I am an aficionado of the kiss. No other act is so simple and so intimate. The light suction, the flick of the lip, the playful nibble, the deep advance and retreat of the tongue — a good kiss is like jazz, an improvisation of melodies, flirtatious staccatos, and passionate brassy crescendos. A good kiss is a rapport enacted physically, like sex, but more erotic.
Many women don't realize this. I've been surprised at how many treat kissing like it really is "first base," just a step towards something better. And when I meet such women, I face a dilemma, like being a music lover who discovers that a new friend has bad taste.
Do you break it off, or do you educate? And if you educate, how do you give lessons without giving offense?
My first encounter with such a kisser ended badly. Julie and I were 14, at the conclusion of our second date. She tilted her head, put her open lips to mine, and, using a combination of wetness and suction, established airlock. Then her tongue invaded.
I imagined an eel or a water-dwelling snake, or perhaps a tapeworm, darting towards my throat, slithering around, and then withdrawing, only to strike again immediately. I tried to block her with my tongue, but she swirled and pushed me back. I could not breathe.
Then I began to gag reflexively.
Being fourteen has its disadvantages; Julie had not learned the cardinal rule of kissing: it's a conversation. There's nothing inherently wrong with an all-out tongue invasion, but if your interlocutor hasn't asked for it, then you're more scary than sexy.
I didn't even call Julie to break up with her, figuring that if a girl had literally made me gag, she would probably get the message.
I soon realized, however, that my modest adolescent social status didn't leave me much room to be choosy. Plus, it turned out that even some awesome girls were terrible at kissing. I would have to teach them.
I took my instructional inspiration from my first girlfriend, Christine — my gold standard when it comes to kissing. Our first kiss had been, to a boy on a first date, a small miracle. I had been terribly nervous as we approached her front door. My hands had begun to sweat. (How could I touch her with sweaty hands?)
I became aware of my gangly height. (Could I reach her without bending awkwardly?) I began to doubt that I should kiss her at all.
But she made it very simple. She took my wrists and clasped my hands behind her back, rose onto her toes, and pressed her bottom lip between mine, drawing my top lip between hers, just until I returned the gesture.
Then it was over, punctuated with a little smack of suction as we parted. For several days after, the kiss ran through my mind. What stood out in my replay, even more than her malleable lips and that hint of her tongue, was my own feeling of pride. Despite my adolescent fumblings, I somehow felt that I had acted — there was no other word — smooth.
A great kisser makes you feel like a great kisser.
The lesson here, for any would-be kissing instructor, is that you have to teach without suggesting something is wrong. In fact, your unsuspecting students should feel as if they are teaching you.
To make this happen, you first have to understand what makes people kiss poorly. The most common mistake of bad kissers is excessive frenching, that is, the over-use of the tongue. They're not sure what else to do; they confuse passion with penetration.
In response, at first, you have to french back. If you make bad kissers feel self-conscious, they'll never improve. So you indulge them, switching the direction of the tongue-swirl periodically to keep the semblance of spontaneity.
Then, right before the monotony becomes a turn-off, go for a lip. Choose top or bottom; the more thickly fleshed is probably the best one. Once you've focused on just one lip, you create so many options: simple suction; the lip switch from top to bottom, or bottom to top; the sly addition of the tongue; escalation to a full-on frencher, then a teasing retreat; the nibble.
The wonderful thing about a lip lock is that once it's established, any kissing partner with a modicum of creativity will discover the possibilities and try the combinations. All you have to do is reward them by returning the favors.
More important than any single technique, though, is a general principle: you have to awaken your bad kisser's creativity.
My proudest kissing conquest, for example, is my current girlfriend, Sarah. She was the ultimate challenge. When we first met, she didn't like to kiss. She thought it felt phony.
If you were feeling so damn passionate, she reasoned, then why weren't your clothes off? Being the lucky object of her passion, I didn't much argue the point — at first. Instead, I just tried to understand how on earth someone could dislike kissing.
To my surprise, I found that Sarah had much in common with the overenthusiastic tongues of my youth. For all of them, kissing was nothing more than an intimation of sex. For the over-kissers, like Julie the tongue-invader, kissing was good to the extent it mimicked intercourse.
For Sarah the under-kisser, it was just a step toward what happened next. As a result, she, like other kissing dilettantes, could not see the range of kissing possibilities.
In its fully realized form, kissing is an alternate language in which lovers conduct a parallel courtship—they tease, they connect, they discover an accord. In this second relationship, the kissing relationship, Sarah needed to take it slow.
I found that she had no problem with playful kissing. She would always return a peck, and bite back if I nibbled her lip. She could enjoy a kiss that did nothing more than flirt.
For a couple who had initially sprinted past first base without touching the bag, this tentativeness might seem odd. But the body can be a blunt instrument, easy to use as an outlet for the passion of new love. On the more emotional terrain of the mouth, Sarah was a modest girl, wary of committing herself too readily.
After a time, the kisses started to last longer. A gifted if infrequent poet, Sarah began to appreciate how a good kiss, like a poem, suggests more than it says outright, expressing those feelings that lovers can share only indirectly. Her creativity was stirred. She, too, has become an aficionado.
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