Pulse: Social Diary: The Kiss Army

“I’ve always been a hugger,” says Anne, who lives in Haverford and is the kind of pretty, good-smelling person anyone would want to be hugged by. “I could meet someone and an hour later hug them goodbye,” she adds.

Lately, though, it’s hard to decipher the social code of whom it is appropriate to greet warmly. My copy of Emily Post (which, admittedly, was published in 1969) advises always shaking hands when in doubt, adding: “Individual temperament also has to be taken into consideration: one person is naturally austere, another genial.” So true. But nowadays, some of us hug pretty much anyone in sight, perhaps making up for love we’ve missed out on over the years. (Sigh.) Others appreciate a warm embrace only from good friends; and a large contingent reports that they’d prefer a more reserved handshake — or less — from anyone other than their spouse. “In Europe, it is so much easier: You greet everyone with a double kiss,” says my friend D., who was born in Russia and still likes to give friends a hug-and-kiss-on-the-cheek hello.

It’s a good thing she’s not a close friend of L., a Villanova mother of two who lives in dread of even a quick peck from anyone other than her kids and hubby. “I went off the ‘kiss plan’ years ago; it was a germ-related decision,” she declares. “At first, it was awkward; people would lean in for the kiss-hug, and I’d thrust out my hand for the warmest handshake ever — to compensate.

“The kisses still came flying,” shivers L., who panics when she imagines saliva on her cheek. “So now I’m working the hand-to-upper-arm, with an air-kiss in the vicinity of the ear.”

It turns out the much-maligned air-kiss is actually quite popular, though not with Laurie, a friend who’s dubbed it the Rittenhouse Kiss, and speculates that it’s more a strategy for women to preserve their perfect makeup than to avoid the flu. But air-kissers say they truly feel awkward about being smooched on the cheek by a virtual stranger. Or, worse — on the mouth. “I happen to love a hug,” says B. “What I can’t stand is women who kiss me on the lips, or men who kiss me on the lips. It happens all the time, and it’s weird. A bit too Angelina Jolie and her brother for me. And I have one male friend who does it in front of my husband, which weirds him out, too!”

Not surprisingly, men are the most uncomfortable with an uninvited smackeroo. One friend says he was actually berated by his girlfriend’s sister, whom he’d met a total of three times, for not returning her kiss with proper zeal. “I feel very awkward when I enter a business meeting and someone I hardly know leans in for an air-kiss or hug,” says public relations exec Peter Breslow, who’s upset enough to describe the subject as a “train wreck.” And Breslow’s just referring to the women he works with, not the growing trend of man-hugs. “With my top 10 friends, there might be a hug involved,” says J., a developer who lives on Rittenhouse Square and is cool with the man-hug. (This has been taken to the next level by one golf buddy who likes to kiss him on the cheek.)

If nothing else, he’s resigned to a life of social kissing. “I have one woman friend who always kisses on the lips,” J. adds reflectively. “I’ve tried to go left and to go right. Always ends up in the middle with her.”