You Must Remember This, a Kiss is Still…an Adaptive Courtship Strategy

Since we’re but two days away from New Year’s Eve and the stroke of midnight, we can assume a whole lot of people are about to be kissed. This may strike some as an occasion for romantic wonder and delight. I, for one, have been kissed and liked it. But of course we’re wired for kissing. It helps explain how all of us got here.

That word explains, however, is a tricky one. I generally believe there’s what science can find out about this life and then there’s what’s really going on. The Washington Post just ran an article describing, in layman’s terms, what kisses do. It’s called “Sealed with a kiss—and neuroscience,” and its author—as if any of us really needed to be told—notes the following:

A good kiss can work like a drug, influencing the hormones and neuro-
transmitters coursing through our bodies. It can send two people on a natural high by stimulating pleasure centers in the brain. The feeling has much to do with a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which is responsible for craving and desire and associated with “falling in love.” When it’s really pumping, dopamine spurs us to take things further.

That’s a real news flash, no?  But what I really like about it is how the phrase “falling in love” appears in quotes. This is charmingly disinterested and scientific. “If I may, Miss Farnsworth, clinical protocols require me to apply moderate labio-dental pressure here…and here…Miss Farnsworth!”

The Post article wasn’t the first I’ve read on the subject. In fact, I dug up another from a few years back. Evolutionary psychologists at the University of Albany studied kissing and concluded that “romantic kissing evolved as an adaptive courtship strategy that functions as a mate-assessment technique, a means of initiating sexual arousal and receptivity, and a way of maintaining a bonded relationship.”


Jeez, I love reading this stuff.  But the best treatise on the subject I didn’t read at all—I heard it. Not once, but many times, and from an early age. It was written by Carolyn Leigh and Philip Springer back in 1958 or thereabouts, before there was much neuroscience going on and even less in the way of evolutionary psychology. It was recorded for Capitol Records by a certain blue-eyed native of Hoboken, New Jersey. It’s called “How Little We Know” and I’ll stand by it as the definitive statement on kissing.

How little we know
How much to discover
What chemical forces flow
From lover to lover?

How little we understand
What touches off that tingle
That sudden explosion when
Two tingles intermingle

Who cares to define
What chemistry this is?
Who cares with your lips on mine
What ignorance bliss is?

So long as you kiss me
And the world around us shatters
How little it matters
How little we know

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