My first kiss was with an older woman. Older at least in the sense that she could drive and I couldn’t. It was after a football game one Friday night. We’d enjoyed a post-game meal at Arby’s. Loitered with friends at the firehouse. Drove around, and then around some more, and finally…we parked. I was terrified. All of my practicing with a Dixie cup hadn’t prepared me for this. Tentatively, we leaned into the center of that 1990 Honda Accord and eventually, miraculously, we found each other’s lips. What happened next was awkward and sloppy and gross and magical. I’ll never forget it.
When was the last time you told the story of your first kiss? I bet you had a smile on your face. Kisses do that. They make us smile and swoon. They put butterflies in our stomach. They make our hairs stand up a little taller and our blood run a little faster. Simply put, kisses have a special kind of power.
A kiss can turn a toad into a prince. It can wake a princess from eternal slumber. A kiss is art. It’s poetry. It’s candy. It’s life. It’s death. A kiss is the only appropriate response to finally lifting the Stanley Cup or finally returning to earth after a terrifying flight. A kiss inspired one of the all time greatest lines of film dialogue from Crash Davis: I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last for three days. And one of the most annoyingly catchy jingles in the history of advertising: Every Kiss Begins with Kay! (You’re welcome.) A kiss seals the deal. That’s why we end weddings with a kiss, as of to say, “Okay, now it’s official.”
Where does the power of a kiss come from, I wonder? Maybe hormones. Kissing releases oxytocin, which is the same hormone that is secreted when breastfeeding. Oxytocin is responsible for the comfort and connection that forms between mother and child and may explain the way kissing bonds us to another. Kissing also releases dopamine, which triggers the same part of your brain that is stimulated by cocaine. Those butterflies in your stomach, they come from epinephrine and norepinephrine, which increase your heartbeat and send oxygenated blood to your brain. Some studies have even shown that kissing can cause a reduction in the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone, so kissing could help lower your blood pressure and prevent heart attacks.
So, kissing is great because of science. But that can’t be it, right? I actually think it would be really sad if science explained the magic of the kiss. Thankfully, there doesn’t seem to be an accepted system for how to define, collect, classify, and interpret the data of kissing. Sheril Kirshenbaum explores this in her book The Science of Kissing and ultimately suggests that, for the most part, scientists aren’t exactly sure why we kiss. I’m glad they haven’t figured it out. Perhaps the power comes, at least in part, from the mystery.
Surely you remember your first kiss. Do you remember your last kiss? Do you remember it with the same kind of nostalgia? Unlikely. For all the magic and art and poetry that’s wrapped up in a kiss, I fear that in most long term relationships, the kiss has become mundane. I know I take for granted the kisses I give and receive at the end of each day. And it’s been way too long since I’ve simply made out with my wife. I need to change that. Do you?
Too many couples come into my office lamenting that the passion is gone from the relationship. That the fire has died. It’s a common story: Life gets hectic. Work is stressful. The kitchen is a mess. Kids. I get it. But I don’t think we have to become victims of that story. And it definitely doesn’t mean that we have to stop kissing. It’s time that we reclaimed the kiss from the domain of parking teenagers and put it back into its rightful place as the official symbol of marriage.
Start simple. John Gottman suggests that couples share a six-second kiss each day. He likes to say, “A six-second kiss is a kiss with potential.” But you don’t necessarily have to attach it to sex. In fact, don’t. Let the kiss speak for itself. I mean, if it leads to sex, great, but don’t make that the goal. Just try connecting with your partner with a long, slow, deep, soft, wet kiss. What if you tried it for two weeks?
In fact, I’m going to go on record: For the next two weeks, I’m going to kiss my wife for at least six seconds each day. I’ll let you know how it goes. If you accept the challenge, and if you’re willing to share, I’d like to hear how it goes for you too.
Happy kissing. I hope it’s awkward and sloppy and gross and magical.
*For more science, check out this video from Joel Hanson of It’s Okay to be Smart.