I used to give myself love bites on my arm as a child. I liked the ring of teeth marks, the slight bruising, the way it felt vaguely pleasurable. I never connected it with kissing, not until much later, and kissing was everywhere—in the Sweet Valley High books I read, on our recently acquired cable television. Around the same age, I went to visit family in America, and we stopped at a Burger King, and there, on the table next to us, was this interracial couple, just kissing and kissing and kissing, as if they were all alone.

I stared, because of course I did, I was from India, and no one kissed in India, rising population notwithstanding. Our movies were full of the Before Kiss and After Kiss, but actually kissing? Nope, that was a Western construct.

(In retrospect, I think that couple thought I was judging their mixed race kissing, and not just that display of PDA, because they shot me a very dirty look after a while and left, no doubt to go kiss somewhere else. But America was very strange and foreign to me anyway, so their races were just a matter of fact to me, not anything deeper.)

Then, many years later—because I was a slow bloomer—I finally had my first kiss. It was New Year's Eve, 1999, and my boyfriend and I were walking towards the party we had been aiming for. Fireworks started to go off in the sky, and I said, “Happy New Year.” He pulled me behind a car and I obediently lifted my face up, like I had been practising alone in my room for the last five years, only to be assaulted, my elbows pinned under my chin, my mouth on an unfamiliar one, this was nothing like the organic, amazing experience my friends had all described.

Okay, I thought to myself, this is only the first one. Surely they get better with time? Well... they did and they didn't. Kissing was fun, but it wasn't everything. You've probably guessed that relationship was doomed, and we didn't last the month.

Kissing is such a personal, private experience though, that one woman's good kiss is another one's disaster. There are basic no-nos, of course: not too much saliva that it's everywhere, not so little that both your mouths become dry and prickly; don't just leave your tongue in there like it's a dead fish; don't act like you're eating their face. The best kiss is when you're both learning what the other one wants, and it's an ebb and flow, a give and take, a delicate dance leading up to so many promises for the future.

The worst kiss I had was when I was still rubbing dry spit off my face two hours later. The best? Well, I'm still kissing him.

 

 Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan is the author of five books, most recently a YA novel about divorce called Split and a collection of short stories about love called Before, And Then After. The views expressed here are her own