People are talking about “the conversation.” Have you had the conversation? I’ve had the conversation. On our first date we had the conversation. Weeks before we kissed, we had the conversation. So, yeah, we didn’t kiss on the first date. Because corona. Frankly, the corona conversation wasn’t as awkward as my memories of the condom conversation or the STD conversation. Those discussions involved sex acts and body parts. Kissing in the time of corona has a perfunctory precursor, the social history of air. Not who have you touched, but who have you inhaled? Who’s in your bubble? Where have you been breathing? Who have you been sharing air with? Do you wear your mask? Do they? When was the last time you were in a room with unmasked individuals? What level of risk have you been enduring? How long were you exposed? Do you know anyone who’s been sick? How do you feel? The corona conversation is a bucket of cold water on the hot mess of intimacy.
I remember being introduced to this sort of inquiry with the emergence of HIV-AIDS in the 1980s. Sex was never safe. Syphilis and gonorrhea have been around since Sodom and Gomorrah. But when HIV-AIDS hit my community it changed the conversation. Promiscuous people and their partners died. Sexually transmitted disease bombed the zeitgeist. The biological risk was about more than pregnancy, safe sex became a thing, the sexual history of my partner was added to my own sexual history, sleeping around wasn’t as much fun, and revealing one’s legacy of sexual encounters became the hallmark of a serious relationship. Today’s sex-positive ethics require a pre-contact conversation about STDs. Covid has accelerated that disclosure. Kissing in the time of corona is dangerous.
Our pre-kiss conversation was about how we structure our lives to protect ourselves from the virus. Who is/has been in your house, your car, your workplace? Where do you shop? Do you go to restaurants? How do you spend your time? What risks are you taking? It may seem early in the relationship for this intrusive level of detail, but if you want to kiss me, I need to know. Because once I kiss you, I’m in your bubble and you are in mine. How will you protect me?
As we reviewed the potential threat of biological entanglement, sitting across from each other on a park bench, the evolution of our relationship slowed to the pace of a Jane Austen novel. It wasn’t romantic, but it felt necessary. There was no whispering, no sudden gush of feelings, no skin, no steamy logistics. Not what we learned in high school. But the steady pursuit of our intentions was a signal, our due diligence was serious, and the delicacy of our trust was a magnet for more. We were establishing ground rules that don’t usually precede kissing, that usually aren’t necessary just for a kiss, that more often occur the morning after, or the week after, or the month after, if ever. Our first kiss was loaded with more than consenting flesh. We envisioned a future together. Then we lit the fireworks.