Monday, January 10, 2005

A weekend of kisses. On Saturday at Ray, Emah was telling me her theory that when we kiss someone, we aim for the right side of the face for a friendly kiss and the left side for a sexual one. When I recounted this to Tash later, she agreed with Emah, but I rejected the theory because I'd read in NW or some equally reputable social psychology journal that it's more like handedness: we instinctively incline our heads one way or the other, and in finding partners, we seek out people who incline heads in the same direction. As I recall, NW had some compelling annotated pictures of celebrity couples to back up this theory.

I myself always tend to go for the right side (which appears as the left to me), because that's just what feels natural. When I was telling Marty about this theory today, he said "Well, I always go for the left cheek." Marty also had an interesting theory on how people avoid unwelcome amorous kisses. Instead of pulling the head back, a move that simply embarrasses both parties, you should lean forward and deflect the unwanted kiss into a hug, or perhaps into a more platonic cheek-kiss.

But on the weekend, I decided to do some fieldwork. I would observe the number, placement and accompanying body language of kisses I exchanged with others at various social events. As my by-now-seriously-chipped-red-nail-polished fingers darted over the keyboard, I couldn't help but wonder: when it comes to kissing, which side are you on?

Over the course of the weekend, I received sixteen kisses by ten people, 5 male, 5 female. I can't remember if I hugged people as well. I should add that I am very bad at initiating displays of physical affection towards my friends because of my constant fear of humiliation, and usually accept proffered kisses rather than kiss people myself and risk embarrassment. Case in point: the time Emah tried to kiss her housemate's cheek, missed, and kissed his neck; or when you miss the cheek but get what I call the "cheeko-moutho area", that zone just near the corners of the mouth that could give the other person the impression that you meant to kiss them on the lips but chickened out at the last minute.

Of the weekend's kisses, only one was initiated by me, and that's because I know the person in question is liberal with social kisses and I would otherwise be perceived as rude by him. Another kiss was mutual because I knew in advance that this person always greets me with kisses.

But of the weekend's kisses, I think I only touched the other person's cheek with my lips twice, which reflects my deep fear of social humiliation. I'm always afraid I'll be too sloppy, or leave lipstick. Usually my compromise is to air-kiss them (ie go 'mwah' close to the cheek), or simply touch my cheek to theirs.

The kisses were from a variety of different positions. Mostly I was standing opposite the other person, but sometimes I was standing kissing someone sitting down; sitting down being kissed by someone standing; leaning across a table to kiss someone; kissing someone sitting to my right; kissing someone standing to my left.

I also noticed some variation in what I do with my hands: sitting down I usually don't do anything with them, but when standing I'll sometimes do the old arm-touch, and sometimes the waist-touch. Marty thought the waist-touch was pretty intimate, and in fact I do sometimes use it on someone I'm trying to pick up; but the two people I waist-touched over the weekend were the two frequent social kissers I mentioned earlier.

As for the embarrassment factor, that stemmed mostly from being taken by surprise by the kiss, or from scenarios in which several people were being kissed hello or goodbye and I felt socially compelled to join in, even though I felt I didn't know the others well enough to kiss. Then there was what Canadian Kim called the "Montreal style", or the double kiss. This caught me out twice over the weekend, because I assumed it was over after the first kiss, and then had to go back in for the second one, which was embarrassing.

And as for Emah's theory, I have to say that every single person who kissed me went for my right cheek - even the double-kissers went for the right, then the left. So I can't really disprove Emah's theory, except perhaps by a second experiment in which I initiate kisses that all go for the left cheek.

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