Should You Ever Kiss a Man Who Isn't Your Husband on the Lips?

We asked an etiquette expert about Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgård's Emmy lip-lock

Updated 09/18/17

At last night's 69th Emmy Awards, HBO's dark dramedy Big Little Lies and its actors secured many golden statues—all well-deserved wins for an emotionally deft and perceptive show about the dangers of secrets. And perhaps taking a cue from her craft, Nicole Kidman was anything but tight-lipped when she congratulated Alexander Skarsgård on his trophy (outstanding supporting actor in a limited series or movie) with a full-on kiss on the lips—right in front of her husband, Keith Urban, a country-music artist and maybe the only man alive making a case for the goatee.

You've probably already guessed where this one's going. As our Glamour sisters succinctly put it, "Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgard Kissed at the 2017 Emmy Awards and Twitter Can't Deal." Even our office was a little divided between those who viewed the exchange as a platonic peck and those who labeled it as, to quote one editor, "pretty saucy."

Was Kidman wrong to halt Skarsgård's stageward stroll for the mouth-to-mouth moment? Should Urban have taken offense? Is it socially acceptable for married men and women to kiss people who aren't their spouses on the lips?

For answers, we called up Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert, author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life, and founder of the Protocol School of Texas, for her thoughts, in this case and others, on whether or not loose lips sink (relation)ships.

Lay it on us, Diane. As a married person, is it ever okay to kiss anyone other than your partner on the lips?

I don’t think you’re going to protocol hell for kissing someone on the lips. It's not the standard, but it doesn't make you a bad person. Some people just do it, and of course culture and customs come into play. There are some cultures that are more prone to kissing on the lips. In the U.S., it's not the norm unless you're in a pretty intimate relationship; however, there are those lip kissers.

Ah, yes. Most of us know a lip kisser or two. So when that person is coming in for a landing, how do you shut it down without making everyone even more uncomfortable?

When the initiator reaches in, it's up to you to reach in and turn your face. Smile pleasantly and give your cheek. Usually if the second person goes in too or hesitates to turn, it's because they're feeling awkward and worried about hurting feelings. But, turning your face to the side and giving an air kiss will feel natural. Be polite and, again, remember that there's usually nothing behind it. Though it can understandably put people in an uncomfortable position—those who are encountering it and those who are watching.

Right. In the case of Kidman and Skarsgård, it would seem that the Internet really took issue with the fact that Keith Urban was standing there looking on.

Certainly, I don't think it was an intentional slight at her husband. This wasn't happening around the corner in a dark closet. Clearly, this exchange was not meant to be hidden; it was for all the world to see. And she is used to kissing Skarsgård onscreen, by the way. We should take that into consideration. No, this isn't the norm, but the reality is that kissing someone on national television and being a superstar are also not the norm. In this case, they have a different relationship. She obviously has a comfort level with him, but one that's not romantic.

That's a good point. Their literal job descriptions include convincingly simulating love and sex on television. If they're doing that well enough to win Emmys, they're certainly capable of sharing a sweet, congratulatory, "friendly" kiss while remaining professional and respectful of their significant others.

Exactly. This wasn't a perverse act. In this case, there's some grace because it's an on-camera husband, her real husband was there, it was in front of millions of people, and it was not meant to be lascivious. It may have just been a reaction of genuine admiration and respect—especially since it was her kissing him. They were smiling, she grabbed him, and he left; it was a quick and congratulatory gesture of fondness.

Now, we do need to say that this is not in every case. I'd even go so far as to say that Nicole Kidman doesn't even do this normally. This was just a one-second event that likely meant very little beyond what we've already discussed, especially with Urban standing there. (Ed note: Urban himself tweeted soon after the incident about how proud he was of “ALL the BLL family." Without reading too much into the all-caps, he still seems totally unfazed by the smooching, guys.)

So what's your advice for any lip kissers who are soon-to-be married folks? Should they keep on keeping on?

I'd say from an etiquette standpoint, the protocol is probably not. Even if it's not a perverse or salacious act, I'd say err on the side of caution and generally don't do it. And if a lip kisser is coming at you, give him or her that cheek. While you don't want to offend someone, your spouse is first priority—and certainly most people don't want their spouse kissing somebody else on the lips.

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