(sex)uality : public displays of affections
Yesterday, I was sitting on a train at Flinders St Station, minding my own business and idly looking out the window at strangers waiting on the platform.
One couple in particular caught my eye. Probably in their 30s, both dressed in casual weekend wear and sitting on a crowded bench surrounded by strangers, they were deep in conversation.
Interestingly though, every few moments, despite his partner clearly being mid-sentence, the guy would lean forward, adopt a particularly sappy facial expression, and kiss her. She would smile, try to keep talking, but sure enough, a few seconds later he would be leaning in again.
From my observation point, she did not look as into it as he was – if anything, she seemed vaguely uncomfortable to be swapping saliva with a stranger’s thigh pressing against her on the other side, but it made me think about public displays of affection (PDA), and where I stand on the issue.
Before I became sappily involved with someone else, I used to have a much harder line towards PDAs. I was all like, ‘it’s inconsiderate of other people to be all over each other in public’ and ‘get a room!’. I would roll my eyes exaggeratedly at couples who were making out at movies, and would complain about customers who were too affectionate while I was serving them at any number of my retail jobs.
Fast forward to me now, engrossed as I am in my own cheesy love story, and suddenly I’m far more tolerant of people who can’t keep their hands of each other. I mean, we don’t really engage in PDAs ourselves (I think), but I can understand the motives a lot more, and am less likely to dry retch when I see couples getting handsy.
That said, there are limits, and I find that everyone has their own line drawn when it comes to how much is too much.
I opened the question up to my friends and got a mix of responses. The most consistent opinion that came up was the idea of knowing when to stop. A peck on the lips, or a casual cuddle is ok, but full on make-out is less so. As one friend put it, ‘Hand holding – good, saliva – bad. Hugging is in, groping is out.’ I’m inclined to agree.
For others, it depends on the couple. Teenagers were universally abhorred (my cinema usher days bring back fond memories of kicking horny teens out of movies when things got too R-rated), yet elderly couples were largely exempt from judgement. Maybe it’s because they fill us with hope for the future – a preferably sex-filled future.
One friend also said that seeing gay couples be affectionate makes her happy, because it shows how far society has come in accepting homosexuality (not that there isn’t a long way to go!).
So based on this, it would seem there’s a healthy bit of discrimination going on when it comes to what PDA we tolerate. But when it comes to engaging in PDA ourselves, it could be argued that two categories of people emerge.
The first are the devil-may-care exhibitionists (primarily made up of teenagers, it would seem), who might even get a minor kick out of groping each other in public. I have known some couples who are so affectionate in public, that I often feel like I should be paying a dollar to watch or something. These people may also just genuinely not care about what people think, and more power to them for that. But I do think it matters how you make people feel. Although I’m not particularly prudish, it does irritate me when someone’s affection gets in the way of a decent conversation. And it can make me feel a bit awkward when I feel like a couple would really just prefer to be alone.
The second group of people are either of the ‘I’m confident in my relationship and don’t need to touch my partner’ variety, or the ‘I am so stressed about making people uncomfortable, I will NEVER TOUCH MY PARTNER EVER’ variety.
The first is fine, and they might hold hands, or have a quick kiss, but they’re unlikely to mount each other at the dinner table. These people are probably the most common group.
The second group can actually make me feel as awkward as the over-the-top PDA group. When I can tell that a couple are acting very different in public to how I would presume they act alone – as in, not making eye contact, or deliberately not touching – it makes me feel weird. Especially if one person seems fine about touching, and the other is desperately trying to avoid being ‘one of those couples’. By virtue of being awkward about it, you can make everyone feel awkward too.
Remember the couple I mentioned earlier, from the train station? What made me think about them originally was the fact that they were clearly on completely different pages when it comes to PDAs. They probably need to have a healthy discussion of their limits, because she looked seriously uncomfortable, and he was probably starting to feel a bit rejected.
At the end of the day, there may not be a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ of PDAs, but common decency is a good standard to uphold. If the urge to stick your tongue down your partner’s throat overcomes you, maybe just ask yourself – would you want to have to see that?
By Zoya Patel