Miss Information: How do you tell someone they’re a terrible kisser?

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One man wonders how to let his lady know she kisses like she's got zero sexual experience

Dear Miss Information,

I will keep it brief. I am a 30-year-old male. I met a very nice person a few months ago, about my age. We got to know each other slowly. We got along quite well. I liked her a lot. One day, things got physical. At first, it was great, since I had wanted to have something start with this person for a few months.

Quite soon though, after things progressed into a physical relationship, I lost all interest. While it might have been a combination of things, and perhaps in the end we were not compatible, I could also honestly say that I never enjoyed kissing this person. At first I thought it was a matter of letting things get better. Learning about each other. And I tried using my body language, and subtle hints, and even some not-so-subtle hints, that her kissing style was not matching mine.

In retrospect, I think she was a bad kisser for not having adjusted in the least bit to me, since I was clearly not enjoying the kissing part (and I love kissing). Her reaction right away was to just assume that I had lost interest in her. When I would reassure her that this was not the case, she would then try to stick her stiff tongue in my throat, and since I pulled back, she would give me this puzzled look… as if trying to tell me: "See? You don’t like kissing me—clearly, you don’t like me." At least that's how it felt. Sex wasn't much different. It is hard to tell a 30-year-old that her kissing is not working for me. If it's just a difference of styles, she will find a person who likes it. But just in case it's just her being quite clumsy with her tongue and lips…how can one tell someone that something they are doing is not enjoyable, without the other person taking it personally?

This person ended up being a good friend of mine, and she still sometimes wonders why I lost interest so quickly. For me, all the sexual attraction has been lost. I would not be excited to try things again with her, but I can't tell her "I just didn't enjoy kissing you." I can’t imagine feedback being an easy thing to give, or to receive. So how does a person learn to kiss?

–Kiss Off

Dear Kiss Off:

Great question! The trick is how to offer advice that hasn’t specifically been solicited—and who among us hasn’t wanted to drop truth bombs, regardless of whether their target is willing?

Reading between the lines, I wonder if this has happened to your ex before. By immediately assuming you’d lost interest, she likely fit the experience into a whole narrative of her own insecurities: “I’m too fat, I’m too thin, guys are pigs,” whatever. I’m extrapolating heavily here, but it’s worth being sensitive to the fact that you may not be dealing with kissing technique as much as you’re dealing with a history of relationship loss and confusion about why. This will require kid gloves, but as a close friend, you’re in a good position to help.

Unfortunately, there’s no etiquette guide for this kind of thing. Let her lead, which means don’t bring it up until she does. Now keep it light and keep it abstract. “You know, I feel like our chemistry was just off’—but it has nothing to do with my feelings for you as a person, because obviously you’re rad” at least reassures her that she’s not some horrible crone destined to a future of macramé and ferrets. Great start!

Next, talk about broad skills. While her chomping and tongue-thrusting might be problematic enough, you nailed the root cause of her bad kissing: she doesn’t listen and adjust. It will be much easier to talk about listening, perceptiveness, nuance and adjustment than it will be to nitpick on individual technique points. Also, by keeping it vague, she will draw her own conclusions and apply the advice as she sees fit—whereas taking a red pen and “x”ing out huge swaths of her technique will only make her insecure and fragile.

You’re not responsible for improving her skills, but you are responsible for supporting her where she needs it. Ask yourself: are you trying to fix her technique for her well-being, to help her break a pattern? Or are you approaching the issue with your own reasons, like, perhaps, frustration with the type of “ick” only bad sex creates? Make sure it’s the former, and you’ll do fine.

Just remember: you still like her as a person, even after your relationship failed. That is significant. Especially if she has a track record for losing guys into thin air, remind her that you didn’t disappear: the details of your relationship just changed.