I wondered why I was so late to join my friends in the group of having been kissed. In retrospect, it had a lot to do with my identity as a young, Muslim woman whose religion fosters conservatism. This created a stark contrast with the primarily liberal, Western sphere in which I was raised.
My Arab parents’ beliefs towards “young love” were subliminally passed on to me. I remember coming home from school in fifth grade and telling my mother about two people in my year who just announced they were boyfriend-girlfriend– the first people in my life to hold that title. I shared the news with my mother because it was habit to keep her in the loop of fifth grade gossip. She was appalled, though, exclaiming that they were too young to be in a relationship and that this was a bad influence on me. She never overtly voiced her disapproval in regards to my life, but her adverse her reaction made me believe that kissing was wrong – that I needed to stay away from boys. I didn’t seek physical affection for a long time after that conversation. I never craved it or felt as though I was missing out, I instead just accepted that boys were not for me.
- - - - - - -
My first kiss’ name was Eddie. He was suave, Puerto Rican, and not a virgin. On one afternoon after a lot of flirting, we were discussing our points of view on hookup culture in our divergent high schools. He told me how he prefers his “hookups” to be discreet so as not to hurt his ex-girlfriend’s feelings. I would later learn that this preference was because he never broke up with her in the first place.
I agreed with preferring privacy when being intimate, partially because this is what I wanted in theory, but mostly because I did not have any previous experience to determine my preference.
“This is pretty private right now, right?” he asked me, referring to the fact that nobody was around us.
“I guess,” I said.
“So like, do you want to?”
I could think of many reasons why not, but I was so surprised with his preposition that I didn’t know how to articulate my thoughts. Instead, I let him take my hand and walk me to his room. He pulled me into a hug, closed his eyes, and kissed me. I put my hands on his waist and did my best to navigate his lips, and before I knew it, his hands were underneath my maroon t-shirt. My body clenched up. I didn’t know where to place my hands.
“Have you done this before?”
“Yes,” I lied.
I did not want the day of my first kiss to also be the day a man saw my breasts for the first time, but it was. I was so overwhelmed by the novelty that came with “romance,” if you could even call my experience that, that I didn’t know how to put a stop to what I wasn’t comfortable with until he began to remove his boxers. Only then did I make up an excuse, leave his room, and not respond to his text messages the next day.
I didn’t blame him for making me feel uncomfortable. Because I was so sheltered from this side of being a teenager, all these new stimuli smothered me, almost like I was deep in a sensory overload that hindered me from drawing on the logic I knew I had.
- - - - - - -
I ask why I often find myself thinking back to this moment, or as a woman in her twenties now who has kissed a fair amount of men in more comfortable situations, why I still fixate on my first kiss story. I also ask myself why I am sharing this frivolous anecdote with all of you when I hid the story from my parents, from my older role models, and from other people whose opinions I valued. It’s a simple first kiss story: not cuter, scarier, or more special than yours, nor as significant as a loss-of-virginity story.
I guess, upon reflection, my short teenage story shows how our perceptions of love, or acts of love, are molded at such an early age. Mine were shaped from my mother’s without either of us even realizing it. I was never really aware of how her beliefs influenced my actions until early adulthood. I don’t expect my silly experience to alter mothers’ parenting methods and make them more “open” to relationships at younger ages. I also don’t expect this to stop friends’ peer pressuring each other. If anything, I hope I impress this: the way in which we “teach” love to our friends, to our daughters, to our sons, can either harm or help them on their own paths. It is important to be aware of this, to create conversation, and to communicate, even if this means reminiscing on our memories of our own “firsts,” – good, bad, or mediocre.