Yesterday, seeking to do anything other than what I had to, I engaged in my once-every-six-months fandom Pinterest trawl. Unfortunately, due to the way it repins images and the pre-existing comments, finding a static link for a comment is not easy. But at some point if you are searching for Doctor Who on Pinterest, you’ll find some picture of Matt Smith with the comment “still can’t tell if he’s really good looking, or if i just love the doctor.”
I love that someone said this.
Not because it’s worth pursuing as an actual argument vis-a-vis Matt Smith. (Full disclosure: mmm.) But because it points to the question of where we ground our attraction, and whether we can even discern where that is. The only time I ever won money for a piece I wrote, it hinged on this question: can I separate what I find attractive in your body from what I find attractive in your mind, your demeanor, the way you approach the world? Do I even know where my approval of one part of you ends and the other part begins? Does it even make sense that I should? Should anyone?
I suppose the knee-jerk answer is either “well obviously” or the more defensive “none of your business.” But I’m not asking this to pantomime some affection court where we get to decide whose feelings are legitimate. I’m honestly interested in whether people can sort out their attractions–because “it’s just something about them” just doesn’t cut it with me. What is it about them? Specifically? It behooves us to know something about what moves us in other people, surely.
Again, I have no interest in actually engaging in a discussion of whether this or that physical quality is of merit (to each his own after all), but to continue with the previous example: at what point did I start thinking “oh damn, doctor” instead of thinking “well, I guess I’ll keep watching this show everyone’s talking about?”
Forehead kisses are a huge deal for me. Why? Personal history or something broader? The forehead kisses I have received in adult life are all extremely memorable, and likely influence the surge of chest-ache I feel when the doctor makes his move. What’s the deal then? Sure, forehead kisses in pop culture tend not to lead to sex, but then “it doesn’t lead to sex” is an awfully empty way to ascribe value to a gesture. One imagines that certain individuals would likely read it that way, but that’s a shallow reading. It’s, not, then, just that “it doesn’t lead to sex” that makes the Doctor’s forehead kisses so damn endearing. It’s that–maybe?–you’re using a part of your body routinely limited to expressions of sexuality by media and culture, in a way that acknowledges affection without demanding action upon it. In the real world–not just the one cooked up by films–you use your mouth for food, speech, and sex. All rather essential things in life, no? And yet forehead kisses take nothing in, silence the kisser (not the kissee!), and by their very location distance themselves from reciprocation. They’re asking nothing in return.
–which I wince even to type, because again it sounds like you can oversimplify that back to the Redditor’s likely accusation of “something for nothing.” No, no, and no. I even know women–I may even be related to women–who would stop there and say “yep, that’s what I want–constant adoration, because I am a goddamn princess.” That’s not what I’m talking about. Look, as an adult, you know that people want to stick their stuff in other people. Some more than others, but still: somewhere inside most (not all, but most) bodies is a little voice yelling “stick it! nom on that! om nom nom! it comes in pints!” And that has the potential to get old. The fact that of all the things you bring to the table, “stick it!” is the voice that cries loudest, eventually, in the bodies of others, in response to you. Not “glomp it!” or “inspire it!” or “be moved by it!” But just stick it. Even if you listen to that voice yourself, you know you have more important shit to do on this planet. And eventually you may wish to want to a clamor of voices saying something else sometimes. On occasion. Maybe.
Which is where forehead kisses come in. Because they are a very physical bestowing of tenderness that either comes from the “stick it!” voice with the acceptance that no one shall be sticking it anywhere (which can be attractive in its own way, what with the violation of taboos, clandestine attraction, etc. etc.), or from a place actually suffused with non-sexual affection. It may be that not knowing which is at play in the Doctor’s kisses are whey they’re so damn hot. The unknown.
Ultimately I will have to rewatch season five, which I (along with the rest of the world, I know), loved so much, to make more of a timely observation of this. The first time around I was too involved with the plot to pay much attention to my reactions, but I do recall the forehead kisses and–in particular–(SPOILER!) the one near the end where the Doctor comes back, having seemingly just left off the other side of the screen, to kiss Amy on the forehead when her eyes are pinched shut surrounded by angels who will kill her if she opens them. I remembered very well that kiss from the first time we saw it, and remembered my outrage–“What are you doing, leaving her there, you fool? If you are so worried about her why the hell are you abandoning her to this?” The kiss seemed so at odds with the callousness with which he was in fact abandoning her in a deathtrap. And then to circle back to that and explain–going through all the rips we’ve watched all season–that it seemed at odds because it was, because he made that kiss with more knowledge and sorrow than the version of him who just left yet possessed–that sent bells clanging in my chest like no one’s business. I am a hopeless sucker for cyclical storytelling, especially as unfurled by formerly unexplained or confusing acts of affection. And the Doctor brings it in spades.
So no, imaginary accusatory Redditor, it’s not that we want something for nothing, or a silent vow of chastity imparted with lips. It’s that it is nice to know sometimes that other voices–those marveling at who we’re becoming or mourning with us as we lose someone dear–can drown out the perpetual voice demanding you stick it somewhere. And too often, that’s the only voice you let speak.