Holding hands

How to interpret public displays of affection in our touchy-feely times

Holding hands is a pretty big deal in the PDA department
Holding hands is a pretty big deal in the PDA department
Image: Pixabay

Hand-holding is something that is governed by rules and it also reminds us that the big gestures in the PDA (public displays of affection) department aren’t always the ones that count the most.

First thing to note: there’s a whole category of apparently low-key PDAs that turn out to be surprisingly intimate, and holding hands is the big one.

It’s a 7.5 on the intimacy scale. A bear hug is less intimate.

Flopping onto a person’s lap at a party, undoubtedly forward, but still, less intimate.

We’d almost forgotten it, what with there being so much sex on TV, and bum selfies, and the impression that everyone is sending pictures of their nether regions to each other, and taking off their pants on dates, if not in the loos then at the restaurant table (Fifty Shades Darker) – but hand-holding has lost none of its PDA power.

Back in the day, a man you liked might grab your hand when crossing a road or heading through a crowd, and that was the moment when you thought: “Way-hay, this is it! Love!” And it was.

Holding hands, you could argue, is more intimate than kissing (which might occur on the stairs at a party, and that would be that); it is kissing plus unity and the tiny seed of responsibility.

There are a few of these low-frequency PDAs that mean much more than arms around waists, dirty dancing or sharing each other’s food – all of which you can do with friends any day of the week.

Anything to do with adjusting clothes, for example – seriously intimate.

If you see a woman tucking in a man’s shirt tails, or straightening his tie, or sorting out his collar, or dusting off his dandruff, they are sleeping together for sure. Not just that, they’re in love.

Hair touching, the same. Even with the excuse of removing some flotsam, hair touching is a big deal.

You don’t touch another human’s hair unless you are related or have significant feelings for each other.

Other tiny PDA gestures that speak volumes: tucking your feet under someone’s bottom on the sofa.

Falling asleep on someone’s shoulder (though that can equally happen with a stranger on a plane after being overserved red wine during the inflight meal).

A reassuring touch of the hip during, say, the overcooking-of-the-beef-again meltdown. Or the hand gripping your hand mid-air, mid-conversation, otherwise known as the I’ve Got You hand. It’s possible that the more demonstrative we’ve become as a culture, the less the big PDAs really mean.

Take the big clasping shoulders hug. Everyone does this now, regardless of context.

What looks like the sort of hug you would expect if you’d just walked out of the prison gates after a five-year stretch in an orange jumpsuit works just as well for bumping into your flatmate on the pavement outside Woolworths.

The younger you are, the more Godfathery this hug gets.

And you don’t even need to know someone to hug them like you are family.

It’s also become fashionable to touch people’s faces when you kiss them, guiding them in by the chin (get off!) and then planting one full on their lips.

We’re not stand-offish anymore. We’re not repressed. We hug hug hug and kiss kiss kiss, and do it standing up in alleyways.

But hand-holding in public … that is serious stuff. – The Daily Telegraph