Love is a beautiful thing — but sucking your sweetie’s face in the middle of a congested sidewalk is not. It’s perfectly normal to flaunt your partner and showcase your exclusivity. But for the sake of the public’s sanity, some displays of affection should be left behind closed doors.
To compile this listing, we congregated with etiquette professionals who know a thing or two about the do’s and don’ts of the dating world. Guidelines have been provided by Pat Durham, who has been coaching communications, business, and social protocol for 25 years; Jennifer Porter, who is a manners coach in Seattle; Jodi Smith, who is a nationally-known etiquette consultant at Mannersmith; and Maryanne Parker, who is the founder of Manor of Manners and is certified by several prestigious finishing schools, including the Protocol School of Washington, which trains White House and Pentagon staff.
We also scoured the web to find out which behaviors warrant an upturned nose from onlookers in public spaces. So if you’re reading this at a park or on a bus, throw an arm around your honey and read on to discover what PDA is OK today — and what isn’t.
Take it from Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”: Hands touching hands, reaching out, touching me, touching you! Intertwining fingers is as OK as it gets. So is taking your significant other’s arm while walking, says seasoned body language coach Pat Durham.
If you aren’t particularly close with a person, you may want to greet them with a handshake. If your relationship has blossomed, whether it’s friendly or romantic, a hug is in order. Though if it’s a full-frontal hug, there should be some light showing between the two bodies, Durham says.
Smooches should be limited to a peck on the cheek for a co-worker, friend, or relative if a kiss is traditionally established as a greeting, Durham says
When it comes to kisses, Manor of Manners founder Maryanne Parker says spontaneous sweet pecks on the cheek are acceptable, and so are quick kisses on the mouth. However, long, deep, or open-mouth kisses, aka “making out,” are never appropriate in public.
If there’s something foreign on your path, a hidden step, or a gap between the train and the platform, look out for your partner by saying “watch your step” while guiding him or her by the hand, Parker says.
The easiest way to play security blanket sans full-on contact is to gently rub your special someone’s back. If gestures could talk, this one would say, “I am definitely here for you, no matter what,” or “I got you,” Parker says. And when your honey does something great, let him or her know you’re proud by giving a pat on the back. Be wary of massages — that can make onlookers feel the utmost uncomfortable.
Have you ever gotten lost in someone’s baby blues? Strong and deliberate eye contact is perfectly fine, “when you basically dive into each other’s eyes,” Parker says.
Don’t let your PDA get in the way of others moving around you. Jennifer Porter, who is a manners coach in Seattle, says this often happens in the middle of the sidewalk or near the airport baggage claim. This also applies to draping your legs over one another while sitting down. You’re likely taking up space, and the subway seats aren’t your living room sofa.
Do we even have to explain this one? Get a room.
Towards the end of an event like a high school dance, full-body hugging and a bit of kissing with closed or open lips is OK. “With the dimmed lights, romance of the music, and the hum of teenage hormones, a bit more is acceptable… providing there has been full consent,” etiquette consultant Jodi Smith said. This could also apply to adults on the dancefloor of a darkened club or bar.
If your S.O. has a nickname, feel free to use it in front of others every now and again. But that baby voice you do behind closed doors? Leave that at home.
Throw your arm around your main squeeze at a baseball game or nuzzle him or her at a picnic in the park, but there should never be serious skin to skin contact on any occasion.
The occasional couple photo is cute, but nobody wants to see you and your lady love smooching on social media every day. It’s OK to be proud of your relationship, but flooding everyone’s feed with your undeniable love is the quickest way to get unfriended.
If you’re on a one-on-one date at a restaurant, don’t sit on the same side of the table. Waitstaff hates this, and you can still show appreciation by holding hands across the table or smiling at one another. It’s hard to have a conversation with someone if you have to keep turning your head, which honestly just ends up hurting your neck. And don’t feed each other, because it’ll make other diners and your server feel really awkward.
According to the International School of Protocol, political figures and leaders are not supposed to express a lot of affection to their spouse or partner in public, because this might project a particular vulnerability. “But we are all humans and in many occasions we do show affection to each other,” Parker said. “We relate to each other much better when we see particular similarities and recognize the fact that we all have emotions.”
Holding hands and other light affections between heterosexual and LGBTQ+ couples are acceptable in much of the Western world, but in some countries and religious circles they’re deemed extremely dangerous and even punishable by law. In India and many Middle Eastern regions, canoodling in a public space is a considered an arrestable offense. If you didn’t know this, you likely also don’t know the weirdest law in your own state.
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