Public Display of Affection (PDA) Etiquette

Young man and woman kissing in public
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Have you ever witnessed a couple who couldn't keep their hands off each other in public? Does it make you feel uncomfortable? Even though public displays of affection have become fairly common, there's a line some people cross, taking it to the place of being inappropriate and causing others to squirm.

What Is PDA?

PDA in an acronym that stands for public displays of affection.

Most people enjoy being in love and watching the beginning stages of romance play out among others. Remember that there is a line that should never be crossed in public.

One rule of thumb in determining what is or isn't okay is to ask yourself if your grandparent would approve. As simple as that may sound, keep in mind that when you are out in public, there are likely to be people of all ages and sensibilities around.

Falling in love is wonderful, and when it happens, you may want the world to know. Holding hands and exchanging loving glances will draw a happy sigh from those who witness these sweet signs of affection. However, being too affectionate in public shows a lack of general etiquette skills. When you and your main squeeze make out in front of other people, they are likely to feel extremely uncomfortable.

Public displays of affection, also known as PDAs, may elicit a wide range of reactions from people around you. Some of the factors for tolerance include age, social norms, and customs. If you're not sure whether or not an action is okay in any social setting, you should probably hold off until you are in a more private situation. Wouldn't it be nicer to have people rooting for you rather than being embarrassed and running from you?

How Much Is Too Much?

Most people will agree that holding hands and occasional tender touches or glances are better ways to show your affection than groping. Here are some basic rules for public displays of affection:

  • Kisses: There are certain times it's okay to kiss the person you love, such as when you are greeting someone or saying goodbye. However, you shouldn't have a long, drawn-out kiss in front of an audience unless you are acting on a stage. Even then it's questionable and should come with a rating.
  • Touching: It's almost always okay to hold hands with someone, unless it's awkward, dangerous, or impedes traffic. An arm draped around someone is okay when you are sitting or casually strolling through the park. It is never okay to touch anyone else in a private area in public.
  • Groping: Groping is never acceptable in public. Certain gestures may even be illegal in public.
  • Tastes and nibbles: A face is not a lollipop, and you are not a vampire, so don't lick or bite the person you love in front of other people.
  • Electronic affection: You should never text, post, or communicate anything intimately personal in a broadcast message, public forum, or in any social network setting. Not only will your doing this make others uncomfortable, but you may also embarrass the person you love.

A more subtle touch or expression of affection can be much more romantic than an embarrassing PDA. A brief kiss on the cheek, a hand placed gently at the small of the back, and an exchanged glance can get the heart pounding and let those around you know that you are a couple without embarrassing them.

Where Is It Appropriate?

Remember that setting is an essential element to consider when you want to show your affection for someone. Most teenagers and young adults know not to make out in front of their grandparents. However, they may smooch at the mall in front of other people's grandparents, and that's just as bad. You also don't want to exhibit R-rated behavior in front of anyone, especially impressionable children.

Please be considerate of others who have just as much of a right to be in a public location as you. A heavy make-out session in a crowded place shows a lack of respect. If you start to feel the urge to do something you're not sure about, stop and put a little space between you and the other person.

One place that PDA is never appropriate is at the office. If you are dating someone you work with, keep your hands and lips to yourself until after hours. Some companies frown on romantic relationships between employees, but even if they don't, they want you to focus on your work when you are on the company clock.


You may not realize this, but too many PDAs in certain places, like school, can damage your reputation. People around you may think that if you do a lot of heavy petting in the hallways of academia, you're doing quite a bit more in private. This may not bother some people, but in the future, you may look back and wish you'd held back a bit.

Are You Embarrassed by Too Much PDA?

If you find yourself in the embarrassing position of being in the presence of someone else's PDA, there are several ways to handle it. The response you get will depend partly on how you approach the situation. Dealing with rude people is never easy, but there are ways to keep the encounter from being tenser than it already is.

Here are some things you can do:

  • You may want to leave the area to avoid having to watch the PDA.
  • If leaving isn't an option, or you really want to be there, you may politely ask the couple to hold off until later. You can even make a comment, such as, "Ah, young love. I remember that. It's hard for me to watch now because it reminds me of how old I am." Even if you're not old, you'll send the message that the action is making you uncomfortable.
  • Another thing you can do is come right out and let the couple know that their behavior is unacceptable in public. Since this is more direct, you may get a response that is equally confrontational.