I’d always hoped that my first kiss would feel like fireworks. I don’t know what that means, I just wanted it. Because that’s what people always say, right? A good kiss feels like fireworks going off. It’s this bright, intense explosion of passion and excitement, and anything less than that is barely worth talking about.
I did not experience fireworks.
I ended up having my first kiss at 20, with some guy from my Intro to Film course. He invited me over to his apartment with the promise of dinner and a movie, which I found charming and romantic. I can’t say that I was very interested in him as an individual, but I had been taught by bad sitcoms and Freeform originals that a slutty phase was an inherent part of the college experience, and I was already running a year behind on that. I was ready to be fun and spontaneous and sexy, and this seemed like a good enough place to start. So, I zipped up my Forever21 miniskirt, slapped on some Fenty highlighter (because this was 2018), and hopped into the Uber to his place.
An hour later, I found myself eating a grilled cheese sandwich and salad off of a paper plate while Hot Fuzz played on his laptop.
But I had already decided to be fun and spontaneous and sexy, so when he kissed me, I went with it. It was bad. Like, so bad. Within minutes, I ended up squashed uncomfortably between him and the armrest of the couch. As he was trying to explain the right way to use tongue, his roommate walked past us to get a Dr. Pepper from the kitchen. At some point, he paused our make-out session to tell me that he liked my “small mouth” because it was a nice change from most of the girls he’d been with. Then I kissed him just so he would stop saying dumb shit.
We did not go on another date. We didn’t even make eye contact in class for the rest of the semester.
And for a long time after that, I felt so angry with myself. I kept going over that night in my head, trying to figure out what I could have done differently, how I could have made things run a little more smoothly. Was I supposed to lie about it being my first kiss? Should I have pretended to like the grilled cheese dinner? Would it have gone better if I’d stayed longer, and given him the opportunity to turn things around? I drove myself crazy overthinking it.
It’s not that I even wanted to see him again. He was barely a part of the equation at this point, but that night had become representative of all the ways in which I was failing to live up to the expectations I’d internalized through two decades of obsessive media consumption. The thing is, bad sitcoms and Freeform originals had also taught me that a first kiss was supposed to mean something. It was supposed to set the tone for every future romantic endeavor, and I had just wasted it.
It hadn’t been interesting enough to be considered a good first kiss, and I didn’t enjoy it enough to write it off as a meaningless fling. It was just this weird, uncategorizable thing that was now a part of my history.
And I know, fundamentally, that’s all bullshit. First kisses don’t actually matter. But it’s hard to remember that when you look back on your life and are met with a series of unremarkable moments. Entirely un-cinematic. I want all of my firsts to be these monumental, life-changing events. I know it’s unrealistic, but things just work better in movies.
I want to lock eyes with an interesting stranger across the room, and then suddenly CUT TO: an hour later when we’re making out against the back wall. Or even better, the next morning when we’re waking up in bed together, their top sheet tastefully draped across my chest to appease the censors. There’s no need to sustain any of the moments in between because small talk doesn’t make for a very interesting plot point.
I think that’s where the fireworks come in. Because fiction, by nature, has to be efficient. Romances are told through the most significant moments, and we’re promised that every moment shown will mean something in the end. Every good kiss is a life-changing experience, and every bad kiss is just there to reinforce how good that good kiss really is.
If this were a story, I would have walked away from that night in my Forever21 miniskirt and Fenty highlight, and really felt like I understood something about myself, or relationships, or the world at large. I would have found some insightful lesson among all the fumbling and embarrassment, and informed my friends of this new character growth over brunch the next morning, the way they do on Sex and the City. Or, a short time later, I might have had an adorable meet-cute with a charming stranger who teaches me that romance does exist after all, as long as we open our hearts to it or whatever.
But unfortunately, life isn’t a story, and I didn’t do any of that.
Instead, I wallowed for a while. I made an angsty playlist and listened to it on repeat. I wrote a terrible poem in my creative writing class and spent a few weeks fantasizing about a better first kiss through the rosy, soft-focused lens of romantic comedies. And eventually, I just kind of… stopped worrying about it. Again, deeply un-cinematic.
And I realize now, that’s the problem. As nice as it would be to lead a life filled with exciting, monumental moments, that’s rarely how things play out for anyone, and I’m just setting myself up for disappointment by wishing for it. I’ve had other opportunities for first kisses since that night, some of them better, some of them worse. None of them particularly cinematic. And while I’m still secretly hoping for my fireworks, a bad kiss no longer feels like a crushing disappointment. Usually, it just feels like too much tongue.