A New Ritual: The Morning and Evening Kiss
One of the constantly surprising aspects of relationships is just how much reassurance we need to believe that we are actively wanted – and, equally, how easy it is to forget this awkward fact both about ourselves and the other person.
The standard narrative of love tells us that insecurity about being wanted is going to be at its height at the start of the dating period, when we are acutely – and rather sweetly – conscious of the many ways in which our partner might not be keen on taking things further. But, we assume, once a relationship has started, once there might be children, a home and an established pattern of life, then surely the fear of being unwanted should disappear.
Far from it. The fear of being unwanted continues every day. There could always be new threats to love’s integrity. Just because we were loved yesterday does not ensure a sense that we will be needed today. More perniciously, if a fear is left to fester, it can lead us to adopt a defensive position where, because we assume we are unwanted, we start to behave in a cold and detached way, which encourages the partner to act likewise. Two people who are, at heart, very well disposed towards one another can end up in a cycle of each denying that they need the other, because they cautiously and pre-emptively assume that the other person no longer wants them.
In order to try to calm these fears and cycles of unwarranted detachment, we should be sure to institute an apparently small but in fact crucial ritual into our lives: a morning and evening kiss. Every morning, before parting, no matter how much in a rush we both are, we should give one another a proper kiss on the lips, for at least seven seconds which is – in reality – a very strangely long time. Lean in close together, don’t think about the many things you have to do in the hours ahead. Simply concentrate on the sensation of their mouth on yours, feel your nose against their skin. Don’t break off abruptly at the end: keep looking at each other for another few moments and give a smile. The same should be repeated every evening at the point of return.
When we kiss we are tapping into a central channel of emotional connection. Intimate physical contact affects us in a way that’s both distinct from, and in many ways superior to, words or ideas. We are sensuous creatures to at least the same degree as we are rational ones: a smile or a caress can therefore reassure us far more deeply than can an eloquent phrase or a well-articulated fact (‘of course I love you…’). As babies we were soothed by touch long before we could understand language, and we therefore continue to need physical contact to believe, truly to believe, that we have a place in another’s life.
Normally a kiss follows from a tender feeling: we have an emotion first and then we express it. But there’s another way our minds can work, a way in which a feeling follows from an action. The morning and evening kiss should hence come first, independently of whether or not there is as yet a tender emotion. But then, almost for certain, if we go through with the kiss, the emotion will occur (it’s very hard to kiss and feel nothing). We may need to make that rather odd-sounding move in love: a small effort.
The morning and evening kiss should be a ritual. A central feature of rituals is that we do them whether we feel like doing them or not. The kiss should take place even if you’ve just had a rather sarcastic argument or if you are racing to an important early meeting – or if you are feeling resentful. Better feelings will follow.
When leaving the house and heading to the station, we should no longer only ask whether we have remembered the keys or the report. We should always ask ourselves if we have done a far more crucial and love-sustaining thing: exchanged a seven second kiss.