Tag: intimacy

Kiss Me Like You Mean It

The Kiss by Gustav Klimt (c. 1907)

The Kiss by Gustav Klimt (c. 1907)

There are kisses, and then there are kisses. Regular, non-italicized kisses are lovely – they say anything from “hello, nice to meet you,” to “I want to fuck you against this wall.” Kisses though…kisses are different.  Kisses get italicized when they’re the culmination of a moment. When they transcend the promise of sex and become whole and complete on their own – fragile, intimate moments that end as inevitably as they begin.

I was once stuck at the airport in Boulder, Colorado. There was a blizzard, (of course), and all flights were canceled for hours. As a result, I found myself at loose ends along with all the other optimistic souls who had scheduled flights through the Rockies in January.

It was late in the evening, so after lurking around uselessly, I went to the only thing still open – an over-dressed bar that didn’t seem to know it was in an airport in Colorado instead of midtown Manhattan. I ordered a gin and tonic and nursed it while I read something or other. I don’t remember what. What I do remember is that someone sat down next to me, ordered a beer and started reading the same book, except that his copy was tattered and falling apart.

We got to talking, as people in airports do, first about the book, which he read once a year, and then more personal things, like the fact that his girlfriend had just broken up with him.

I don’t generally ask strangers personal questions. I don’t like prying, and that night, especially, I didn’t feel like seriously engaging a person I’d never see again. And yet I still asked him why. Why had his girlfriend broken up with him? Something about the hunch of his shoulders coaxed the question out of me.

“She said I never kissed her like I meant it.”

He gave me a wry sort of self-deprecating smile, but it was hollow.

“What were you supposed to mean,” I asked. “That you loved her? Or that you wanted to be kissing her?”

“Both, I think,” he said.

“Did you,” I asked, meeting his eyes, and I realized that I couldn’t see what color they were in the bar’s relentlessly blue light. “Did you kiss her like you meant it?”

“Not enough,” he said. “Not as much as I should.”

I should have ended the conversation there. I didn’t want to be talking to a nice looking guy with a tattered copy of the book I’d gotten for Christmas. I wanted, quite honestly, to stay curled up in my shell. And yet, we had turned on our stools and our knees were nearly touching. My pulse felt heavy and promising in my throat. I was getting drawn in…pulled along by his sadness, which mirrored my own at the time.

Do you want to do this? Are we doing this? Yes, we’re going to do this….

We leaned into each other. His book was sitting on the bar, not quite next to mine. He still hadn’t touched me, but his hand was on the arm of my chair. We were negotiating the inevitable. Drifting, swaying…we kissed, lightly at first, still negotiating.

Are you sure this all right?

Then he cupped my cheek, and suddenly everything was all right. He kissed me because he wanted to. I could feel how much he wanted to in the touch of his tongue, and the jump of his pulse. And then it very gently ended. He smiled and kissed my forehead. I smiled and kissed his cheek. Then he picked up his book and left.

That kiss was an italicized kiss. It unfolded naturally, though it could have been scripted, and ended without a word. A kiss like that can be as intimate as sex, but you have mean it.

What do I mean by “mean it?” Not love. Not necessarily, though love never hurts. What I mean is that you have to want the kiss – not as a preamble to sex, but for its own sake. When I write erotica, it’s easy to forget that I’m not actually writing about sex. I’m writing about intimacy and affinity and connection, (or lack thereof), in the form of sex. It’s those three things that create the life and tension in the act that contains them, whether it’s kissing, fucking, spanking, or the softest touch, (think of that moment when Daniel Day-Lewis unbuttons Michelle Pfeiffer’s glove in The Age of Innocence. That, and the kiss that follows, is heartbreaking and hot).

If I had written that kiss in Boulder as a story I could easily have used the kiss as a prelude to a quickie, but that would have been a mistake. I would have missed the real story – the slow build towards that kiss and the humanity that went into it. The reality is that it ended as it should have, quietly and without a word. No numbers exchanged. No hands on thighs. I never even knew his name. I knew everything that the moment required, and then we let it go.

It was a hell of a kiss.

The Slap, or The Intimacy of Violence

four image screen capture from Max Landis's short, The Slap

Screen captures, YouTube. From Max Landis’s “The Slap”

Earlier in the year, a video called “First Kiss” went viral. It featured people who had never met before sharing a kiss on camera. “First Kiss” generated some controversy because, as it turned out, the strangers in the video weren’t “normal people,” but were, in fact, actors. Apparently, this turned a lot of people off. Personally, I didn’t care. Actors or not, the people in the video were still kissing strangers and, as a former actor myself, I can tell you that it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re getting paid – kissing someone you don’t know is legitimately awkward, no matter how many times you’ve done it, (particularly when you’re going in cold).

Anyway, another video came out several months later in the wake of “First Kiss.” Filmed by a different director, this one was called, “The Slap,” and featured, unsurprisingly, randomly paired strangers slapping each other. I was intrigued so I watched it, expecting a tongue-in-cheek parody. What I got surprised me instead. Here – take a look:

Important Note 1: This may be stating the obvious, but this video shows a whole lot of people slapping each other in the face. If that makes you uncomfortable, please feel free to skip it, and just read on.

So, here’s why I like this video – “The Slap” shows a form of visceral intimacy that we rarely talk about in civilized culture. Just as kissing is widely acknowledged to be an intimate act, so to is hitting someone, (as well as getting hit).

Important Note 2: Allow me state up front that consent is everything. The people in this video agreed to slap and be slapped. It is never all right to haul off and hit someone without their consent – unless they’re trying to hurt you. If they’re trying to hurt you, please, by all means, go to town.

Now, back to my point. The violence in “The Slap” is entirely egalitarian. Everyone’s on board. Everyone knows what they’re about to do. And yet, they all hesitate before doing it. There’s a breathless moment right before they each strike that I absolutely love. It’s like that silent negotiation right before a first kiss, when your lips are almost touching, but you’re still not sure it’s going to happen. That is intimate. And just as with a kiss, once they’ve gotten a taste for it, they want more. They laugh, they hug, they kiss, they scrunch their shoulders in that oh-my-god-I-can’t-believe-I’m-doing-this way that happens when a person is super giddy and getting away with something.

The thing is, they are getting away with something in a way. They’re getting away with feeling good about hitting someone and getting hit. That right there is a modern taboo. We tell children not to hit each other. We raise ourselves to avoid violence, and for the most part, this is a very good thing – abuse is real. Harm is real, and so is victimization. These things are fucking abhorrent. But between two consenting adults, moderate violence can be shockingly sweet. It can be the foundation of a bond, a friendship, a brief connection or a life-long affair. It is, very legitimately, an intimate act, and intimate acts are powerful.

We are animals, after all. Regardless of how civilized we are, our impulses are not always civilized. There’s something about a slap that can send us back to our primal selves just as quickly as a kiss can – sometimes playfully, sometimes not. This is why, when people talk about how satisfying martial arts can be, I completely understand. Sparring is the epitome of consensual, controlled, disciplined violence, and that’s a powerful thing. The same goes for spanking and other forms of BDSM play, which involves forms of what many people call violence. And yet, hitting and being hit, in consensual BDSM contexts, is the height of intimacy – the exchange of power, trust and, at times, deep emotion. Between two people who agree to the exchange, violence can be many things, including sexy, delightful, charming and sweet.

It’s the sweetness that I see in “The Slap.” I can understand it making a person uncomfortable. I’ve been hit and I’ve hit back. Sometimes it can be lovely. Sometimes it definitely is not. But when it is lovely, it can be a powerfully intimate thing. Moreover, it’s an intimately human thing, and that, if nothing else, makes it worthy of consideration and, in my opinion, respect.

© 2018 Malin James

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