A lady named Joy Cartier from Honolulu has written me a good, sensible letter suggesting I write something about kissing. I'm so taken with Joy's name, her stationery and her attitude that I think I'll do it.
Joy seems to feel that kissing has gotten out of hand. She doesn't like the idea of being kissed by someone she hardly knows, nor does she approve of the "explicit, deep kissing (eating up!) in today's television and movies." Joy says she comes from a family whose members "kiss normal."
Kissing is probably suffering from the same kind of escalation that everything else in our society suffers from. Things aren't considered to be worth as much as they once were, so we need more of whatever they are. Dollars aren't worth as much, so we need more money. Titles aren't worth as much, so the top job in a company is no longer the president's because he has a boss called the CEO. Our language suffers from inflation. To say a simple "thank you" is no longer enough. We say, "Thank you very much."
A kiss on the screen in the movies used to be a pretty sexy, exciting thing. Not any longer. Escalation has set in. If the couple doesn't get into bed and do it while we're all watching, it's considered a movie for children.
It occurs to me, reading Joy's letter, that I may be one of the people she's complaining about. I don't do any "deep kissing," but I do kiss a lot of people, all women and mostly on weekends.
Years ago, when we'd go to a party, there were always a few men who kissed some or all of the women when they met. For a while, my friend Tom Jackson and I were the only ones who didn't. Now Tom is the only one who doesn't. Tom's refusal to go along with me on this doesn't seem to have diminished his social standing in our crowd.
Kissing seems like a nice, friendly custom, but I have the same feeling Joy Cartier has. We're trivializing kissing by doing too much of it or doing it when a handshake would come closer to expressing the relationship we have in mind.
I think, too, that Joy is probably suspicious of prolific kissers for the same reason most of us have learned to be suspicious of the man who greets us a little too warmly and with a hearty handshake. Experience has taught us that he's probably a phony or, at the very least, intent on selling us something.
Kissing habits have not only changed over the years, but they're different in different countries. The French, for instance, kiss and shake hands more than we do. Two Frenchmen who work together, perhaps even doing manual labor, will usually shake hands every morning when they first see each other. It seems natural and nice.
The kiss on the cheek that's such a popular French custom seems less satisfactory. For one thing, it isn't really a kiss because neither person's lips ever touch the other person's cheek.
I always thought the old-world custom of a man kissing a lady's hand was nice. I wouldn't think of doing it myself, but when court figures bowed and kissed milady's hand, there was something, well, courtly about it.
"Kissing normal" is a nice custom and I hope we don't lose it. A kiss expresses something at the moment you first see someone you like, or when you part company with someone you like, that would be difficult to express any other way. A kiss is our most tender gesture.
So there it is, Joy. That's just about everything I've ever thought about kissing. If I get to Honolulu and we meet, I'll be pretty disappointed if you don't make an exception in my case and give me a kiss. You can skip the lei.
(This classic column was originally published June 30, 1985.)
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