The Lexicon of Lips
A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.” – Ingrid Bergman
A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to further speech when words become inadequate. – Gray Miller
True fact: I teach workshops on kissing. What’s strange, perhaps, is why. It’s because at one point in my life I was convinced that I was a terrible kisser. I was married at the time, and my wife and I were polyamorous, so she had a boyfriend and I had a girlfriend. I knew that my wife liked kissing her boyfriend (a fine chap from New York and a good friend) but for some reason I noticed, over the years, both she and my girlfriend seemed less and less interested in kissing me.
I tried everything I could find. I used gallons of oral hygiene products, I read up on how to kiss, I tried different techniques. No joy – at most they’d give me a peck, here and there. But we never made out, not like we had at the beginning of either of the relationships. When my girlfriend got another boyfriend (as happens in poly relationships, don’t let it faze you, we’re talking about kissing here!) I noticed that they seemed to kiss a lot, too.
I figured the problem must be with me.
Then, in the course of my performing, I was hired by a summer stock theater to play the understudy to Woody in Finnegan’s Rainbow. It’s actually a kind of racially insensitive and awful musical in terms of social issues, but it’s got some great song and dance numbers. Look to the Rainbow and That Old Devil Moon and Come and Get It Day. It also happens to be the final movie performance of Fred Astaire, one of my heroes.
For most of the performances, I was one of four principal male dancers, paired up with four principal female dancers. The rest of the cast would do generalized movements while the eight of us would do the fancy moves, sometimes solo, sometimes in tandem. It was great!
But for one particular matinee, the regular “Woody” couldn’t make it. So I was up! It was my time to shine! Now, I’d rehearsed with the female lead a few times, and for the most part we were solid on the lines. There was just one thing we hadn’t practiced.
The kiss. That kiss, you know, the one in all the romantic movies and plays, when the inamorati finally admit to and express their love for each other. There was only one kiss called for, in the devil moonlight by the tree after I’d crooned the solo to her. I was a bit nervous about it. After all, my wife, my girlfriend, they kind of were obligated to at least try to kiss me, right? But here this poor woman was going to be forced to endure the embrassage with no warning. I just hoped that she wouldn’t fall out of character, or laugh me off the stage, or somesuch.
The day of the performance, things before The Kissing Scene went great. The audience was mainly schoolkids (bussed in from the local middle schools) so there were a lot of hoots and hollers as I moved in for my first stage-kiss.
Our lips met. Hers were soft, and seemed to linger. I was acting, emoting, trying to show how much Woody was devoted to this woman, and so I slowly pulled away, knowing I’d given my best, relieved that she was professional enough to keep her cool throughout. But we’d made it, soldiered through the single solitary kiss the musical called for with terpsichorean stamina.
She stepped forward, on her toes, and kissed me again. A bit longer, this time. The students howled, and when our lips parted, she was smiling at me. My ears felt hot, but I was a professional, and I smiled a broadway musical hero’s smile and went to my next cue.
I asked her, afterwards, why she’d kissed me again. She gave me a nice smile and replied, “It seemed like the thing to do. The first one went so well…”
Eschew the Alien Labrador
That was my first clue that perhaps I was not as bad a kisser as I thought. It should have been my first clue, though, that communications with my wife and my girlfriend were perhaps not in the best place. Indeed, a few years later we parted ways – no, not for any of the reasons you might think. No cheating, no loving one more than another. No, we suffered from both a lack and a fear of honest communication about our feelings.
Which is why, now, when I teach about kissing, I start by showing how not to kiss. My poor co-presenter, whoever she is, usually gets rather nervous at this, and rightly so, since the “bad kiss” I deliver is the result of blending the kissing techniques of a Labrador retriever and the monster from Alien.
It’s quite an experience, I’m told. For some reason, I rarely am able to get the same actress to co-present that class with me more than once…But the point is, I then ask the class: What was wrong with that kiss?
The first answer is almost always a unanimous Everything! When I ask people to get slightly more specific, most of the answers boil down to one thing: You weren’t listening.
And that’s exactly right. Most of the rest of the technique of how to make a kiss a good one – whether on a stage or on a couch or under a bridge as the rain pours down around you – is to listen to the kiss. What is being communicated?
Hi there! What do you think of this? Ah…interesting. What about this? Oh, you too? No, I’m not terribly familiar with that. Oh, really? Me too! Did you know…oh, you do! Yes, I think that’s awesome too. Not this way, though, maybe you can try it this way. Yes? Oh, I’m so glad! Hang on a moment, I need to breathe – but it’s been lovely sharing this with you. Goodbye…for now.
Like a good conversation, there is a greeting, an initial suggestion of a subject, an exploration of that subject and possible tangents, and gradually a parting of the ways, whether for a moment or (like my partner from Finian’s Rainbow) for the rest of your life.
The point is…well, it’s either that a good kiss is like a good conversation, or that the best conversations are like the best kisses. Both leave your brain buzzing.
But equally important: if either is suffering, it might be wise to figure out why. Because the odds are you’re not actually an Alien Labrador.