Whether you’re crushing on a new love, insanely happy with a long-term one, or just feeling frisky with a hottie you met recently, differing degrees of public displays of affection (PDA) are inevitable. It can range from simple hand holding, kissing and hugging to groping, grinding or worse. And with social media playing the mirror of modern society, PDA is being documented, going viral, and perhaps getting out of hand.

The media is rife with images of celebrities getting it on with each other, and the paparazzi rely on capturing these moments so that they can make a living from selling the images. But what about us mere mortals? When is it all just too much?

There are many reasons why people feel the need to express their intimate emotions so publicly, which is why we decided to outline some of the common ones. We also suggest five ways in which you could safely and discreetly let your partner know how you’re feeling, without being inappropriate, and grossing out the onlookers.

Why We Indulge In PDA

1. Excitement
The thrill of being with someone you’re attracted to is physically, emotionally and mentally stimulating, and sometimes, we need to let off some steam.
Positive: It’s wonderful to channel some of this excess energy into physical expressions like hugs or kisses, which let the object of your affection know how you feel. It can even be a way of signalling that you’re ready for more overt expressions of your feelings in private.
Negative: You could come across as desperate, or incapable of handling your emotions appropriately.

2. Novelty
When you’re attracted to someone new, your interactions with them are crackling with electricity, and this can drive you to do things that you wouldn’t normally do. You could also be trying to rekindle an old relationship, or have discovered a side to your partner you were previously unaware of, which makes you see them in a new light.
Positive: The buzz that comes from a fresh start and the lure of endless possibilities is a heady feeling. Add to that the high induced by oxytocin being released in your blood, and you feel lucky and refreshingly alive.
Negative: It’s easy to get carried away in the heat of the moment and have your judgment impaired by expectation and body chemistry, leading to catastrophic and potentially embarrassing situations.

3. Declaration
Being in love or lusting for someone is normal, but our primal instincts goad us into preening, being territorial, and maybe even giving out signals of ownership. All of these could be subliminal or deliberate.
Positive: It feels good when your partner lets everyone around know that they are exclusively focused on you, and you also feel like you’re stating your intentions with subtle and not-so-subtle cues.
Negative: It can be misconstrued as being possessive, or treating your partner like an object.

Common Forms Of PDA & Where To Draw The Line

  1. Holding Hands: When you’re crossing the street or leading your partner someplace (like, up a flight of stairs), it seems practical and considerate. If done when you’re seated together or slowly walking, it comes across as natural, relaxed and sweet. But you’re holding hands even when he’s driving? Or when the two of you are seated across each other on public transport? Avoid this: it could be dangerous, or could inconvenience others, respectively.
  2. Kissing: We’re obviously not talking about a peck on the cheek, or a light kiss on the lips when you greet each other. It’s more like the full-blown French kissing or tonsil-hockey that makes onlookers feel awkward. Be aware of the circumstances, and proceed with caution.
  3. Announcing: Making a declaration of your feelings and intentions, whether in a public space or worse, on social media, puts your partner in a spot, and may not have quite the reaction you were expecting. Best done in private, the only exception is a marriage proposal and even then, you risk being humiliated if things don’t go well.
  4. Nicknames: Yes we all have affectionate monikers for our partners, but that doesn’t mean we must subject family, friends and strangers to hearing them, being used out loud. The ‘cuter’ the nickname, the higher the possibility that it will be embarrassing.
  5. Grooming & Feeding: Tucking a stray hair into place, dabbing a spot of gravy from their chin, these are all sweet gestures when it comes to lovers. So is letting them taste your food or giving them a sip of your smoothie. It’s when it comes to excessively babying your partner in public that it starts to send out signals of a skewed dynamic in the relationship, and also gives the impression that you don’t think they’re capable of caring for themselves.

PDA is all around us, but keep these tips in mind and avoid perpetuating the epidemic. More importantly, if you find someone flagrantly flouting unspoken rules of public conduct, gently let them know it’s making you uncomfortable, and that if they can’t stop, perhaps they should get a room!

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Simona is a journalist who has worked with several leading publications in India over the last 17 years, writing on lifestyle topics and the arts, besides interviewing celebrities. She made the switch to public relations and headed the division as PR Manager at ITC Hotels’ flagship property, the ITC Grand Chola, but has since returned to her first love, journalism. Now she writes on food, which she is sincerely passionate about and wellness, which she finds fascinating and full of surprises. When she isn’t writing, she is busy playing the role of co-founder and communications director of The Bicycle Project, a six-year-old charity initiative that empowers tribal children in rural areas, while addressing the issue of urban waste.