Kissing strangers

Kissing strangersA Facebook friend posted this video where filmmaker Tatia Pilivea recorded twenty strangers in ten pairings sharing a first kiss. People who had never met were paired up and asked to kiss. It included two presumably gay pairings, one male and one female.

I noticed on YouTube that the video has amassed over 66 million views!

The black-and-white video was quietly inspirational in its tenderness and affection. It is a wonder to watch shyness and awkwardness melt into a genuine, if fleeting, connection.

MEMORIES

Watching the film brought back memories of intimacy workshops I attended way back in the early 1980s. Hugging and kissing strangers happened back then. Often.

My heart happily soars over stuff like this. I love climbing out of the box in a safe, protected way to experience something that is normally not even considered doable because it’s far too different from the standards mass culture conforms to. We’ve probably all had fantasies of kissing attractive strangers, but actually doing it and having the pairing arranged for us makes it even more interesting.

Reading through some of the viewer comments, it becomes apparent that many people see the subject of this video as “making out.” Like make out with a stranger. A zipless kiss. A recreational pursuit. A thrill ride. My guess is that these commentators have never kissed strangers themselves, or if they have, they maintained a superficial perspective on its implication, like party game.

In the context of intimacy workshops, kissing total strangers was (for me at least) more of a unique spiritual experience. The physical ritual had a huge ripple effect in the deep pool of my consciousness. Granted that it was transient and instant intimacy, which freaks some people out to no end. Yet for me, kissing a stranger expressed and spread love in a surreal way, as if adding another dimension to love thy neighbor.

It is nearly ineffable to express how it felt — like in the womb of another universe showing (and receiving) non-possessive love for someone I did not know and probably would never see again. The experience stoked my fantasies about the world I would love to live in where people were much friendlier to one another than in the troubled world we have collectively created.

HOW IT HAPPENED

During intimacy workshops, sharing at a very uncommon depth occurred. Much of it was verbal. People would share their feelings about things. Often they would share their living nightmares, their painful memories or current struggles. The range of this sharing, much of it among strangers, was far more self-revealing than under normal social circumstances.

They told stories of being molested, raped, rejected, tormented, humiliated, excluded — things often considered too scary to mention or confess among friends. They bared their secrets in this safe place. They bared their souls.

People shared, and they were supported. They often got useful feedback. They got love.

Amid all this open-hearted sharing, often tearfully cathartic, people often hugged. Sometimes they kissed. Sometimes it occurred within the context of a facilitated exercise. Sometimes it was a spontaneous expression of affection during recess from workshop activities.

THIRTY YEARS LATER

When I attended these workshops in the early 80s, I firmly believed that the joy that was happening there would gain momentum. It would grow and prosper. People would see that love was the answer. How could anything as wonderful as this not take root and grow into new social institutions?

Life had other plans. Even though those workshops (and others like them) are still alive and well today, it seems that the global village has gotten more violent and mean. We’re more guarded and suspicious.

I used to think while participating in these workshops that the so-called battle of the sexes would become a thing of the past. Healing was happening. Gender equality would reign supreme. Spiritual intimacy would save the day.

Ahem. So much for youthful idealism.

KISSING STRANGERS

Even back then, even amid all my cosmic fantasizing, it still felt strange to kiss strangers. I kissed women; I kissed men. Often it was more like kissing whoever appeared there in front of you in an exercise. I kissed people I was attracted to and I kissed people I was not attracted to.

This was not kissing out of romantic feelings or sexual attraction. It was kissing in an entirely different mind set, more on a soul level. It was not always sensually pleasing. A few times it was borderline creepy, but I was still overcome with idealism that this was social progress, part of what then was called the human potential movement.

The idea of kissing just anybody causes teeth to gnash for many. I viewed it more like foreign travel and respecting other cultures. It’s a tendency of mine to try and fit in wherever I go, often at the price of surrendering my ego for awhile. Strange as some of it was, I never regretted having participated.

And while it did not feel oh, so courageous to me at the time, or even that bold, based on what life delivered later,  it was amazing in retrospect.

WAR STORIES

This may sound like something completely different, but I see a connection. I sometimes hear war stories about enemy soldiers who accidentally encounter one another. Through some quirky circumstance, they seem to step outside of the war for a few minutes. Though programmed to see each other as sworn enemies, sometimes they discovered people very much like themselves. Men who have feelings. Men who have families. Men who have hopes and dreams. Men who have struggles. Men who may not be convinced that war is justified but who feel coerced by their respective countries into participating as soldiers.

It’s too bad enemy troops cannot have pre-war sensitivity sessions. It’s hard to imagine war being a popular pastime if that happened.

Kissing strangers brings on a similar shift in perception. It removes normal social barriers people habitually erect between themselves and others. For a few precious seconds, all you need is love. More often than not, people leave intimacy workshops feeling better about the human race than before. For a little while, at least, they have more hope.

Looking back over the joys and heartbreaks of life, looking back to a few weekend workshops in my young thirties, I am still inspired by the experiences. I like to imagine how society would be if somehow in the tapestry of possibility, we created different rules for experiencing more love and cooperation. I like to imagine people feeling safer, supported, and more included.

Oh, I know all about the logistical nightmares and the legal, political, and health implications. I fast forward beyond all that just to feel how wonderful it would be if we really were free to pursue this happiness. I would so much rather take the risks to expand love consciousness than take the well-worn path to fear and exclusion.

As weird as kissing strangers can be, the memory of the experience warms me more than I can say.

2 thoughts on “Kissing strangers

  1. mockingbird181984 says:

    I really find it interesting how you describe kissing a stranger (which is something really crazy) as something that liberates and gives one so much love and joy. This got me thinking really. Never done it before — and that’s probably why.

    I think you’re right. We do need something tangible, something that is concrete in showing what we truly feel inside. Words are becoming meaningless nowadays, and they just don’t seem to work anymore. Kissing a stranger, although really extreme, is one good way to say “Peace to you, brother!” or “You are not alone.” or “You have my support, I’m with you.”

    • Joshua Bagby says:

      Thank you for your comment. Most of my kissing stranger experiences were in the context of workshops where people felt more safe than just anywhere (and of course they could decline if they wished.) In the time (early 1980s) and place (San Francisco Bay Area), it did not seem so extreme, and it did indeed feature a great feeling of expressing a universal love. And that was ultimately the point of it.

      I think that anything we can do to foster the message “You are not alone” is a good thing.

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