It’s not in his kiss: An open letter to doo-wop singer Betty Everett

Published in the June 14 issue of Creative Loafing Atlanta.

Dear Betty Everett,

Perhaps it’s selfish to write you a letter, considering you passed away more than a decade ago and will never read this, but I need to get this off my chest: Betty, you lied to me.

OK, technically, you didn’t. After all, you were just offering some advice. I didn’t have to listen to you, but what did I know? I was but a young girl roller-skating in my parent’s garage to your 1964 hit “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss).” I was singing along to lyrics about foolish girls who hurry loveasking if he will be her baby, and wondering whether or not he will still love her tomorrow.

My parents weren’t divorced yet. I hadn’t loved yet. I hadn’t vomited my heart onto a steel cutting board yet. I didn’t know any better.

“It’s not in his eyes,” you said. “You’ll be deceived,” you said. It’s not in his face (that’s just his charm), nor his warm embrace (that’s just his arm). You said, “If you wanna know if he loves you so, it’s in his kiss. That’s where it is.”

And I believed you. I believed you for so long. But you were wrong, Betty. The truth is a kiss is just as unreliable a factor. As an overarching principle, I agree. Certainly there exists a difference in a lustful lip-lock than that of a love-filled kiss, but ultimately a kiss is just a kiss. It’s a malleable action void of longevity.

It’s not about a kiss, it’s about gut. When it comes to unconditional love, you just … know — whether your heart opts to listen to whether or not someone truly is in love with you is something else.

I remember that time I sat on a patio in Little Five Points so many years ago and watched my then boyfriend approaching from a distance. The minute my eyes landed on his smile, my stomach began to coil, not in that way that panic and nausea wash over you when your conscious finally accepts the love between each other has dissolved, but the kind of emotional wringing that comes with the realization you’re about to be a part of something beautiful and real. I looked at him and I thought, “He’s in love with me.” It wasn’t long after that when he told me so. We would date for more than three years.

I’ve kissed many men since we parted ways nearly four years ago, and several times I’ve mistaken the sealing of lips as a sign for something more. “It was tender,” I’d tell girlfriends. “I think he’s falling for you,” they’d say. But the truth is, Betty, they didn’t fall for me. And I didn’t fall for them, either. Sometimes we want so badly to have a companion to hold our hand and hug our hearts, that we mistake the sweetness of a quality kiss for that of real love. When these men kissed me, when I kissed them, we meant it. Our lips touched and our brains melted and at least one of us thought, “This is it.” It felt like love, and we were so sure we finally found someone who understood our weirdness, who could see past our flaws, but sometimes love just isn’t enough.

I know because I’ve kissed men with love when I wasn’t “in love.” In truth, sometimes I think I’ve loved every man I’ve been with. (Every. Single. One.) But we can’t love them all, especially those of us who wed or commit to another soul later in life. And when some of those men responded with, “I love you,” all I could say was, “I don’t love you in that way,” before saying goodbye and finding another man whose heart I could selfishly trick with my lips.

Plus, a kiss is an action conducted in the moment. Haven’t you ever thought you were in love with someone only to realize as you grew older and time passed, or after you met someone else, that you never really loved that person to begin with? I suppose that doesn’t make the kiss any less real, but it makes its permanence no different than that of a one-night stand.

Betty, I mean no harm in disagreeing with you. I guess I just needed someone to talk to because it wasn’t long ago I left the bed of someone special, and when I bit my lip as if to savor and feed off whatever lingered from our last kiss I thought my lips tasted of love and companionship. When I got in my car your song came on and I squealed like a high schooler and took it as a sign. But in the end, he chose someone else, Betty. And, honestly, when he told me, “I didn’t know where my heart was headed,” all I could think about was his lips and your words and how foolish I was to think a kiss was anything more than just a kiss.

Follow on and Twitter at @areyoushaved.