DEAR BEVERLY,

"Wife of" is concerned about a custom prevalent in sophisticated urban circles: the social kiss. I'm not talking about smooching or anything that has a carnal connotation. I knew a little about social kissing before I came to Washington. In Ottawa there would always be a few elderly male politicians who'd say, "Don't I deserve a kiss?" For the sake of my husband's career I'd peck them on the cheek. Of course, Beverly, this was during my salad days and my kisses may have been more desirable. Powerful jobs, everywhere, like being kissed by young wives of men who are their subordinates.

When I first came to Powertown I didn't kiss anyone and nobody kissed me. But after a year or so I realized that there was a lot of social kissing going around and I would have to become a part of it. Since there are no rules about social kissing in the Green Book, confusion does arise. I will try to explain it to you by reducing the subject to a few basic concepts.

Which sex is supposed to take the initiative? Some men have told me that the female must take the first step. This theory probably stems from the Victorian era, when a man never addressed a female unless she recognized him first. However, if "wife of" is courageous enough to be the first to pucker up, she may leave herself open to:

The Grand Recoil: The shocked withdrawal on the part of the male, which only a truly liberated woman can take in her stride.

Osculatory Protocol has further subtleties. At what point has the relationship ripened between a man and "wife of" or "wife of" and another "wife of" for the social kiss? If you overestimate the other person's feelings toward you, you risk being put in the category of that terrible person:

The Pushy Kisser: Someone who is suspected of having social-climbing motivations.

The Inter-Female Clutch: Women kiss each other at parties, but very carefully. Each has a hairdo and makeup to worry about, so they clutch arms and place their cheeks close to each other. Usually actual skin contact is avoided. That's Popsie Tribble's technique, anyway. While she makes her feint embrace, Popsie's eyes are looking over the shoulder of the embraced one to see which Powerful Job or "wife of" is in the room for her to shower more warmth upon.

The Inter-Male Social Kiss: Men don't kiss publicly at the parties "wife of" has attended, unless they are Italians or Russians who are kissing their compatriots or their grown male children. Englishmen, of course, never kiss each other in public, but then they never kiss women, either. Remember, no matter how long a "wife of" has known an Englishman, beware of greeting him with a kiss. It's the Grand Recoil for sure.

Spontaneous Combustion: This seemingly happy moment occurs when both people know that the protocol is perfect for social kissing. In mutual excitement, the man reaches down and the woman reaches up.

Unfortunately, that's when she hits the nose and he inhales her hair spray. Occasionally "wife of" hits the eye and briefly blinds a Mr. Secretary or Baron Spitte, or worse, puts lipstick on his neck and collar. Then further intimate touching is necessary because you have to use the thumb to wipe off the lipstick.

Mouth Kissing: Nobody ever kisses on the mouth on purpose. It sometimes happens during spontaneous combustion, accidentally, and is embarrassing to both parties because spouses are generally looking on. There is a kind of facsimile of mouth-kissing when a man comes up to a woman pursing his lips and making kissing sounds towards her lips without actually touching. This is extreme bad form in Osculatory Protocol, whether in Washington, D.C., or Oshkosh, Wisc.

The Complete Embrace or Bear Hug: This generally happens when the gentleman has been to your house several times and has even asked you over to his. "Wife of" by now is considered an old friend, and upon seeing each other at a large party, we become locked in a kissless embrace. He pats me from shoulder to haunch and whispers, "Put on a little weight haven't you?"

The Exclusionary Kiss: This is one of the dangers of smallish gatherings where people know each other pretty well except for a couple of newcomers. A lot of pecking goes on, excluding the couple who doesn't know anyone there. Naturally, the newcomers feel as if they're being blackballed from a secret society. Someone gets miffed (always a man) and comes up to "wife of" and says, "Aren't you going to kiss me, too?" Kissing everyone in the room becomes fairly easy after a Scotch mist.

Power Kissing: A kind of variant of Pushy Kissing. If a man or woman kisses a Powerful Job, this could establish them as a Close-To. Some Power Kissers are legitimate Close-To's, but the Pushy Kisser has only to have met the Power Job a couple of times to take advantage of Power Kissing. The Pushy Kisser doesn't worry about the Grand Recoil of the Powerful Job. He is only interested in increasing his status among the rest of the crowd who have witnessed the Power Kiss.

Beverly, you must have a lot to add to this subject. Please write. Love and Kisses.

Your best Friend,

Sondra.