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What is the meaning of PDA in a relationship?

by eharmony Editorial Team - November 19, 2018

What does PDA mean in a relationship? And what are the dos and don’ts you should follow? We explore public displays of affection

First, let’s address the definition: a PDA, or public display of affection, is the term used to describe any form of physical contact between couples in a public setting. It includes everything from kissing and cuddling to holding hands or exchanging light touches.

What does PDA mean?

Everyone has a different definition of what’s acceptable when it comes to public displays of affection. Some couples would never dream of going beyond holding hands or linking arms outside of the house, while others are comfortable being all over each other wherever they are. Even so, it’s the reaction of onlookers that really matters. While you’re wrapped up in the romance of it all, witnesses to your public displays of affection could feel anything from horror and disgust to delight. It’s about context. Consider where you are and who’s around. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d be happy with your grandparents watching. Hand-holding may be fine, but you probably wouldn’t indulge in heavy petting. Take the setting into account. Are you enjoying a romantic stroll on the banks of a river with almost no-one around? Or are you crammed into a corner on a packed rush-hour tube? Only one of these is PDA-appropriate.

What’s the meaning of PDA in a relationship?

People who object to PDAs often wonder why couples do it. Why do they feel the need to involve everyone  rather than be affectionate behind closed doors? It’s more understandable in those passionate early days when you can’t keep your hands off each other but in an established relationship, overt displays of affection seem more about performance than genuine feeling.

If you feel you need to show off your relationship in public it could signal that you’re insecure about it and overcompensating. Over-the-top PDAs are all about appearances. Whether consciously or not, you’re projecting an idealised image of your relationship. Unfortunately, the more intimate the public display of affection, the more intimacy may be lacking behind closed doors.

The different types of public displays of affection

So, what is the meaning of PDA in a relationship? And did you know that your PDA of choice could have a hidden meaning? We’ve analysed a few of the most common public displays of affection to reveal what they say about your relationship:

  • Hand-holding: Holding hands in one of the simplest ways to display affection in public. However, it can have good and bad connotations. A passive, detached hold implies a polite closeness with little passion while interlocked fingers symbolises genuine intimacy.
  • Arm-linking: Linking arms is a go-to move for many established couples. It’s comfortable and socially acceptable – even families and friends can adopt this pose without raising eyebrows. It’s a casual gesture but also a display of unity, showing your strength as a couple.
  • Hands in pockets: Walking with your hand in your partner’s pocket can make movement a little challenging but it’s a playful gesture that indicates an easygoing relationship dynamic. It’s also  physically intimate and often popular with new couples.
  • Subtle touching: Couples exchange subtle touches to signify a range of meaning, from flirtation to comfort. It’s a more constrained display of affection that shows you’re comfortable with one another but don’t have anything to prove.
  • Kissing:A quick kiss to say hello or goodbye will rarely raise eyebrows. Anything more passionate could make onlookers uncomfortable. Even so, if you do feel comfortable enough to kiss your partner in public it means your relationship is open and mutually loving, thriving on closeness and physical intimacy.

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