As someone who takes perverse pleasure in walking directly through the interlocked hands of a couple, I am not an advocate of public displays of affection (PDA).
In fact, I consider myself strongly opposed to the saccharine and at times nauseating ritual whereby unassuming onlookers can be subjected to the public exchange of saliva. Frankly, it’s something which should be confined to the privacy of four walls and a closed door, an airport arrivals gate or, at least, the shadowy corners of a crowded club.
Except, to the latter I will add the addendum that if you are a couple aggressively getting off in Bridge, try to avoid doing it in front of the narrow walkway to the toilets. You’re just in the way.
Perhaps it’s down to the four years I lived in Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates, where public displays of affection are seen as insulting and offensive to the local customs and culture. In fact, they’re illegal.
I was told under no circumstances should I be overly affectionate in public. As teenagers, this seemed an irritating encumbrance to us all. Yet it was reinforced whenever I overheard my parents discussing the unsuspecting Western tourists that had been caught kissing on the beach or heavy petting at the mall, and who were thus met with severe penalties – from imprisonment to deportation.
I remember one flight back to the UK, looking across the aisle and seeing what I can only describe as a woman sporadically trying to fit her entire head into her partner’s mouth. I’d definitely become hyperaware of PDAs. While I understand that falling in love, or even in lust, is something special, I do think there should be a line. And, in my opinion, this etiquette boundary lies somewhere in between a subtle romantic touch and aggressive snog sessions. I have to ask why all this is necessary.
Why does every Tom, Dick and Harry need to be involved in your relationship, if only for a few moments of their day? These overt displays of affection just seem more performative than anything else; I can’t help but suspect there’s some overcompensation going on. My suspicion is reinforced by a study carried out by the University of Kansas in 2016, entitled ‘Wanting to Be Seen: Young People’s Experi- ences of Performative Making Out’. This found that one big motivation for PDA is image, with 32 per cent of female participants and 37 per cent of male participants admitting they’ve used PDA as a tool to show off their relationship to others. Obviously, I know this is not the only motivation, but whatever the incentive, thrusting private acts into the public sphere feels like a bizarre intru- sion of privacy for the onlooker. In short, it makes most people uncomfortable. But it is an inadvertent intrusion – it has become an unavoidable display, leaving the passerby feeling awkward and embarrassed.
Social media adds to the problem by providing a further outlet to the overt display of this soft porn. PDA becomes PDDA: public displays of digital affection. Again, I think this has a spectrum. Changing your relationship status is to be expected, but a barrage of sickly sweet statuses or snogging selfies are too much.
It is simply the same thing on a different public platform. These regular, gushing expressions of love are just too intimate. In an ‘Instagram age’, people have the task of discerning the reality from the fiction in what appears on their feed. The cin- ematised relationship adds another potential dimension of artifice. Scrolling through the endless posts all about how Chris owns Gemma’s heart, or how lucky Sophie is to have Ben in her life, gets old. Fast.
Ultimately, I really don’t feel I should be forced to bear witness to PDAs, or anyone else for that matter. It’s none of our busiiness, yet we can’t help getting involved, especially when it’s forcefully flouted in our faces. Exaggerated and overblown PDA simply feels constructed for appearances, even if in actuality it isn’t, and therefore utterly unnecessary.
Frankly, PDAs should be confined to weddings and similar special occasions. It might sound bitter, but beyond that, get a room.