If there’s a moment more awkward then being in a professional setting and having an unfamiliar pair of moist lips press against your unprotected flesh then I’m yet to experience it.
We’re talking about the cheek-kiss. The act that, much like temper tantrums and DIY bikini waxes, has no business being in your place of business.
An ill-placed cheek graze has the power to easily push a social or business meeting into a pit of unease that’s hard to escape from, and it turns out I’m not the only one who thinks this.
British media personality Janet Street-Porter recently had to defend her position as a non-cheek-kisser after singer Olly Murs leaned in for a peck during an episode of Loose Women and she visually recoiled like he’d asked her to check his armpit odour.
She wrote in the Daily Mail:
“In JSP world, there’s one simple rule: if we are meeting for the first time, I will greet you with a handshake only.
“No matter who you are – pop star or politician; Peter Andre, Boris Johnson or my bank manager – I don’t want you to invade my space.”
In this case Street-Porter and I are on exactly the same page and I know there are others out there who also live in dread of the moment they’ll have to stand still while a stranger does to their face what should only be done to the back of a stamp.
The biggest problem with the cheek kiss is that it’s a social practice with no real boundaries and no set of Emily Post-approved rules to let you know when it should happen.
The next business associate you meet for a drink, the next person you’re momentarily introduced to at a party or the next former colleague you happen to bump into could all be puckering up for a kiss you didn’t see coming.
Then you’re left shaking their chest while they’re smooching your shoulder in one of those horrid you-went-for-the-shake-but-they-went-for-the-kiss moments of terror.
Cheek kissers walk amongst us and there are no warning signs to tell them apart from those of us who worship at the altar of personal space. The danger is that they can pop up anywhere, any time.
And if you’re a female toiling away in a male-dominated workplace, you know all too well the uncomfortable ritual that has to take place before meetings can properly start.
I’ve stood in conference rooms packed with men who have all greeted each other with an efficient handshake before taking their seats, while I’ve been subjected to awkward kiss after kiss before finally being able to take my place.
Right off the bat, it puts you at a disadvantage.
You flounder about making allowances for height differences, stooping or stepping up on your tiptoes in order hit that perfect cheek-to-lip sweet spot.
You artfully maneuver away from the men who use this socially acceptable act as a chance to get a little too handsy and you feel a tingle of embarrassment at the smudges of make-up left on the faces of the people you didn’t want to intimately interact with in the first place.
You then collapse into your seat, with your right to personal space lying crumpled on the floor beside you, while your male colleagues have already opened their notes, safe in the knowledge that they’ll never be expected to engage in such a wildly intimate act with each other.
There’s also the misconception that being opposed to a cheek-kiss in a professional or unfamiliar setting means you’re devoid of emotion or were not hugged enough as a child, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
For me, there’s nothing better than an affectionate kiss from my mum, siblings, close friends or preferably a guy who eerily resembles Harrison Ford during his first Star Wars turn. However, I’m not looking for that level of affection with a mere acquaintance whose status I wouldn’t even throw a mercy like on Facebook.
For a long time I would just knuckle down and take the cheek kisses in my stride. Always dying a little on the inside while maintaining a brave face on the outside. Until I came to the realization that cheek kissers, much like monsters under the bed, only have the power to terrify you if you acknowledge them.
So, next time you see a pair of unwelcome lips making a beeline towards your unprotected face simply take a big step back, hold out your hand and ignore the fact that a person in a business suit just attempted to pull off a move that’s usually reserved for families at Christmas.
Sure it might take them a moment to realise their gesture is unwelcome, but the fact that they’re standing at an awkward angle and pouting their lips toward a cheek that will never come is their problem and theirs alone.
They’ll soon see the error of their ways and hopefully be more vigilant about who they try to wrangle into an embrace in the future.
In this case, I give you permission not to turn the other cheek.
How do you feel about being kissed by people you don’t know?