we haven't slept together yet," my friend Mary was telling Sallie and me, "because I've had that horrible premonition that it's not going to be ..." She looked embarrassed. "Oh, bollocks. Never mind."
"Yes?" Sallie asked impatiently. "Not going to be fantastic?" She waited while Mary fell silent, smoking her Silk Cut like a film star from another era.
I felt like a little girl listening to the grown-up girls talk. Normally it would be me who would press my friends into a confessional, adding here, jousting there, but my British friends were different. They talked about everything, from multiple orgasms to terrible oral sex to glandular cysts to preferred clitoral manipulations. I'd learned early on if I just sat and listened, eventually every sexual subject would be covered, ad infinitum. In two weeks they'd told me more about female sexuality than all of my American friends had over my lifetime. I hoped they wouldn't get on the Internet and start clamming up around me.
So if Mary was hesitating, it must really be something interesting. "That's never stopped you before," Sallie was saying. It was 2:30 in the morning, and the three of us were sitting at a late-night Soho Chinese restaurant, picking at Singapore noodles. We'd just been tossed out of Sallie's private drinking club, that being another facet of the London night life that startled me. So much for the repressed Brits.
"He doesn't kiss properly," Mary said. "I know that shouldn't be a factor, but I can't help it. I feel it may be a sign."
"That is a sticky issue," Sallie said, lighting a cigarette as well. She blew some smoke toward the ceiling and considered. "There may not be a direct correlation, though, between kissing prowess and cock prowess. You can't just write the poor boy off."
"That's just it, I think there is a correlation. If a man is a sensitive kisser, he is a sensitive lover."
"And if he's a rough kisser, he will be a rough lover."
"I'm telling you, I've tracked this sort of thing," Mary insisted. "You could do your own personal test, and you'd come up with the same results. Remember Nigel? He was a dispassionate kisser, all tight and withdrawn. Never used his tongue, never any sensual wet kisses, ever. And he was exactly the same way as a lover."
"As I recall," said Sallie, pouring some tea into my cup, "Nigel was a dispassionate, tight and withdrawn man. It wasn't just his kisses. It was his entire being. You couldn't even get him to buy you a bar of chocolate, much less give you a tender kiss."
I watched them as one would a tennis game. For my American friends -- and me -- kissing was as important as you could get. A warm, tender, moist kiss with the tip of the tongue just probing the inside of your mouth, or a passionate wet kiss that seemed to devour your very soul and made you feel light-headed, or a playful light nipping of the lips in between the sucking of tongues ... ahhh. Foreplay doesn't get any better than a great make-out session.
And it could be so intimate. It makes complete sense to me why prostitutes don't allow their clients to kiss them, and why Kathyrn Harrison titled her incest memoir "The Kiss." What other clothed act between two people can express so much with such economy of movement? With just the right kind of kiss in the right set of circumstances, I'd often find myself close to coming.
I must have sighed out loud, thinking of all the great kisses I'd had with men and women, because Mary and Sallie suddenly looked at me.
"What does our resident Yank have to say?" Mary asked. "I've always thought American men were lovely kissers. Irish, too."
If only that national generalization were true, I thought. But I knew there were as many tongue-tied Americans as Brits. "I think we've exhausted this subject," I said. "Let's take it a step further. How much can you tell from a man's handshake?"