The awkward party kiss

I’m fascinated/riveted by the awkward party kiss.

You know what I mean? You’re at a party. Maybe it’s a BBQ. Maybe it’s a reunion. An office gathering. And there’s someone you sorta kinda know of the opposite sex.* Perhaps someone you went to high school with long ago. Someone you semi-recognize. And there’s this moment—both of you are aware of it—when you’re uncertain whether to lean in for a cheek kiss, or to merely nod or shake hands. So one of you begins to stick out your hand as the other leans in a cheek.


I attended two—yes, two!—parties yesterday, and the experience happened twice. The first didn’t involve me—I was merely a witness. There were two women. One was a classmate of mine from high school, one wasn’t. But the classmate probably assumed the woman she didn’t recognize was a classmate she, well, simply didn’t recognize. The other woman, however, was merely a spouse of a classmate, and therefore knew nobody. Yet the classmate, not wanting to be rude, offered a joyful HEY! and leaned in for a kiss—even though she (rightly) had no clue of the identity of the woman she was about to kiss. Helpless, the non-classmate needed to pretend she was happy to see the classmate, and leaned in for a kiss.

Then they parted and never spoke another word.

Later in the day, I was at a BBQ hosted by my wife’s cousin. I knew many people there, because we live only, oh, eight miles apart and our kids go to the same pre-school. Anyhow, there was one woman who I see every single day at the pre-school. Yet besides Hi and Bye, we rarely converse (this is no slight; just the way things happen). So when I see her at the party, she gives my wife a kiss, and then, as I’m extending my hand, she leans in to give me one. So I lean in, lean back, lean in again and, doh!, smooch.


Honestly, the whole thing confuses me. I’m sure I could just save myself bundles of awkwardness by kissing everyone, but that’s sorta gross. If a stranger is kissing me cheek, that means she’s kissing 800 other cheeks, too. Which means I’m also kissing 800 other cheeks.


* This only applies to men. In other words, men don’t have awkward kiss moments with other men, but women do with other women. Yet another reason it’s better being a guy.

3 thoughts on “The awkward party kiss”

  1. This is a. . . what’s the right word . . . pre-occupation of mine as well. Has been since about high school. Complicating the matter for me is that I am OK with names, but terrible with faces, so I often can’t tell at first who is in my kiss-zone. From about 18 to 28, the awkwardness this moment engenders made me mistakenly believe that I didn’t like family re-unions, parties, weddings, etc., because of my deep dread of both the hello period and the good-bye period. I would actually make a habit of sidling in late and slipping out early, to minimize the moment. Now, at 37, I don’t really dread the moment any less, but I understand that ducking it is not the adult thing to do.

  2. Kevin B—I share your awkward social problem and I’m kind of glad to know that I’m not alone in the world on this one. I’ve tried to surround myself with friends who are either: 1.The kind of people who would never kiss/hug someone hello/goodbye or 2. The kind of people who understand that I, while adorable, can be socially awkward bordering on strange sometimes. Unfortunately I don’t have the same control over co-workers, my boyfriend’s family, and the countless strangers I meet.

    This uncomfortable issue about a forced and over-the-top boisterous greeting to someone who ended up being a total stranger shouldn’t even exist. What the hell is wrong with a smile and a friendly nod—or for more intimate gatherings—a handshake and a “thank you for having us”. I turned 30 last September, and I think after a certain point in life (say 30 years) gatherings of friend, particularly high school friends, tend to take on a bit of an air of desperation—everyone talking about their promotions, their gifted children, their new car, and how happy their marriages are. Everyone is quietly competing to be the couple who isn’t being pitied behind closed doors and these ridiculous greetings are just a symptom of that.

    Do you remember showing up to a college party and being greeted with a squeal and a hug? No.. because nobody gave a shit. THAT’S what I miss most about college…

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