I met my wife in May of 1994. We spent a great deal of time together and over the next couple of years grew to be best friends. We came to know each other and love each other in a way I had never known or even conceived. I say that in my defense, because as I look back on those years I cringe at the utter and complete level of absolute cluelessness I displayed.
After about a year of spending time together, sharing our thoughts and pasts, helping each other out in difficult situations, and actively pursuing each others’ happiness, I began to feel a strong affection for the Happy Best Friend. I hugged her at every opportunity. Sometimes I stroked her hair. Sometimes I let her lean against me as we sat on my couch watching a rented movie. None of this, in my mind, constituted romance. That may have been because lust had not yet entered into it, and I had no conception of romance without lust.
Anyway, some time in 1996 I developed a strong desire to kiss her. I can say in all honesty that the desire grew out of a pure, overpowering, non-lustful affection for her. I realized at the time that a kiss is a powerful show of affection that could have all sorts of implications I didn’t intend. I knew that a kiss out of the blue would make her think I had romantic feelings for her, which I absolutely didn’t. I needed an excuse to kiss her so that we could share that show of affection once and have it intensify our friendship rather than unravel it.
Valentine’s Day and both our birthdays came and went without a kiss. As Christmas drew near, I came up with a perfect excuse. When she visited me at my apartment to exchange gifts, we had the following conversation:
ME: You know, uh, I’ve always wanted to kiss someone under the mistletoe* but I never have. I was wondering if you’d like to do that.
HER: Oh. Okay. Where’s your mistletoe?
ME: Um, I don’t have any.
::mentallykicks self for not thinking to actually get some mistletoe::We can pretend.
HER: All right. Let me go spit out my gum.
She went to the kitchen, spit out the gum she was chewing, returned, and let me kiss her under the imaginary mistletoe. It may have been the most unromantic first kiss for a couple in the history of relationships, but it also may have been the sweetest, purest, most powerful and clueless kiss ever. Previous kisses that I had experienced began at the instant lips touched and ended as soon as contact was broken. This kiss, however, began early in the year, built up momentum over a period of months, and still affects us both today.
I wrote recently about how I used to grasp for excuses to spend time with the Happy Best Friend. I received some criticism for having employed deceit and game-playing rather than being up front about my feelings. Let me just make it clear now that neither deceit nor denial have ever played any role in my relationship with my wife. For several years, cluelessness and a profound lack of understanding on my part played a dominant role, but I eventually (and thankfully) overcame them.
*I don’t know if the mistletoe tradition exists in other countries. A mistletoe is a semi-parasitic green plant with thick leaves, small yellowish flowers, and white berries. Around Christmastime, you cut a piece of mistletoe off of a tree and hang it somewhere, usually above a doorway. When you catch someone standing under the mistletoe, you have the right to kiss them.