Recently, I’ve been giving a good deal of thought to kissing.  In fact, I believe it’s becoming a mild, and hopefully temporary, obsession.  The type of kissing to which I’m referring is not the romantic, erotic “French” kiss (yes, I still remember those), but the less passionate and tongueless social kiss.

I’m fairly certain that the focus of all this wasted mental energy was triggered by our return to Florida one week ago.   This brought about a series of reunions with friends and acquaintances whom we haven’t seen in five or six months.  The verbal greeting of “Hi! How are you? You look great, considering what you’ve been through over the summer….” is inevitably followed by some version of lips-to-body part contact.  This is expected.  But is it always desired?

How do I really know if the soon-to-be recipient of this somewhat invasive gesture really wants my magnanimous hello kiss, or are they worried that I haven’t yet had my flu shot?  If so, would a simple knuckle-bump suffice?

Or, perhaps I don’t feel like  bestowing a kiss right now.  Will he or she be insulted?

To paraphrase a quote from another famously obsessed individual: to kiss or not to kiss, that is the question

To move this soliloquy along, let’s assume we agree to accept social kissing as a cultural norm.  This solves one dilemma but raises a slew of other issues.

For example, whom does one kiss?

I’m reminded of the Seinfeld episode called “The Hello Kiss” where Kramer decides that everyone in their apartment building should stop living in loneliness and isolation and get to know each other.  To this end, he has everyone post their name and photo on a wall in the lobby so they can all greet each other properly.  Unfortunately for Jerry, the greetings from his new female “friends” are accompanied by a kiss on the cheek.  Jerry recoils and announces to Kramer with great annoyance that “this kissing thing is over!”

The point for me is, is there a familiarity factor? How well should you know someone before it’s OK to engage in lip-to-face contact? Should kissing be reserved for someone you’ve known for a while, or is a kiss anticipated even if I just met you last week? And if I saw you yesterday, and we meet again today, is it cool to skip the kiss ritual? Surely there must be rules.

Then there is the question of where to plant the kiss.   There is the full-on-the-cheek kiss.  The corner-of-the-mouth kiss.  The closed-mouth lip-to-lip kiss.  Do both parties get a say in the matter? That’s not practical.  It happens way too quickly.

And how many kisses are appropriate? Depending on your cultural preference, there are single kisses, double kisses, triple kisses, even quadruple kisses.  When it comes to four, I’m inclined to agree with Seinfeld.  This kissing thing might just be getting out of hand!

But if you follow the double or triple kiss protocol, where does one begin? Where do you plant the first kiss, right cheek or left?  From what I’ve gleaned from the kissing literature, the right cheek should come first.  Who knew?

What about mwah-mwah air kisses? Are they still considered disingenuous, reserved primarily   for use by celebrities and maitre d’s in overpriced continental restaurants? Do they always come in twos?  And if so, do they follow the multiple kiss rule of beginning with the right cheek?

Finally, there’s the matter of hugging.  Can hugging stand on its own as a kiss substitute, or does a mere hug not convey sufficient gladness on the occasion of the reunion?  And if a hug accompanies a kiss, will that be regarded as entirely too intimate? What would Seinfeld say?

And what happens when we say goodbye?  Must we deal with these decisions all over again?

While all these issues of appropriate human contact might be confusing, be glad you’re not a canine.  In the case of dogs, common greeting ritual involves walking circles around each other and engaging noses, not lips, as they sniff each other’s butts.

Therefore, I’ll take my chances with the social kiss.  Even if I get it wrong.

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