By Jess Caire
I find myself socially awkward – usually it goes along the line of my brain telling me to do certain things, then finding that my body has responded completely differently. I am sure (well I hope) I am not alone here – when you find something coming out of your mouth and the minute it leaves your lips you wish you could suck the words back in, or a sink hole would appear and suck you down with it?
Since we are all friends here, I am going to share with you my most common socially awks offence. I find myself in the “do I kiss, or don’t I kiss dance” often. No, I don’t mean do I randomly snog the nearest stranger. I mean the first encounter when you meet someone or are reacquainted with a friend/colleague/acquaintance.
The more I ask the question – when is it ok to kiss? The more I realise I am not alone in this awkward social custom.
So, lets rewind time, one of the more burning bogan moments of my life was when an acquaintance (and now a very dear friend and mentor) gave me a cheek kiss, I thought I handled it well, only to almost pash him when I realised he was doing the old European double-sided kiss… Not only did I feel great shame at my clear lack of culture, but then I felt so awkward and started worrying about the goodbye kiss!
The upside to this incredibly embarrassing debut, was that a) we are still friends, so he overlooked my social faux pas, and b) I now know he goes in for the dual sided peck and I have the art of “Faire la bise” down.
Sadly, this doesn’t help me working out when to kiss. Or when not to kiss. Or how to recover when you’ve gone in for the kiss and they dodge with a hand shake… you are left hanging in some weird mid-air motion knowing that when you leave you will re-live this moment over and over again – and swear you will get better at reading humans and you’ll never find yourself in such an embarrassing encounter again.
Another good friend, who tells me people give out their kisses too easily these days and after telling him about a few of my awkward encounters (like the time I went in for a kiss in a job interview – cringe) he confirmed what I have been thinking – I suck at this particular social custom.
To add another layer of complexity to this – the work kiss? When is it ok to go in for the cheek kiss? A friend becomes a colleague, a colleague becomes a friend and you see them socially? I get knots of anxiety just thinking about this. Do you hold back and do a weird handshake and wait for them to lean in? Or do you just adopt resting bitch face and let the fuck off eyes send the message you are not a kisser? Or do you just reserve the kisses for the nearest and dearest? Someone help a sister out and send a sign, a large one, that says this is a kissing situation.
Recently, I was talking to a relatively new work colleague who told me about her lunch meeting, and how the client (who she knew pretty well) went in for the kiss, but there was another client she didn’t know just standing there, and she thought well the scene has been set, and this kiss has set the bar, so she had to kiss the stranger client… and then her colleague who knew none of them then felt obliged to go in for the kiss – it turned into one big fat kiss fest. We started talking about when to kiss – and we decided it was all too fucking hard and you just have to deal with it each social/work encounter at a time (and I also took great comfort in the fact it isn’t just me that felt the pressure of the awks kiss).
There is a million versions of these encounters that conjure up anxiety – the person who doesn’t like to kiss, but kisses because everyone else in the greeting did, the kisser who only wants to kiss their nearest and dearest but feels like a jerk if there is another person there that they don’t want to kiss, so they do it anyways, receiving a far too enthusiastic kiss, the receiver who drops their head instead of giving you cheek, the kisser who pulls you in for a hug (not me!), the kisser who butts your cheek, or gives you too much smooch – the list goes on – cue debilitating social anxiety.
So how does a repeat offender like me learn how to read the play…. or in my case keep my kisses to myself?
I googled “social kissing etiquette” and well, I felt more disturbed. It seems a firm handshake is more appropriate, that also gets weird with all the sweaty palms… what I did learn was that a linger is inappropriate (given), keep your hands in an appropriate place (see people are more awkward than me!), and don’t leave traces of saliva…. enough said.
So, going out on a limb here, I think if a few of us took the lead in early encounters we could set the scene, I’m going with:
1. Family and close friends, first time I see them in a while – smooches on the cheeks, and to be fair the sloppier the better, I love them, they love me, kiss away.
2. Clients – handshakes all the way – unless they initiate, then be prepared to change tact asap – don’t leave them hanging or be that kid with your head mid-air.
3. Acquaintances – read the play – what’s the vibe? Play it safe! Maybe handshake at the beginning, kiss at the end (def kisses goodbye when you’ve been drinking wine together).
And if you do a Jess, which let’s be real, unless you are in the fashionista world you will, humour gets you everywhere. Laugh it off, make a joke of the awkwardness of reading social situations, and I guarantee you will find yourself with a new friend, and someone you don’t have to do the guess work with next time!
*Disclaimer, this is not intended to be a guide to avoiding awkward social encounters, I am not the person to follow in life in this regard. I can however share a thousand stories about my awks to make you feel better about yours. And this is an apology to all those victims of my social awkwardness and inappropriate kissing.