WHEN you think about it, kissing is a slightly odd thing to do. Most of us regularly pucker up to kiss our partners’ mouths, our friends’ cheeks and our babies’ foreheads — but tomorrow, on International Kissing Day (yes that’s really a thing) I’m wondering why we have this practice in the first place?
In fact, nobody is quite sure. Anthropologists are divided on the origins of kissing. Some believe it’s an instinctive, intuitive habit, while another school of thought says it’s a learned behaviour. Even then, the genesis isn’t clear — kissing may have evolved from prospective partners sniffing one another’s faces, or from the practice of “kiss-feeding” whereby mothers pass chewed food into the mouths of their babies. The first written mention of kissing is in India’s Vedic Sanskrit texts (1500BC) and as for Europe, it’s believed that the practice of kissing was spread by the Romans as they conquered their empire.
Since then, kisses have been waking sleeping beauties and turning frogs into princes for as long as we can remember, but the real thing is often far messier than the fairytale suggests.
My own first kiss wasn’t a kiss at all — I was at a “disco” in a local sports club with my then boyfriend. He suggested we go outside for some air, and in my innocence, I thought that was exactly what we were doing. I missed all the cues, and we ended up rubbing noses, Eskimo style.
I fared better than author Denise Deegan whose earliest romantic encounter didn’t end well. “My first kiss resulted in an injury — to him, not me,” she says. “I blame too many romantic movies.”
Xposé presenter Lisa Cannon remembers all the details of her worst encounter. “It was when I was in summer camp with a boy with train tracks and octopus hands... He was also shorter than me.”
DJ Nikki Hayes also has a less than romantic recollection of her first kiss. “My worst kiss was my first one ever — with a friend’s friend. It was on Killiney Beach and he tasted of crisps.”
TV presenter Glenda Gilson has a matter-of-fact take on things. “I remember my first kiss was when I was 13 — it was in a shed at the end of my friend’s garden. It wasn’t very romantic and I don’t think I even wanted to do it. I honestly can’t remember any kisses that were really bad. I’d say the first few in my younger years weren’t great but I’m sure I wasn’t great either.”
Back at that age, the fear was very real — I remember worrying terribly about how to get my first kiss right. Games of Spin the Bottle were very popular in late 1980s Cork, and sooner or later, that nozzle was going to land on me. The worries among friends were wide and varied — what if you closed your eyes and nothing happened? What if you both closed your eyes and missed? And, dear God, what if you both tilted the same way? The mortification didn’t bear thinking about. (As it happens, apparently two thirds of people tilt to the right, in case you’re looking at those odds right now.) We read Judy Blume books, we discussed practicing on pillows like Nancy in Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, and we braced ourselves for that next game of Spin the Bottle — terrified and thrilled in equal measure. And of course, in the end, though we all had our occasional horror stories (“His tongue was like a washing machine!”), none of us were scarred for life by a mortifying misjudged tilt.
But is there a right way and a wrong way to kiss?
“Everyone is different, and there’s no right or wrong way to kiss someone,” says Elfrieda Carroll, CEO of Relationships Ireland. “But a straw-poll in our office has agreed that mutually reciprocated passion is a sure-fire way to being considered a good kisser. Everyone has a different style but generally a good kiss is playful and responsive to the other person and the cues that they give you.” Surely though there are some traits common to bad kisses — what are the things that most people don’t like? “Again style varies from person to person,” says Carroll.
“Some people hate a slobbery kiss or your lip being bitten whilst others really like that — but kissing is really about being aware each other’s likes and dislikes and connecting in that moment. The key to a bad kiss is really not following the cues that the other kisser is giving you, being forceful in that kiss or assuming that the kiss is only the start of something more when the other person may not want that.” But overall, it seems kissing is healthy, and important for relationships. “It helps in the bonding of a couple, helping you explore your likes and dislikes, improving awareness of your partner and being playful,” says Carroll.
And for all the horror stories out there, there are some romantics left too. Today FM’s Dave Moore remembers his best kiss, with wife Tracy. “I’ll never forget the day I asked Tracy to marry me just to the side of the ice rink at Rockerfeller Plaza in New York — just like Tom Hanks did in her favourite movie, Splash. She had tears in her eyes, said ‘yes’ and kissed me like I’d never been kissed before. Or since. Maybe I should divorce her and ask her again. Just for that level of kiss.”
And Nikki Hayes has a similarly romantic memory of her best kiss. “It was definitely when my husband proposed to me in Lough Eske castle. He had a picnic set up by candlelight in one of the towers. I was so happy and so in love and on the butterfly department he gives me them every time, even after five and a half years.”
I got my own happy ending too — it wasn’t New York and we weren’t in a castle, but the cheeky snog in the pub with the guy from work is something I still remember, 16 years and three children later. Happy International Kissing Day.
You can contact Relationships Ireland at firstname.lastname@example.org or on (01) 678 5256