It’s the kiss that launched one thousand inspirational quotes on Pinterest: “If he kisses your forehead…he’s quite perfect.” “A guy won’t kiss a girl on her forehead unless he’s really serious about her.” “This kiss implies their respect for you and that they don’t only want you to feed their sexual appetite.” “Cuddle her, play with her hair, and kiss her forehead. Remind her that you’re not going anywhere.” “I crave you in the most innocent form. I crave to say good night and give you forehead kisses.”
Unfortunately, it seems that the myth of true love’s forehead kiss continues to cast a long shadow on our perceptions of intimacy. X Factor star Lola Saunders is fighting off rumors that fellow contestant Ben Haenow's forehead kisses are proof of a blossoming relationship. Lola has a boyfriend who is not Ben. She tried to explain that Ben was “very tactile,” the sort of roommate who gave everyone in their house a kiss. She claimed not to have seen the pictures of him kissing her forehead.
I’m no psychic, but I’d be willing to bet that when Lola looks back on her experience as a reality-show singer, she won’t dwell for very long on the supposed scandal regarding her face and Ben Haenow.
Forehead kisses aren't romantic -- they're actually the kiss of neutrality. A forehead kiss is an exchange best suited to parents and their children or between siblings. I flinch whenever someone I’m interested in makes a move for my forehead. For me, no kiss at all would be far better than this patronizing peck.
Pop music loves to conjure up the forehead kiss -- in 2006, there was Paula DeAnda’s smash hit, “Walk Away (Remember You).” We all sang along as she crooned longingly for the one who got away: “In the back of my mind, I can't help but question / Does he kiss me on the forehead before we play? / Show up on my doorstep (with a bouquet)?”
Paula, I’ve had a guy surprise me on my doorstep with flowers to celebrate the official graduation from my master’s program. He even had a card. We’d only had a few dates, so I certainly wasn’t expecting any gestures, let alone sweeping romantic ones. I felt giddy and girly. I was positively glowing.
But you know what happened after that? He kissed me. Not on my cheek. Not on my hand. On my mouth. Me.
He didn’t attempt to introduce “play time” with a forehead kiss. He had the confidence to lean in for the real thing. And guess what? It worked. Kisses ensued and his thoughtfulness remains a fond memory.
Genuine intimacy lacks the perfunctory performance inherent to forehead kisses. Kissing can be so many things: tender, playful, urgent, languid, bittersweet, ardent, cautious, daring, tepid, affectionate, sensual, final, unstoppable. But the forehead kiss is a demonstration of stilted feeling, one person’s imposition rather than an act of mutual collaboration.
There are those who argue that the forehead kiss can be intended as an act of comfort in times of distress. To that, I counter -- which scenario is more comforting: the partner who holds you at arm’s length or the one who shares the moment with you? Look again at those quotes about forehead kisses. The recipient for each of these kisses is either gender-neutral or female. That’s not an accident.
Nineteenth-century writers like Christopher Morley tried to feminize the forehead kiss by pairing it with shoes. “High heels were invented by a woman who had been kissed on the forehead,” he claimed. A full century later, Robin Williams’ Mrs. Doubtfire set him straight when she muttered, “If I find the misogynistic bastard that invented heels, I'll kill him.” If forehead kisses are the metaphorical high heels of footwear, I’ll be the one in comfortable flats who can kiss at eye-level.
It’s not only straight couples that use the forehead kiss as a means of imposing distance. In her memoir "The End of Eve," Ariel Gore uses the forehead kiss as a device to foreshadow the end of her relationship. Over a late-night Facebook chat with a friend, Ariel describes Sol by saying she’s “not a partner, she’s the roommate from hell who doesn’t even pay the rent.” Later, as Sol cajoles Ariel into moving to New Mexico with promises of a revived sex life, she seals the offer in what the reader has come to know as Sol’s signature detached style: “Sol kissed me on the head. I always felt like a little kid when she did that, not like anybody’s girlfriend.” It’s a moment infused with both Sol’s quiet sadness and a profound sense of Ariel’s loneliness. Their parting near the end of the book comes as a relief. The forehead stalemate ends and Ariel is free to pursue a relationship with someone who will kiss her without reservation.
All of this angst begs the question: why am I so against the combination of foreheads and kissing? At some point, I probably didn’t care all that much about the subject. But then there was the guy who ended each of our dates with a kiss (or three) on the mouth followed by a kiss on the forehead. I hated it. The passionate good-night kiss was the kiss I wanted to last, not the kiss where he touched his lips to my forehead, as though every date was a kind of Sunday communion and my forehead was the wafer. There are entire journals filled with rhetorical questions: why does he keep going for the forehead and what does it mean?
I tried to outsmart him by pulling away before he could make his move, but he’d tug at my arm and draw me in closer. “Come back here,” he’d say. I relented. I always came back.
Despite what any search of cutesy musings would have you believe, he was not serious about me. We were never exclusive. He never confessed any feelings of true love or eternal devotion, but he did care about me. I like to think we respected each other. But each time he leaned down to brush his lips across my forehead, the performance resumed and we were two actors who never diverted from the stage directions. He was the gallant “gentleman” and I was the passive “lady.” It wasn’t real. Romance is more than the roles we play; it’s the choices we make when we go off-script.