My husband kisses his mom on the lips

Most displays of affection weird me out, but this is beyond the pale

By Cary Tennis
Published July 29, 2009 10:20AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I've been married to my husband for three years and I don't know why this is the first time I noticed it. Yesterday we went to see him mom, and when he greeted her, they kissed on the lips. I had never seen this before -- hand, cheek, forehead, yes, but never lips. I was stunned.

We are from different cultural backgrounds, so I'm not sure what to do. I suppose I am annoyed by all obvious displays of affection. But even worse is that it is my husband and his mother. To me, it's unacceptable. It makes me uncomfortable. It makes me jealous. It makes me think very inappropriate, Oedipal things. Do I tell him? Will that make things weird? Shall I not mention it? Do other people do this a lot? Should I just be more open-minded? My husband is 27.

Grossed Out

Dear Grossed Out,

This is not therapy. This is writing. But this is also a certain kind of space for writing. In this space, no feelings are wrong. In that way, this space is a little like therapy. I don't tell people that what they feel is wrong. I am merely interested. And I try to relate. I try to identify ways I have felt that are comparable. And I can certainly relate to this. I come from a family that mostly does not kiss. So I also am uncomfortable with displays of affection.

So that is just some background.

Also, many things are funny, especially things that are taboo and make us uncomfortable. When we are kids we laugh at things that are taboo and make us uncomfortable. Later we try to act like we're grown up. But that doesn't change how we feel. Things that are taboo are often funny. What makes us uncomfortable is often funny.

Incest is not allowed. We all know that. You can't have sex with your mother. It's not allowed. Whether you want to or don't want to doesn't matter. It's not allowed. Most men don't want to. At least they don't think they want to. Some people might say we all want to. I don't know about that. I can't see that far inside. Most men don't want to put their tongues in their mothers' mouths. At least that's what we think.

Many markers enforce the incest taboo. Location does but so does duration, style, posture, a whole set of things. So just kissing your mother on the lips is one thing. Kissing your mother for more than five seconds (count five seconds) is something else again. Also tongue.

Was there tongue? Was it a long, deep, lingering kiss? If so, then maybe you're in weird waters.

You're in weird waters anyway, just as far as how you feel. How you feel is how you feel. There's no rule about how you feel.

But just kissing your mom on the lips, a quick peck, the old pucker and release, that's probably not so out of the ordinary. Still, it makes you uncomfortable. So here is the thing about that.

In marriage we enter a highly charged realm where family and sexuality coexist, so to make things run smoothly, we erase a great deal from the conscious tableau; the tableau is taboo, you might say if you were Wallace Stevens (you know what I mean? Tableau? Taboo? "portly Azcan nor his hoos"? Fun words!)

So you have all this expansive and highly charged sexuality and family emotion crammed into the very small space of marriage, and you try to keep it organized and civil but then something happens like you see your husband kiss his mother on the lips and you realize you have unwittingly sailed into volatile waters.

It may be tricky to discuss with your husband if you don't have a way of talking about the taboo. So frankly I don't know if you should say anything or not. You might get into something you did not want to get into, where you both end up saying things you don't mean to say. Or maybe you could have a good laugh about how different families have different kissing rules. I don't know.

What I do know, from my own experience, is that it is a great relief to have a place where we can talk about the taboo. For some, that might be confession. For some, that might be trusted buddies or friends. For others, it might mean consulting with a professional, or participating in a group of like-minded individuals in which agreed-upon boundaries and principles guarantee safety and confidentiality. It depends. We all need somebody to talk to, some way to converse about the taboo.

So, to recap: Seeing your husband kiss his mom on the lips can indeed be a charged moment. That doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you. It does mean that you probably need a way to talk about some of the feelings that arise in marriage that are powerful and unfamiliar. I suggest you look into that.

Got a husband? Husband got a mother? There's stuff in here about that.

Makes a great gift. Can be personalized for the giftee of your choice. Signed first editions on sale now.

What? You want more advice?


Cary Tennis

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