An Awkward Approach: Uncomfortable with a gesture

by epi on June 4, 2012

Q: My husband and I attend frequent family dinners hosted by my mother-in-law and her husband. My husband is one of 4, and his step father has 2 children of his own. All of the ‘children’ are in their 30-40′s, most with a spouse and children of their own. Also, my MIL and her husband married only 5-6 years ago, so the children have not ‘grown-up’ together. We are all adults who like each other and get along well. The problem is when we attend a party or dinner, his children and their spouses greet us with kisses when saying Hello. While we appreciate the gesture of kindness, we feel like its an invasion and a little overwhelming. I personally am offended by it, I do not kiss my own family every time I see them, not does my husband’s family. A couple of times, I have given the excuse that I do not feel well, but to no avail.
What is the polite way to stop the kissing? I would hate to hurt their feelings.

A: You might consider telling one of them privately and tactful that you find the kissing awkward. You might say something along the lines of “I’m so glad we all get along so well, but I have to be honest. John [your husband] and I don’t customarily kiss our family members every time we see them. Therefore, it makes us somewhat uncomfortable. I hope you understand. If the situation were reversed I hope you would be able to be as honest with me.”

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Rusty Shackleford June 4, 2012 at 8:58 am

What an interesting question. I haven’t seen much discussion on here about the etiquette of the social kiss. Its a very gray area. As for the present situation, families are very unique. Not to generalize, but it seems older family members seem to be more likely to offer a kiss while younger members are in the position where they are uncomfortable. Honestly, a light peck on the cheek is fairly common at family get togethers and even expected in many. Its also true, as you are discussing what sounds like a blended family, that sometimes the offering of a social kiss is not just for your comfort, but for your parents, or their children. I have found that it doesn’t matter when parents divorce and remarry, whether the children are 10 or 30, or even 40, there can be some awkwardness, some hurt feelings, and other discomfort. Offering and accepting a kiss, while uncomfortable for you, may be a very harmless way of trying to break the ice with everyone and show that you accept them as part of your family. Likewise, the others may be offering a kiss to you to show their acceptance of their respective parents union.
Outside of the family dynamic however, the social kiss is a very grey area. I personally attend alot of political events, and formal dinners, where I experience everything from ladies who will shake your hand while using their left arm as a bar to clearly convey their desire to limit contact to a professional handshake (as you would treat a man), to ladies who will put their cheek right at your lip and insist on a kiss. On the other hand, I have read that a man should never offer a social kiss to a lady, because it conveys being superior to the woman which is not appropriate, and that it is the lady who should offer the social kiss (the A Gentlemen series stress that a man must be very careful not to wipe their cheek in the presence of a lady who has just kissed him). And still, I’ve read that some people view the social kiss as less intimate than a hug, because a hug requires more sharing of personal space. With that in mind, going back to the original dilemma, I have known people, uncomfortable with kissing, who offer a very big, firm hug instead, carefully placing their cheek out of the range of a kiss. I am very curious to see what other think.

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Winifred Rosenburg June 4, 2012 at 10:41 am

I think telling them you don’t want that greeting anyomre is a bad idea. As Rusty suggested, it is their way of saying you are family to them in every sense of the word. Rejecting that gesture would at best make them feel distant from you. You can try Rusty’s hugging tactic or just excuse yourself to the restroom to clean your cheek if you must, but please don’t reject this sign of a close family!

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Jerry June 4, 2012 at 4:57 pm

This reminds me of the Seinfeld episode, The Kiss Hello.

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Ed February 7, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Giving a hug and kiss to a family member is fine to me. What I find strange is when people in a business environment want to hug you hello or good-bye. I am not at all comfortable with that.

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