By Ariana DiValentino
Kissing is weird. If you put any thought into it, the concept sounds at best strange and at worst downright gross. You mash your face into another person’s, exchange a bodily fluid most people go out of their way to avoid and explore the inside of that person’s mouth — from which they speak, emote, eat Sunday morning bagels, drink tequila and sometimes regurgitate that tequila — with your big, slobbery, pink tongue muscle. It’s romantic. It’s sexy. And it’s undeniably personal.
I’m acting in a play right now that involves quite a bit of kissing, and kissing of all types. Sweet, romantic kisses, welcome-home-I-made-dinner kisses, sloppy drunken kisses. And since neither of my castmates (and kissing-mates) nor I are trained or seasoned thespians, I’d say there’s a pretty tangible reservation felt among all. It gets easier with each rehearsal, as we all become more comfortable with our characters, rather than our real selves fake-kissing other people’s real selves. Still, what we’re doing is just finding creative ways to imitate kissing. No matter how close our faces get, a stage kiss is a stage kiss, not a real kiss.
Not to make an ancient connection between actors and prostitutes, but it’s for this same reason we have the common trope of sex workers abstaining from kissing their clients.(A trope which may have been launched by Julia Roberts, but a running trope nonetheless.) When sex itself is how you make your living, it’s understandable to see how kissing gets raised to a higher pedestal of interpersonal connection. Seeing as I’ve never personally met a sex worker, to my knowledge, and certainly never conducted a survey on this topic, I’m just throwing out guesses here. I would imagine that here, too, kissing professionally is regarded differently than kissing personally, at least for the professional.
Even for non-actors and non-sex workers, I think we’d be hard-pressed to assert that all kisses are legitimate kisses. Games of spin the bottle have led to many a kiss not backed by any sort of sentiment and certainly no spontaneity — a bottle is telling you what to do. As we grow up, the same is true in the case of many kisses coerced by bottles that are emptied rather than spun. Out of all the kisses the average person has, only a minority are going to be memorable, heart-racing experiences.
That said, even the kisses that aren’t with someone special — and even the ones that are just plain bad — can be special in their own right. A stage kiss is a moment spent acting, which is something most actors presumably love to do. A drunken kiss is, if nothing else, a memory (or a morning-after story recounted by friends who witnessed it). Some kisses are charity; some are experiments. If nothing else, most are a learning experience. Every night spent kissing someone you’re not crazy about is a night spent learning what kind of person you might one day be dying to kiss — and a night spent practicing how to do it right, when you meet them.
There’s a reason most of us anxiously await our first kiss throughout early adolescence, but hardly anyone ends up marrying those middle school heartthrobs. It’s fun, it’s exciting, but it’s only as important as you want it to be. In college, plenty of us open up more than our mouths to people we have no intention of dating long-term, or at all. And that’s great. The next time someone goes off about how millennials are so asocial because of our relationship with technology, I’d love to ask them about the last time they got up close and personal with a new friend’s tonsils. They call it hook-up culture, but in a generation where we all know we ought not to be making such theoretically permanent life decisions as marriage before the age of 21, making out with unspecials is a way to seek personal connection in the interim. There’s no sense in staying isolated until meeting the wondrous and mythical love of your life. Intimacy takes practice. Some friends made during college help you open up emotionally; some, physically. If you’re lucky, you might find one who does both. If you’re really lucky, you might find yourselves totally, majorly, butt-crazy about each other but, if not, there’s no reason not to appreciate it for what it is. Hooking up doesn’t have to be a dirty, shameful thing. The whole point is that you have the freedom to seek from it whatever you want, with that person, at that point in your life. Personal, emotional, casual, comfortable, what have you. Pucker up.