what to expect and look for. We just have a random list of things we’re supposed to like, mostly reported to us by equally ignorant kids who don’t know what they’re talking about. And movies, because, you know, real life is just like movies. (Not.)

That was with a boy named Jock. (Hi, Jock, if you’re reading this.) I think that Jock was the first-kiss of many girls in our school. The dude had moves, for an awkward 13 year-old who would, despite his name, eventually become a cheerleader. We were at the Beach Club. Most of the kids in my neighborhood spent their summers at the Beach Club, unattended, mostly being good kids, really. This was the summer that the Go-Go’s got the beat, and Skittles burst on the scene as perhaps the greatest thing our young minds could ever imagine. It was over a bag of Skittles that Jock suggested we go check out something in the boat house, where the Beach Club stored row boats and lifeguard gear and where youth’s fantasies of life-changing first-kisses mostly played out. “Going to the boat house” was shorthand for making out, which was some sort of rite of passage. It bestowed on you the magical powers of maturity, which made you inexplicably better than other people. Either you had been there and done that, or not, and the only thing that could bridge the cultural cavern between the haves and the have-nots in this case was a trip to the boat house.

I was less than impressed with the whole thing. I was not sure what the point was of some guy searching out my mouth with his tongue, which tasted neither good nor bad, though was reminiscent of a hot-dog without a bun, which in my young (and bored) mind reminded me that my mother would never buy us hotdog buns, insisting that, somehow, wrapping a hot dog in wheat bread was good-enough. It was not. And this kiss was about that great. Only now I was hungry.

It would be years before I would realize that having your mind wander like that during a first-kiss was the kiss of death for any potential fairy tale ending, hoped or imagined.

And in the high-stakes game of first kisses, I was so unimpressed that I wondered if I was gay. Or just didn’t like kissing. Or maybe there was something wrong with me, like the kissing-spots in my mouth were broken or something and I would never…..

Whatever, the teenage brain is what the teenage brain is. Insane and wasted on hormones. It’s what the adult brain is when it’s horny and wasted on tequila.

It’s worth noting that all through high-school, Jock had a way with the young ladies. And in adulthood I consider him a friend. He’s awesome. We just had no chemistry.

Not long after that I kissed a boy that turned my world upside down. This kid, (I was going to call him a guy, but really, a 14 year-old is a kid, no matter how cool we think they are when we’re also 14.) He was smart and quiet and intellectual and his shyness looked like brooding, which will always get my attention. I wrote his name in the margins of my notebooks.

We kissed at a party. It was Spin The Bottle, world’s best way to kinda sorta maybe get what you think you want without ever risking anything. Except that I knew I wanted to kiss him. I would always hope the bottle would magically make it so, and cringe when it would land on Tiffany. Everyone loved Tiffany. She was the prettiest girl in school.

Anyway, the bottle told us to kiss, so we went in the closet and closed the door and talked until almost the last minute until we dutifully closed our eyes, locked lips and hoped for the best. 

I think he spent the rest of the year dating Tiffany. 

I was devastated. I didn’t kiss right. That kiss, that awkward first-kiss had cost me what was probably going to be the greatest love of my life. I had named our children. Until that kiss ruined it.

In the 30 years between  Skittles and Spin The Bottle, and eventually meeting my husband, there were countless first kisses. But they all had meaning. They all had stakes. And they all happened because whoever I was kissing and I were trying to answer some sort of imperative-at-the-moment question. And it was a question that mattered, whether it was “am I going to get laid” or “am I good enough” or “is this the one?”

The importance of the first kiss never really goes away. Though, sadly, those of us in long-term relationships often forget to kiss. Sex becomes easier, defacto. Hell, I have lots of memories of toe-curling awesome sex with people that I never kissed. I felt nothing emotional or intimate for them, so why would I kiss them? While we would gladly sit on each other’s faces and penetrate each other with whatever was at hand, that was a much simpler expedition for orgasms and sweaty collapse. It was a short-term goal, not the open-ended exploration of a kiss.

As much as I love sex, (a lot, a whole fucking lot) it’s not as inherently intimate to me as a kiss. Sex is a statement, a kiss is a question. Sex is “fuck ya,” a kiss is “what if…..”

There is a reason why many sex-workers charge more for kissing. Why if you hire a sex-worker, a “girlfriend experience,” which usually means kissing and conversation, is a different thing that just fucking.

Kissing means something. When a long-term relationship loses kissing, it is commonly understood as a problem. It is the canary in the coalmine of discontent and disconnection. It is when a relationship starts to gasp for air, and not in the good way.

My husband and I kissed for the first time after our second date. I was honestly unsure. I was kind of disgusted with myself because most of my uncertainty about him had to do with inane cultural scripts and I was pissed to find out that they were even in my brain. He was too nice. I have a strong personality and I did not want a partner that I could steamroll either intentionally or accidentally. He was also the same height as me, and I’m short, even for a woman.  He made such intense eye-contact when we spoke, it scared me.

Our first coffee was great, but, I thought, maybe we should just be friends. I don’t know……  After our second date, lunch, we stood on the street corner, both in our down parkas, and it happened. That awkward silence that fills you up and either stops words from coming out or forces out totally stupid words that you can’t grab and put back in. It was in that silence that he said, “I’d like to kiss you” with the upturned intonation at the end, making clear it was a question. “Okay,” I said, unintentionally mimicking his intonation, making it also a question, which was so NOT WHAT I MEANT – stupid insecure words that come out all wrong!

And so, the very nice, very short man kissed me, so perfectly. A little bit of tongue, making it clear that he was not a bunless hot-dog and not trying to taste anything, that, rather, he was testing receptiveness and rhythm, to see if we were in it together. Perfect. And then his hand traveled up the back of my neck, getting lost in my long hair, and slowly curling it around his fingers, until he tugged slightly and then pulled his head back and said, “sorry, I didn’t mean to do that.” I have to think that my “it’s okay, I like that” answered one question and asked a thousand more.

And it’s that. First kisses do that. They answer the question at hand, and let you know if it’s worth asking the next dozen questions, the ones that erect castles of possibility that take up residence in your mind until they begin to look like a future landscape you could live in and explore forever. Kisses are a beginning, not an end.

Yes, I hated that “First Kiss” video that went so viral earlier this week. I hated it. Those weren’t first kisses in anything other than the technical sense that they were people who had never kissed each other before. But they were screen-kisses, that’s all. They represented real kisses in exactly the same way that porn represents real sex.

Not at all.

The difference is that porn doesn’t pretend to be about making love, and real connection. It doesn’t ask you to summon up the intimacy and hopes and dreams of sex and believe that these perfectly shaped reflections of idealized (and unreal) beauty are expressing something touching and powerful and meaningful. No, they are people, fitting a narrowly defined mold, fucking on film, that’s it.

Mind you, I happen to love porn. But I know what it is when I’m watching it.

That kissing video had people thinking they were watching something profound. Why? Because it was black and white? Because of the sensitive music? Skinny guys in tight-jeans with slouched beanies?

Seeing the intimacy of kissing acted out like that and sold as real was so incredibly disturbing to me. Maybe it’s just me? But what really bothered me was that they all looked the same. Despite being black and white, young and not-quite-as-young, they were all thin and beautiful. And it was like confirmation that the thin, beautiful, well-dressed people can have other thin, beautiful, well-dressed people just given to them to kiss at will as if they were ice-cream cones on a sunny day. So refreshing, indeed.

And yes, finding out that it was an advertisement for a clothing line, when it was sold to us as “art” and an important social experiment was just so……

Are we so desperate for a fairy tale that we will buy this?  And not even mind that someone crafted it just to sell us pretty clothes?

At least in film and TV we get a story-line. We get the hopes and dreams of characters in which we can see some part of our own story reflected, we care about whether or not they kiss because we know how they feel. It’s that lovely detached high of empathy and compersion, it teaches us something about ourselves.

But that video? Really? Having people with no vested interest in each other kiss on command when a director tells them to is not a social experiment, it’s film. There are at least two major industries that do it all day long. Film and television. Three if you count porn. Which, I know, no one wants to count.

Those weren’t first kisses in any sense that any of us think of. Really.

Anyway, the second kiss with my husband was amazing. He came over to my place, walked in, picked me up and put me on the counter such that I sort of banged my head on the cabinet.

Whatever, we’re married now. We still kiss a lot. In the kitchen, even.

And every kiss answers one question, but asks so many more. That’s what kisses do.

I love kissing. I love kissing him.

Also, he smells good.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 13, 2014 11:54 am

    I really enjoyed reading this! The whole idea of first kisses being caught on video reminds me of that documentary about the virgin couples who waited until their wedding day. It’s so awkward to watch but at least it’s real and not just pretty strangers acting romantic to sell clothes.

  2. March 13, 2014 12:14 pm

    Last week, I had my first kiss with the first woman I met in a long time that liked me as much (or more) than I liked her. Among many things that we easily traded our takes on, hand-holding was a mutual favorite thing to do in any weather. Our coffee date only lasted an hour, and as we were getting up to leave the cafe, I barely but intentionally touched her forearm while I was making some point. As we said goodbye at the front door, our hands clasped and she leaned in and kissed me. I told her I was awfully grateful she did that because it was all I could think about for the (eternally long) last few minutes

    I really enjoyed reading this today. You are right, so much rides on that first kiss, and now comes the hard part of not looking too eager, and wanting everything, and relaxing with the knowledge that we like each other.

    Phew!

  3. March 14, 2014 7:00 am

    great post!! you were spot on!

  4. March 14, 2014 8:42 am

    Lovely article, made me think, made me think that you don’t know which first kiss is going to be your last first kiss. Maybe I should have paid more attention all those years ago when I first kissed my husband of over 30 years.

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