Last week's viral video, First Kiss—cunningly set loose by clothing brand WREN—allowed blushing viewers everywhere to witness 20 kisses shared between complete strangers. The video first caused viewers to flock to Facebook and Twitter with heartwarming messages, moved by the unlikely intimacy shared between two strangers. But when the internet learned that these intimate moments were in fact advertisements for clothes—that these kisses were no more intimate than a moment shared on a movie screen—the reaction was clear: we felt ashamed, deceived, betrayed.
We thought the feelings were real! Some of the post-kiss giggles and smiles even had me believing that there was something there—we could see it!
The truth of the matter, is that despite the high of physical connection, the intimacy we saw and felt was empty, or at least shallow. The betrayal is because usually physical intimacy expresses and supports emotional intimacy.
Physical intimacy is what we saw when those 20 strangers touched lips, interlaced their fingers, ran their hands over one another's bodies. Physical intimacy is simply and quickly achieved in the simple act of physically touching. But as straight forward as physical intimacy is, it sets off a chemical reaction that can play tricks on our emotional intelligence. Science tells us that a kiss or, even a mere touch, can release chemicals called oxytocin and vasopressin, which are associated with strong feelings of attachment and intimacy—like the emotional intimacy we could see and feel in First Kiss, even after they pulled away. In fact, a study conducted at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) suggested that oxytocin can increase feelings of trust, even in those subjects who should be fearful or on their guard.
The trick is, genuine emotional intimacy requires trust, which takes knowing a person, which takes time. So what was it we were really watching in the video?
What we witnessed in "First Kiss" was a demonstration of the amazing way our bodies and our hearts are linked. It wasn’t just the kiss or just the emotion that left us vulnerable. It was both physical and emotional reactions, working together to briefly suspend disbelief, to blind us from the reality that these people were complete strangers.
Few people lean into a kiss with the intention of deceiving the other person, but, perhaps more often than we would like, deceit is exactly what happens. The truth is, when a person touches my body, they have the privilege of touching me—my whole person. This is a privilege that, without the security of trust and commitment, belies something greater.
WREN may have been selling clothes with a cleverly disguised advertisement. But contrary to showing real intimacy, their deception taught us more about how easily our bodies can be used to create a false sense of it.