Through out our eight year relationship, my fiancé and I have frequently disagreed on how much affection we can appropriately show each other in differing social situations. We’ve always had a fairly old-fashioned courtship, so I accepted that we were the only ones who liked to keep it G rated in public and maintained a “to each their own” attitude towards others who push the line to PG; now that my nineteen year old “little” brother has a serious girlfriend for the first time in his life and his definition of the appropriate level of affection to display in public is completely different from mine, it leaves me wondering, how much is really too much?
Personally, I don’t like to give any more affection than a gentle, heart-felt embrace while out in the world with my fiancé, maybe a quick kiss on the lips while in the company of close friends, whereas, my fiancé, feels it is risqué to do any more than hold hands in public and maybe put his arm around me in the homes of friends. We have never needed a physical connection to feel connected in public and so this works just fine for both of us; we more than make up for it when we get home, where we hold no affection or emotion back from one another. We are not, nor have we ever been, prudes. We are not offended to see others showing their affection how they wish, anywhere they wish – it’s just not for us.
With that said, I was fairly shocked when I met my brother’s girlfriend for the first time during a weekend visit at my mother’s house and the two of them were behaving one Volkswagen short of two teenagers at Make-Out Point, right in front of us. My fiancé did not come on this trip, so the next day while we were alone, I asked my mother if she felt the same way I did about it and if my fiancé and I ever acted like that when we were their ages. She confided in me that it was a little awkward, and that no, I had never behaved that way. We decided not to say anything to them about it as it did occur at home, and not out in public, hoping that they would show some decency and restraint when they left the home. When I got home and told my fiancé about it, he too thought it was a little weird and we went on about our lives.
A few weeks later the love birds decide to pay us a visit at our apartment. We see them kissing by their car, all well and good, my fiancé and I usually do give each other a quick kiss before we get out of the car. Soon we are sitting at our tiny table in our tiny kitchen eating regular sized cupcakes and my brother puts his arm around his girlfriend – ok it’s a tight space – then they start giving each other quick kisses between sentences. The cuteness is palpable and it’s a little too much for me to bear. We then decide to go out for lunch and each couple is sitting across from each other yet again, the only difference is, this time it’s in a booth. Granted, we are there at a bit of a weird time and the restaurant is nearly empty, but when he put his arm around her again and they starting doing what my father could only refer to as “necking”, I though it was time to say something. Trying to keep it light I make a little, ‘hey hey now, there are children present’ type of joke. They miraculously behave themselves for remainder of the outing. After they return home we chalk it up to them being young, and hope that soon, they will find the boundary between what is, and is not, acceptable in our society.
Fast forward to thanksgiving time at our Granny’s house, while the matriarch prepares the meal and the fathers and uncles do some minor home maintenance, the cousins, siblings and future relatives sit around the table playing games. As expected, the offending couple start getting touchy. One cousin, interestingly the same age as my brother, calls them on it, citing inappropriate affections given in front of cousins (all above the age of nineteen, no less.) Now I’m starting to feel more strongly that I am in the right about all this, though my brother laughs it off with a jealousy joke. Now for the climax of our story, sitting around the gaggle of tables gathered up to seat the entire family, my brother loudly gives his girlfriend a sloppy smooch. A line has been crossed. Multiple family members voice their distaste, while several others are merely less forthcoming. This event makes it quite clear to me that this amount of affection is definitely inappropriate in most levels of public situations.
We know a line was crossed, but where exactly is that line? It appears to be dynamic, shifting up and down for every unique social situation. Different generations, age groups and cultures set the standard at different heights. It seems obvious that as the generations precede each other, their opinion on what constitutes inappropriate affectionate behaviour in any given situation becomes lighter and looser. The opinions, tolerance and levels of acceptance within each generation have changed and evolved as they moved through the distinguishable age groups; with the teenage age range appearing to have the most shocking lack of restraint every time around. Now, I can only make speculations within the culture I have lived, in many modern cultures, this topic comes not only with a strict set of rules, but also an enforced set of laws.
The way humans learn the unspoken rules of their culture is by pushing the boundaries and seeing which come with repercussions and which are accepted by their peer group. I can only hope that my brother in is that process of learning what his culture and society deems acceptable as public displays of affection. Though, what is more imperative and meaningful than how your society perceives you – is how you and your partner perceive each other. Keeping your relationship at a rating that both of you are comfortable with while in public is showing that you possess the fundamental keys to a long and fulfilling relationship: respect, devotion and the all-important communication.