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In a Post-COVID Era, We All Get Another First Kiss

It’s now been nearly seven months since I was kissed. It was a first-date kiss with someone I’d met on the subway during rush hour the day prior. It was a good first kiss, better than I’d expected it to be. He had moves. Mid-goodnight kiss, he gently bit my top lip, playfully tugging on it between his teeth just enough for it to be sexy and exciting, not cannibalistic. It’s a classic kissing move that I expressly remember reading about in some women’s mag article when I was young enough that I’d not yet felt another human’s tongue touching my own tongue. I wonder if, at some point in our adolescence, we read the same magazine.

Despite the promising meet-cute and our well-matched smooching styles, that whole thing went nowhere rather quickly. But the memory of a good kiss can often become valuable collateral for an experience that doesn’t exactly live up to it. Now I can just play the hits in the movie theater in my mind, as I’ve just done again.

Some would call this a precautionary cruelty.

For the past three or four months now, the COVID-19 pandemic has forbidden any mouth-to-mouth closeness, let alone contact. (The city of New York has even issued a government-sanctioned guide to COVID intimacy in the interest of harm reduction, knowing full well that its 8 million or so inhabitants are not likely to practice total abstinence.) The mouth and nose must be covered when in proximity to other noses and mouths, so you can’t even really admiringly gaze at another set of lips either (restraint stoke thy desire).

Some would call this a precautionary cruelty. I consider it a challenge for the most amorous worms in my brain to concoct a reverie to rival the most gratuitous of romance genres—K-dramas, southern vampires, and white-collar BDSM notwithstanding. If you’re single, like moi, we are finding ourselves at a unique cultural tipping point to premeditate our very own first post-COVID kiss.

The notion of “risking it all” is now entirely too literal.

I’ve had my share of forgettable kisses in the past. They’ve made me appreciate how a really good kiss with someone I’m totally into can be way more intimate than sex. I’m pretty sure my lips have more prurient muscle memory than my vagina does. In all my days of kissing, I find that there are often two sides: fondly remembering good kisses (as mentioned above) and fantasizing about future kisses and their subsequent future kissees.

Like all first kisses, I imagine that “the new kissing” will come with its own share of neurosis. But instead of hoping that my breath is inoffensive and making sure that we don’t bump teeth, I’ll likely be mentally calculating the potential for either spreading or contracting a particularly deadly virus. The notion of “risking it all” is now entirely too literal.

I wonder if fantasizing alone can short circuit my brain into releasing the same tantalizing amounts of dopamine and serotonin as kissing itself.

For those practicing enough due diligence, that may not be a dire concern, especially if you’ve been “seeing” someone exclusively for long enough that your pre-first-base precautions become a worthwhile wait for carefree kissing—with the kind of sincerity that follows the sharing of some key intimate knowledge to inspire an emotional trust that wouldn’t necessarily precede a fun club-night pash with a stranger. Those kinds of exciting first kisses would sometimes spin me out of the moment and into dissociative fretting about where this kiss is leading.

Now that summer, the magical long-lit season of romance, is upon us, I’ve been thinking about this a fair bit, as I imagine many of us are—so much so, that I wonder if fantasizing alone can short circuit my brain into releasing the same tantalizing amounts of dopamine and serotonin as kissing itself. In my brain’s most indulgent kissing chronicles, I am confident and unhurried, I never feel pressured, and I am able to gracefully vibe with any suitor’s smooch style, like the professional dancer counterpart to some Dancing With the Stars duo. I imagine that some non-corny romantic music is playing at a subdued volume, as someone holds my round little face in their hands and kisses the living daylights out of me. And only when we part for a necessary breath, will I then gaze into the eyes of my post-pandemic paramour and say, “This is what I’ve been waiting for.

Image via Backgrid

Sable Yong

Sable Yong

Sable is a New York City-based writer. A former beauty editor and now a freelance narcissist, you can find her work on Allure, GQ, Vogue (Teen and regular), Nylon, New York Magazine, Man Repeller (obviously), and sometimes the packaging of beauty products. Like every millennial writer who came of age in the era of analog feelings, she has a newsletter.

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