The thrill and exhilaration felt when kissing somebody for the first time is about as special as it gets. As you grow older, that electrifying feeling dims a little when you find the act of kissing someone new isn’t as rare as it once seemed. As the distance between your first kiss increases the less magical it all is. Frankly, maybe we have other things on our immediate minds when we find ourselves kissing someone new for the first time.
All kisses ultimately fall short to the heart pounding rush you got with your very first. It was just a vague idea and practically an abstract concept before it happened. Prior to puberty, the act appears to be two people mashing their faces together why swiveling their heads. Yet, there was just something inexplicably terrifying and even deeply mysterious about pressing your lips to someone else’s prior to that sacred ground being broken. In books, television, and movies that first kiss is spoken of in such an amorous way that nobody can deny its special place in memory, despite it being such a small gesture.
One of my favorite quotes from a movie called Hearts in Atlantis sums up our perceptions of the first kiss, “It will be the kiss by which all others in your life will be judged.” It truly is a milestone of growing up.
I’ve been blessed with the misfortune of screwing up every single one of my “firsts.” From first base to stealing home, each experience proved to be even more incredibly embarrassing than the last. Note that there’s a difference between awkward and embarrassing. For most anyone else, the memory of prolific failures with the opposite sex would likely be viewed with a sense of deep shame. But as I get older, I can only manage to find amusement in how poorly informed I was. It’s these failures that have set the foundation of my interest to learn more about the opposite sex and the very same failures that have allowed for deep moments of reflection and recognition of teachable moments. I can only claim ignorance for all my short comings during my early days as I really had no fucking idea what I was doing.
My first “real” kiss came in the 7th grade. I was an “early late-bloomer,” meaning; I switched schools for the ladder part of my elementary school career and my eccentric personality and braces had made me into a social pariah until I came to middle school. I was finally allowed to act the way I pleased without the constraints of “the cool crowd” that had been established at a well-off elementary school since kindergarten. I discovered that I had far less reservations about talking to girls than most any of my other classmates. That made it easy for me to be one of the first to enter the early dating scene, thus establishing myself as a reasonably respectable kid.
I managed to start a relationship with an attractive girl who had lived in Australia for most of her life prior to moving to the United States the summer before 7th grade. Let’s call her Marie. She was my height; very pretty, athletic, and had an adorable Australian accent. It goes without saying that dating during those years was very different. Marie and I hugged in the morning and after lunch, passed notes, and talked on the phone for many hours at a time but the element of sexuality hadn’t come into play yet. We had kissed each other on the cheek a few times and once on the lips over the span of a month and a half, but this was all new territory for me and I had no idea if there was some sort of order of operations or permission slip that needed to get signed in order for things to progress forward.
The spots to go on dates were limited and as you might imagine. The really cool thing to do in those days was to get dropped off by your parents to watch a movie at the ghetto movie theater near the middle school. It was a see and be seen atmosphere on any weekend.
Marie and I set up a movie date for a Friday night to watch a recently released PG-13 movie. We were both probably equally nervous as we talked about going to the movie the entire week leading up to our date. I can remember bragging to my friends that I had considered going in for a first kiss. Although many of my friends had never kissed a girl, everybody had advice.
“Wait until you’re about to leave then kiss her good-night before she has to get in her parents car.”
“Make sure you don’t drool on her or she’ll never talk to you again.”
“Don’t tell her you’re going to do it, you have to just lean in, close your eyes, and go for it.”
“Make sure your breath doesn’t stink.”
“Only do it if the movie gets boring. Otherwise she’ll be mad that you interrupted the movie.”
“Sit in the front row of the theater so people won’t see you making out. The ushers kick out people who make-out.”
Granted I didn’t know it at the time, but most of this advice likely came from my friends who’s only experience with kissing were based on observations of TV shows like The Wonder Years, Step by Step, Family Matters, Full House, Saved By the Bell, Living Single, Hanging with Mr. Cooper, Fresh Prince, Boy Meets World, etc. None of which really seemed like realistic how-to documentaries on kissing. It also didn’t help that the things my friends told me were probably based on absolutely nothing but child-like pontification about a world they’d never seen. All of this only fueled my shaky nerves leading up to the date.
Date night finally came around and Marie and I decided on a time after school over the phone. In the pre-cell phone days there wasn’t much room for error. If you said you were going to be somewhere, you showed up. There wasn’t any way of texting to be certain or make last minute changes. And when you arrived, your mind would race with anticipation and uncertainty until the other person showed up.
My palms poured sweat as I stood just inside the doors of the movie theater intently watching every car that pulled up. I had forced my parents to drop me off twenty minutes before the movie started behind the theater so I could forgo the embarrassment of being seen getting out of the same vehicle as my mom or dad. A few minutes before the movie was scheduled to start, a green minivan rolled up to the front of the theater and Marie jumped out. I didn’t dare step out into the open and risk getting spotted by her one of her parents, thus being forced to introduce myself. So I stood out of view inside and watched as she caught my eyes through the glass when she pulled the open the heavy exterior movie theater doors. I felt my legs shake a little as Marie gave me a big hug and we walked over to the ticket counter to get our tickets. I mowed lawns on the weekends and umpired baseball during the week so I had cash to pay for both our tickets which I hoped scored me points.
We finally got into the packed theater and I convinced Marie to grab two seats in the second row from the front with me, claiming- “it’s way cooler to sit in the front.” The previews started as we both reclined as far back as possible with our heads tilted almost completely upwards just to get a glimpse of the screen.
Once the movie began rolling Marie tried to hold my hand and I winced as she clinched onto my sweaty fingers that probably felt like a slimy rotten apple on a hot summer day or even a monkey’s paw more than a human hand. I was nervous; really nervous. My heart was pounding, my hands were literally dripping sweat, and my precautions of avoiding armpit sweat by wearing tons of deodorant and two undershirts had failed miserably.
I pulled out a pack of gum from my pocket and nervously took a piece out of the wrapper and tossed it into my mouth. I glanced over to Marie, my voice trembling, and I whispered, “Would you like a piece?”
“No, I’m fine.” She said looking at the deflated, ripped up, and now sweaty pack of gum in my hand.
Did this mean she wasn’t interested in kissing me? Or maybe she was really grossed out by my hand and now the whole thing was off? Or maybe it was just the ratty looking pack of gum?
I sat there and questioned everything from my choice of movie to my attire. The movie was already forty minutes in and I needed to make a move.
I took a deep breath and unhinged our fingers from their sweaty clasp and looked over at Marie as I put my arm around her. She turned her head and locked eyes with me. “Do it! DO IT!!” I shouted over and over in my head. I leaned in looking at her lips and slightly pursed my mine.
The hair on my neck stood up and I felt dizzy leaning further in, I then closed my eyes like I had heard you’re supposed to do.
Now let me just say once again, I was going on tips from friends and had no idea what I was supposed to do so I had planned on using the little gem of advice an older kid on my pop-warner football team had given to me. Donny claimed he had made out with tons of girls and had instructed me to, “just put your tongue in and thrash it around like crazy. They like that.”
…Thanks Donny. As our lips met, I proceeded to whip my tongue across the bridge of her nose, into her mouth, on her lips, over her front teeth. I was a maniac and I was going all in. The question of “is this right way?” had never even entered my mind. Pure adrenaline and winner-take-all mindset were in play.
But I had sailed over the line! I was doing it! This was it! I was making out with a girl.
A couple seconds in Marie pulled back a bit stunned. She came back in for more and I unleashed what I thought was a “really hot”
I had overheard two eighth grade girls talking about kissing on the bus one day and one of the girls had bragged that her boyfriend had slipped her his gum between classes during a French kiss. They both seemed to think it was really sly.
As I continued to kiss Marie with my aggressive dog-like make-out skills, I moved the gum that was resting towards the back of my mouth and shot it forward with my tongue right into Marie’s mouth.
I’m not sure if I presumed she would congratulate me on my mastery of kissing or maybe she’d get it then lean back and wink at me while chewing my 45 minute old stale gum that had long since lost its flavor. I don’t know what I expected. I just assumed this was how it was done. I hadn’t planned on “the move” failing.
As soon that the gum hit the inside of Marie’s mouth she spat it out and wretched for second while coughing then looked at me completely horrified.
“What was that?” She asked loudly to an instant barrage of shushes behind us.
“That was my gum.” I said softly sinking into my seat looking up at the screen.
My blind confidence quickly faded and it was obvious that whatever I had done, wasn’t done “correctly.”
“These are my favorite pair of jeans.” Marie said angrily as she looked at me starting to well up with tears, “I bought them in Australia.”
I looked down to see that the gum had stuck to her jeans. She began pulling long wisps of white sticky gum away from her leg and tossed them onto the floor.
She threw up her hands and stood up.
“I’ve got to go to the bathroom to clean this up.” She stammered pinching and stretching another gooey strand of gum out of the denime on her leg while getting up and shuffling out of the isle.
I was incredibly embarrassed. I wanted to become invisible or sink through my chair and beneath the floor before she came back. I considered making a run for it but thought that might be even more embarrassing to explain at school the next day. Marie would eventually come back with a large wet water spot covering her entire thigh with strands of gum embedded into the fabric. We silently finished watching the movie without hand holding or any arms hanging over shoulders. I apologized for ruining her jeans after the movie was over but she didn’t seem to hear me.
I didn’t sleep well for weeks after that. We never addressed what happened or why my kissing was so… “different.” I didn’t understand why my attempts at getting to first base were received so poorly received. I wasn’t really able to ask my friends about such things out of fear that my questions would incite school wide rumors. So I kept my mouth shut about the whole thing for years. I shuddered to think of circulating the news that I was a bad kisser; that would be social suicide.
Marie and I didn’t last much more than a Month or so after that as summer had arrived and she would be going back to Australia for a good portion of it. I wish I could say that was end of my embarrassing misinformed adolescent disasters with girls, but I’d be lying. It was only the start of a colorful range of mistakes, disappointments, and terrible experiences to follow. But if it wasn’t for that night, I might never have learned that girls don’t like having their faces licked or being exposed to used chewing gum.
My whole experience reminds me of a great little short story by comedian Mike Birbiglia: Click here to give it a listen. The first 30 seconds is part of the introduction.