A Kiss Is Just A Kiss, Unless It’s Actually A Sign

In terms of a pecking order, I’ve always believed that the stroke of midnight New Year’s Eve kiss deserves a top spot. I’m not suggesting it hits “you may now kiss the bride” status, but it’s well above the “makeup kiss,” the “sealed with a kiss” and “the long kiss goodbye.”

Having been on both the giving and receiving end of many a meaningless New Year’s kiss, I should know better. Most are sloppy, booze-fueled, and over much too soon. Yet I can’t help investing in the fantasy that the ball-drop smooch ensures a year rich in romance and happiness. In other words, this kiss is more than just a kiss: It’s a sign.

I’ve spent the last few years working on a novel called H.E.A.R., a thriller about young adults with extrasensory perception, and I’ve come to believe the way people respond to the “signs” they receive is a Rorschach test of sorts.  It’s what we make of these completely ambiguous messages that determines our future.

In times of turmoil, people look to signs for reassurance. With mass shootings, terrorism and climate uncertainties filling news columns, we need to believe something positive is on the horizon. A Google search for “it’s a sign” returned 51.5 million hits. A reboot of The X-Files, and its tagline,“I want to believe” returns to TV in January. “Big Pharma, meet big Karma,” was the oft-repeated cheer after the arrest of price-gouging drug-company leader Martin Shkreli.

Most Americans from ages 18 to 24 now believe astrology is at least “sort of” scientific—17 percent more than in 2010—according to a 2014 survey by the National Science Foundation, a federal agency created to promote scientific progress.

Becca Wig, 18, proud Libra from Brainerd, MN, admits her belief in astrology is “more or less recent,” and began when she started seeing patterns in other people’s behavior. She feels star signs predetermine her relationships, and noted she has a particularly hard time with Aries. “They believe that the world is out to get them,” she said. But Becca believes better signs are out there—like Cancer and Sagittarius—and she’s confident they’d be great friends.

For some, everything is a sign of fortune to come: If a bird poops on your head, money’s coming your way! If a bat nests in your attic, cash will soon rain down! If your left hand tingles, you’re about to win the lottery! Or have a heart attack! But hopefully it’s just the lottery because wouldn’t that be ironic?

Then there are the “good parking karma” people—otherwise known as the people bragging about the fact that the universe has gifted them with an empty slab of concrete. They can garner eye rolls from even diehard believers.

For Phillip Nakov, 46, who lives in Los Angeles, parking karma is real. At 4:33 PM on September 12th, the first thing he did after finding a spot was tweet: “Wow! Just pulled in to a parking spot the 2nd space from the @HomeDepot.” Nakov said signs became important to him when he was in career limbo.

Something clicked when he heard a lecture about what makes people successful. The takeaway, Nakov said, was: “There are some very successful dumb people and some unfortunate smart people.” The key is paying attention. “Success is 10 percent knowledge and 90 percent being in the right place at the right time.” Certainly in terms of finding parking spaces, this logic is hard to refute.

Maybe the reason we seek to give meaning to what’s most likely coincidence is because when one’s faith in oneself or humanity is shaken, even a crumb of affirmation is welcome. After we spoke, Nakov wrote to me to say, “I believe your call and your piece are both “signs” that things are headed in the right direction and that all will be A-ok in 2016.”

On the other side of the luck spectrum, my family members are Rule of Three people: Bad luck always comes in threes, and it usually has to do with mortality. If we heard of two deaths in a row, we put in a call to Grandma, “just to check in.”

Michael Shermer, the editor of Skeptic magazine, is, unsurprisingly, a nonbeliever. He feels people see what they want in horoscopes and “portents” they receive.  “Most people just forget the things that don’t come true.”

Shermer said confirmation and hindsight biases are behind our irrational beliefs: we seek support of what we think we know. That’s why someone’s education level doesn’t necessarily predict one’s degree of signage buy-in. “Smart people believe weird things, and they’re just better at rationalizing the beliefs they hold for non-smart reasons,” Shermer said.

Lisa Sunny Martin, who wrote 2016 Horoscopes: Like a Boss Baby, an e-book that gives in-depth monthly forecasts for the new year, turned to astrology when she was unemployed and “feeling disconnected.”

“That horoscope was an anchor of hope that there would be better days ahead,” said Martin, who now earns a living playing poker “to support my astrology habit.”

My habitual viewings of the movie When Harry Met Sally at 16 might explain where my belief in the power of the New Year’s Eve kiss comes from. To recap: After years of friendship and non-friendship, Harry finally realizes that he wants to spend the rest of his New Year’s Eves kissing his pal, Sally. Just after midnight one year, Harry tells Sally he loves her and that he wants the rest of his life to start “as soon as possible.” They then proceed to kiss and live happily ever after. As patterns go, it’s a pretty good one.

So this New Year’s Eve, will I seek the midnight kiss? Without a doubt. I kissed someone last New Year’s Eve, and I’ve had a very happy relationship for most of the year.

Was it with Mr. New Year’s Eve? No. I don’t even remember his name—surely that’s a sign of something.

Robin Epstein is the author of the just published novel, H.E.A.R., a YA thriller, and co-wrote So Sue Me, Jackass!, a humorous non-fiction legal guide with her lawyer/sister, Amy.  She teaches sitcom writing at NYU and lives in NYC with her always sleeping dog, Bandit. Follow her @RKEpstein