It’s that awkward moment when you greet a friend. Is it OK to kiss your friends on the lips?
Remember that Friends episode, ‘The One With All The Kissing,’ where Chandler accidentally kisses Monica goodbye in front of Phoebe and Rachel who aren’t aware they are seeing each other; then, to cover his tracks, he kisses the other women on the lips too?
While in this specific Friends situation, Chandler’s gesture was not well received, Rachel and Phoebe stating that this is not something friends do, for others in the real world, platonic kissing, including on the lips, can be a very real way of greeting or farewelling each other.
Described by Relationships Australia NSW CEO, Elisabeth Shaw as “an act of intimacy that is not romantic or sexual in nature,” platonic kissing “even on the cheek – is most often reserved for extended family or closer friends, rather than something we would bestow on anyone.”
But what makes a kiss platonic, or something else? Like Rachel and Phoebe, Shaw believes the differentiation has a lot to do with the location of the kiss.
“This difference is often marked by where the kiss occurs; that is, on the cheek versus on the lips. Even an “air kiss” is still about showing closer relationships and affection or warmth.”
But it is the mouth or lips, that for some, is still not so straightforward.
“For some, a kiss on the mouth is reserved for a romantic relationship, and they will be quite strict about this, and see any attempt to kiss on the mouth outside of that relationship to be inappropriate and a violation of boundaries,” Shaw says.
But for others like 26-year-old Melbournian, Sara, platonic lip kissing is completely normal and a part of many of her friendships.
“My circle of friends and I regularly greet each other with a hug and kiss on the lips. For us it’s just a sign of our love and friendship for each other, something that seems more reflective of this than just saying hi,” she explains.
Shaw agrees with this sentiment, believing that for many, “platonic kissing is a way of showing warmth, affection and that the person means more to you than a handshake or verbal acknowledgment would signal.”
She does however believe the location of this kiss can mean different things for different people so determining that meaning first is key.
“It is important to recognise that touch has very different meaning in some cultures, and to be aware of that and to follow others lead. There are many ways to express affection and warmth verbally and becoming more comfortable with that is useful for such situations.”
This is echoed by Sara who explains that for one of her other friends platonic kissing is an established part of their culture but definitely not on the lips.
“My friend who is from the Philippines has always greeted me with an air kiss. For her, this is the customary way to say hello. Platonic lip kisses though she doesn’t feel comfortable with,” she says.
While platonic kisses may vary from person to person, culture to culture, even friend group to friend group, how do you know whether to plant a kiss on someone whether it be lips, hand, cheek or air? Or when not to at all?
Well, this can be tricky and can be dependent on a wide range of factors explains Shaw.
“In some cultures, and circumstances – such as work relationships – moving to show affection or closeness in this way may not be appropriate. It may breach boundaries and personal space or cultural norms. In the workplace for example, it could skew team dynamics in making some look like favourites or closer allies than is useful for relational dynamics,” she says.
Shaw also says it’s important to remember that kissing always has some meaning, then we can’t impose our own traditions on others and insist that they should experience it the way we do.
“In Western society, kissing also tends to be quite gendered and situated in heteronormative traditions. Therefore, a man might kiss a woman hello, but not another man; in other cultures, men kissing and hugging other men would be very normal and comfortable. This is very different for women who can comfortably kiss other women without any questions or negative interpretations,” she says.
And finally, Shaw says it is essential to ask consent, or have permission before you pucker up in any way, shape or form.
Shona Hendley is a freelance writer and ex-secondary school teacher. You can follow her on Instagram here.
This story was originally published in Body + Soul and has been reproduced with permission.