How Do You Tell Someone They’re a Bad Kisser?
I went on a great date recently, a coffee date that turned into a bar date that turned into a fullblown makeout session. Things were going good. I really liked the guy’s personality and thought he was really cute and smart. But then when he kissed me, it was as if he was trying to eat my tongue, like actually eat it. I tried to show him that I didn’t like it but he really didn’t get the hint — I guess he thought it was passionate or something. As you can imagine I made a pretty bad fake excuse and left and later I sent him a message saying it wasn’t going to work out. Luckily he was really nice about it and in theory we’re friends now, even though I never see him.
I know I can’t date him, that’s not my question. I tried to guide him towards a more gentle style but I just couldn’t get my point across. I think we’re just incompatible. And more to the point I’m most turned on when guys seem to know what I like and what to do with me without being told. My question is this: my roommate suggested later on that at his age (early 30s) his odd kissing habits might be hurting his chances with other women too, and that the best thing to do would be to just tell him straight-up that that was the problem. Her logic is that although it might hurt at first, in the long run it’s nicer to tell him the truth. (She is into something called Radical Honesty, which means always telling the truth about everything, which is actually a pretty good quality in a roommate.) Since I probably won’t see him again anyway it’s the perfect opportunity in a way.
Part of me agrees with her but part of me really feels like that’s rude and even just wrong and cruel. I mean he was nice enough to take the initiative to ask me out, I don’t want to kill his confidence or anything. But if it helps, would that really be for the best? Is it possible it would help? What do you think?
Although you’re looking for a yes-or-no answer, I couldn’t help but notice how many non-binary questions are backed into your letter. Unpacking a little: the first and most obvious question is whether it’s ever okay to make negative comments about someone’s sexual instincts; another is what you owe to someone who’s made himself vulnerable by showing an interest in you — what, if anything, you implicitly agree to when you accept a date. And the wider question is whether you agree with your roommate that honesty is really always the best policy, or whether there are times when lying is kinder or wiser.
And then there’s the subjectivity of sexuality, which complicates things even more. How can you be sure, for instance, that the kind of kissing you like is really what most women want? And even if there are objective standards for kiss-quality, how much can he really improve? Is kissing — and sexual intuition in general — something that can be learned?
Let’s start from the top. The honesty question. I don’t advocate saying whatever comes into your head at all times, for reasons I don’t think I need to defend, but I did used to believe that honesty was always the best policy, with no exceptions — with boyfriends, toddlers, parents, randos, etc. But what I’ve seen and read about the Radical Honesty movement has led me to doubt even that.
A recent example really made things clear for me. An especially ballsy friend of mine hit it off with a guy at a party, who later got her number from a mutual friend and texted to ask her out. She rejected his advances succinctly with a text saying “Yes, I’m single, but I’m not interested in seeing you. Thanks.” (He never responded.) When I asked her about it later, she admitted that the guy hadn’t done anything to offend her and had been polite and respectful in person and in his texts. Nevertheless, her view was that she owed him the truth, no matter how painful. In that case, I had to disagree. I don’t think the unflinching truth was kind or necessary there. A white-lie-text like “it was really nice to meet you, but I’m just not looking to date right now” would have been just as easy and would have accomplished the same thing without hurting his feelings so much. In his position, I’d have preferred that lie, too.
I also think you’re right that the fact that you actually agreed to the date and encouraged this guy by flirting with him further complicates things. If you’ll forgive another anecdote, a while ago I heard a “true story” about a straight guy (a friend of a friend, of course) who picked up a girl at a bar and was taking her back to his place in a taxi when he realized that he really couldn’t stand the sound of her voice, and that he just couldn’t go through with the one-night stand he’d proposed. He asked the cabbie to stop, opened the door for her, and said, “I think you should go home.” She did, presumably, but the cabbie, who was a woman, chewed him out over his behavior the whole way back.
In spite of the obvious patina of urban myth about the story, hearing it made me realize that there is a kind of pact we make when we agree to get sexual or romantic with someone, whether it’s a one-night stand or a meaningful relationship: in exchange for making one’s self vulnerable to the other person, each implicitly agrees to do their best not to make the other feel like shit, at least for the duration of the encounter. It’s a stab in the back to be nasty like that once the whole I’ll-show-you-mine-if-you-show-me-yours trust has been established.
On the other hand, I think you’re right that the long-term benefits in this case make all the difference. If given a choice, I think most people would prefer to be embarrassed just once if the payoff were that a number of future sexual encounters went a lot better. So by the do-unto-others logic, you should probably tell him the truth — if you really think it’ll be better for him in the long run.
Sexuality is a notoriously hard thing to be objective about. But in this case, after conducting an informal survey, I think biting/sucking-kissing is sort of like S&M and many other kinks: some people are into it, but most aren’t. And that means that if you like that that’s cool, whatevs — it’s a free country (for now) — but you probably shouldn’t surprise someone with it.
This is pure speculation, of course, from your description, it sounds like this guy chose that style in an effort to impress you, not because he himself finds it hot. So under the circs I do think that he might be better off knowing that his behavior isn’t what women expect on a first date — nor what most women want — and that it made you uncomfortable for that reason.
And then there’s the final question: whether sexual intuition can be learned. The friends I’ve conferred with recently have all had wildly different opinions. Some argue that sexual instinct is like a sense of humor or a good singing voice: you have to be born with it. Some say it can be learned from A to Z, like learning another language (although one friend hypothesized that the curve is probably equally steep). Some say it can (and is) be learned, but only unconsciously.
My personal view is that all of these things — language, humor, melody, and sexual prowess — can be learned, but in a roundabout way. They’re all types of intuition, and as such, they all have to come from a natural and uncalculating place. So you can’t start from zero. But you can also form and inform your intuition — for instance, if you notice that you’re funnier when you’re in a good mood, you can avoid attempting jokes when you’re feeling insecure. With all couples, but especially with heterosexual ones, there’s an element of learning the equipment; since we all have different bodies, there’s no way to know for sure how someone else’s works until you’ve explored their reactions a bit.
And I don’t think this guy is unredeemable. It seems like he cares about the impression he makes on his partners. And it seems like he’s got a lot of other stuff going for him. But then I didn’t meet the guy; you did. IF you think that 1) you can say something to him in a tactful and respectful way; 2) you think he really doesn’t know what those kisses felt like; 3) you think he could realistically improve significantly; 4) you think he deserves that chance
— then yes, I think you should hike up your balls (erm, metaphorically) and send him that email.
Let us know how it goes!
Best of luck,
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