Why Remembering a Last Kiss Is as Important as Remembering a First

7 min
Last kisses might be painful, awkward or sad. but they're worth remembering. (Getty Images)

Close your eyes, and think about the first time you kissed someone special. Even little details stand out, like how you were dressed that day and what the weather was like.

Now try to remember a last kiss. That’s much harder, right? This sort of memory doesn’t come so easily. It can be painful, awkward or sad. More often than not, it’s something you’d rather forget.

Lately, I've been asking Californians to share their last kiss stories. I wanted to know what it was about these experiences that stays with people, as well as what they might all have in common. I was surprised by how many people were willing to share their last kiss stories, and how the memories, though often difficult, were positive, rather than filled with regret.

Nara with her friend, fellow theater aficionado and UC Santa Barbara roommate Greg.
Nara with her friend, fellow theater aficionado and UC Santa Barbara roommate, Greg. (Courtesy of Nara D)

Nara, 38
My junior year in college, I helped my roommate and friend Greg re-dye his hair pink, to piss off the director of a play he was in. The director was very conservative and seemingly didn't approve of Greg's gay lifestyle. We sat on the stoop of our house in the sun chatting and waiting for the dye to dry. Eventually, I had to go to class and Greg needed to go prep for his preview performance. When we said goodbye, we kissed each other and said “I love you.”

He died onstage that night of an undiagnosed heart condition. He was 20 years old. It was one of the biggest shocks I've ever had. Greg left a big hole in my life, but I don't think I would trade that pain for not having lived with him, and not having gotten to know him.

Joe and his girlfriend K.C. in Sonoma.
Joe and his girlfriend K.C. in Sonoma. (Courtesy Joe H.)

Joe, 63
I met my girlfriend K.C. through a friend. We started emailing each other and decided to meet in person after about a month. We went to a little restaurant for our first date. About three minutes into our conversation, she got right to telling me what was important: that she had two incurable diseases she caught while being a nurse 30 years ago; that she was in so much pain all the time, she couldn't have sex; and that she was still legally married. I admired the way she didn't play games.

Strangely enough, K.C. didn't end up dying because of those diseases. She was part of a drug trial and was cured. But six months later, she was diagnosed with cancer. So I knew the last kiss was coming. One day, when I visited her, I kissed her on the couch at her home in Sonoma. That was the last time I saw her. She called me the night she passed away. K.C. went to sleep and never woke up. The world got a little darker after she left.

Keli in San Francisco.
Keli in San Francisco. (Courtesy Keli D.)

Keli, 44
I met this guy in a San Francisco record store and we ended up going out on a date. We went for oysters.  We were having a fun, casual time. Then, at the end of the evening, he lunged at me. It felt like he was coming from every direction. It was like an "omni kiss," where there's tongue and hands and this and that. It was so passionate and unusual.

Then I went out of town for a week for Thanksgiving [and came down with a cold]. By the time I got off the plane, I was in full-blown sick mode. But of course this guy still wanted to see me. It was a strange reunion because we couldn’t kiss. I was sick, so I couldn't breathe. Also, my nose was leaking. I couldn’t wait to get my health back so I could kiss him again.


When I was feeling well enough, we spoke on the phone. I said, “Oh my gosh, I can't wait to see you! When will I see you next?” “Yeah, about that," he said. "I think I'd like to take a step back.” And my first response was, “Oh no. I just beat my cold! What are you talking about?" Just when I was well enough to kiss again, no more kisses would be had. It's taught me to be more explicit with dudes about what I'm looking for. Because one of those "good time kisses" is a waste of time.

Karen and Loren in 1977
Karen and Loren in 1977. (Courtesy Karen Z.)

Karen, 50
When I said goodbye to my oldest friend, Loren, just before she died of a brain tumor at 45, she was medicated into what seemed like unconsciousness. So I sat at her bedside and held her hand and talked to her. When it was time to leave I said, “I’m going to kiss you now." And as I leaned in to kiss her, Loren puckered her lips. I’ll never forget it. She had not fluttered her eyes or moved in any way the whole time I'd been talking to her, until I told her I was going to kiss her. And I have to say, it looked like it took effort to pucker her lips, like she really wanted to make it clear that she was listening to me, that she had heard what I said, that she was there with me.

The tattoo on Erin's back which inspired her teacher's love poem
The tattoo on Erin's back which inspired her teacher's love poem. (Courtesy Erin S.)

Erin, 35
I'm a single mom of a toddler, and was coming out of a long relationship when I ended up in an intense emotional affair with a teacher at a summer program I was attending. He had a daughter the same age as mine, and was in a supposedly monogamous relationship with her mom. The first time we met, in the open, we talked for over an hour. Later, we met in secret three times. It was never more than kissing, but I'd never been kissed like that in my entire life.

On the last day of the program, he wrote a poem about his summer, his heart, and the experience with me, and read it out loud to the entire class. No one understood except me. The last night of the program we shared a goodbye kiss in my car. It was distracted and sad. I didn't show up on campus for my exit interview the next day. The whole thing was tragic, beautiful, and totally against who I am. I don't regret any of it.

Ripper and a young CJ
Ripper and a young CJ. (Courtesy Coulton B.)

CJ, 23
Ripper was my first dog, a black lab. He was playful, sweet and smelly. I was around nine when we had to put him down because he was old and sick. I remember my parents telling me today was the day. I was sad all day. I hung out with Ripper and cuddled with him and he didn't really want to move much. He was just laying there the whole time. I fell asleep for a while with Ripper, and I remember my parents waking me up and saying, "It's time for him to go." I remember looking him in the eyes and I gave him a little kiss on the forehead. He looked at me. It seemed like he knew that this was his time, like he was ready to go. He kind of smiled. And then he just rested his head. He passed and that was pretty much it. I wasn't ready for it.I still miss him. He was the first stepping stone into my love of all animals. I hope to work with animals someday, perhaps in a shelter.

Olivia and her brother on an early family trip to Disneyland
Olivia and her brother on an early family trip to Disneyland. (Courtesy Olivia S)

Olivia, 16
When I was 14, I went to Disneyland with my family. I had a crush on this guy, Kyle. I found out he was also going to Disneyland with his family. So I texted him and we ended up meeting up at the park. We went on the Winnie the Pooh ride. We'd flirted before, so it wasn't completely a surprise when we started holding hands. While we were on the ride, he moved his head around to the front of my face, leaned in and his lips touched mine. And in a second, my first kiss was gone. I was devastated. I pulled away.

We didn't even talk about it. We got off the ride. We weren't holding hands anymore. I said, "I'll see you around." And we went back to our families. That was the end of the day for us, and the last time I kissed Kyle. I hoped my first kiss was going to be with someone whom I was in love with, maybe on a mountain, maybe watching the sunset. That was the ideal. So having strayed from that was something I really had difficulty processing. Nothing's going to be perfect, is what I've learned.

Tom in San Francisco.
Tom in San Francisco. (Courtesy Tom H.)

Tom, 47
I've been a gay man my whole adult life. But my last kiss story is about the last time I kissed a girl. It was New Year's Eve in Ipswich —the town where I grew up, in the U.K. — and I was with one of my best friends, Sarah.

We were teenagers at the time. It was kind of custom that everyone on New Year's Eve would go out, drink as much alcohol as humanly possible, and then throw empty bottles at the police. I wasn't out to everyone, but Sarah knew I was gay. And then suddenly we were snogging and had this really passionate kiss. Eventually, we both blinked and finished. I think we probably had strong feelings for each other. Maybe it was just sort of sealing a friendship or something, in a crazy, teenage, hormonal way.