A World Less Certain | Kiss the Kiss Goodbye?

Will familiar greetings be a thing of the past in a post-coronavirus world?

The hug. The handshake. The kiss.

Will humans reinvent them, or morph them into something new? Perhaps the air-hug replaces a real hug, an elbow bump takes the place of a handshake, and a blown kiss substitutes for touching lips. What about love? Is casual sex doomed in a pandemic world?

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Many of us are still confused about how to protect ourselves best. Social distancing and when to wear a mask is still hotly debated. It’s not that difficult of a concept to grasp; we just don’t want to be confined like muzzled caged animals.

We are social creatures who enjoy touching. We like seeing faces with smiles and lips that move. Some of us like it when lips touch lips, and when tongues touch, they do the tango.

Inside our homes, some of us wipe down packages from the market, wipe down pets with doggie wipes, or use a washcloth to wipe down human family members.

Social distancing, wearing masks, and sanitizing all flat surfaces is the new normal during the pandemic. It’s as if COVID-19 is a race car sponsored by Corona beer, and your kitchen table is the Indy 500. If you stand up from the table and walk briskly to the next room, your body does not create a draft that accelerates the spread of the killer virus – physics does that for you.

Fick’s Law of Diffusion explains that molecules naturally move from an area of higher concentration to less concentration (even in a closed room). That’s why it’s impossible to conceal a fart. If you ease one out quietly and slowly, your wife and kids will still smell it from across the room. Now you know why SBD (Silent But Deadly) is no joke. Likewise, social distancing and even wearing a steampunk gas mask won’t prevent that kind of spread. Welcome to my world.

What you do in the privacy of your home is of no concern to me. But what you do outside your home is. So please stop sharing the sidewalk without your mask. At least have the courtesy to move your sorry behind to the street. If you get struck down by a bicyclist who also isn’t wearing a mask, that to me is poetic justice.

The Greeting

Acknowledging others with a variety of greetings is common throughout human history.

We are all familiar with the formal handshake, military salute, and Japanese bow. The greeting ritual exists among friends, family, and even strangers who meet for the first time. In some cultures, the greeting consists of a warm embrace and a kiss on both cheeks.

NBA superstar LeBron James uses a complex mix of hand and body gestures to greet his teammates on game day. His ritual is individually tailored for each player.

Greetings such as high-fives, low-fives, and bro shakes are also common. Sometimes they become personalized rituals among close friends. For example, the bro-shake pulled in for a hug and a slap on the back, followed by a fist pump with “exploding fingers” and chest bump. Most of them, except for the bow and salute, are mothballed for the foreseeable future.

The Kiss

Everyone knows that casual dating leads to sex, and “the kiss” is often the key that unlocks the door. The kiss is not dead (even during the pandemic).

However, hooking up during the pandemic is more difficult now. Having “killer sex” is viewed by many as precisely that. Yet, some believe dating is safer now. Getting to know someone online before meeting them face-to-face makes sense.

Is the dating scene limited to people seeking meaningful relationships with the potential for long-term relationships? Are people actively exercising their communication skills to establish a reliable baseline of trust before giving the bed springs a workout?

Is the one-night stand dead?

Call me cynical, but I don’t believe people are all that discerning when it comes to their sexual habits. Hookups happen – even during the AIDS crisis. Every year an alarming number of people cheat in their marriage (even with so much at stake). The notion that COVID-19 limits our inborn desire to seek “sexual opportunities” is flawed. The scared-straight public warning that “having sex with a stranger is deadly during a pandemic” fails to account for our DNA programming that tells us “some things – SEX – are worth the risk!”

So be careful out there, my friends. Most of our greeting rituals are on hiatus, but the kiss is here to stay. And, at the moment, it’s delightfully deadly.


Rick Thomas
Author Rick Thomas is the former museum curator and vice-chair of education for the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation. He served on the South Pasadena Natural Resources Commission, helping to maintain a strict policy protecting the city’s great old-growth trees. Using touchstone photographs from his own collection—one of the San Gabriel Valley’s largest accumulations of historical images and artifacts—as well as national, state, and local historical archives, Thomas provides a window to his city’s past and an understanding of why its preservation is so important.