Friday, October 11, 2019

Kissing in Public, OK or Not?

Do you have an opinion about public displays of affection? One suspects that in our freewheeling age people tell themselves that expressing love and affection in public is perfectly normal, even healthy. In days of yore, such practices were considered to be vulgar, an offense against propriety.

Of course, hugging and kissing are not the same thing. Hugging has become almost de rigueur in our time, though someone besides yours truly should have noticed that allowing people to take liberties with your corporeality is not a good way to tone down the current wave of sexual harassment. 

Then again, when a soldier returns from a tour of duty, after having been away from home and hearth for a year, we expect that he will greet his spouse with an effulgent look, accompanied by a hug… and perhaps even a kiss. And she will doubtless do the same.

Those who rationalize public displays of affection will tell you that spontaneity ought to rule, that the fulsome expression of deep feelings is perfectly acceptable, even desirable. For that reason, one is pleasantly surprised to see New York Times etiquette columnist Philip Galanes taking exception with the spontaneity rules rule.

Consider this letter:

I greeted my fiancé at our country club with a spontaneous kiss. It was completely instinctual. I was thrilled to see him after a day spent apart, so I placed my hands on either side of his face and kissed him. He pulled back immediately and said, “Don’t do that!” Aside from being stunned and hurt, I was angry. I am not a P.D.A. woman, but I don’t think my gesture was inappropriate. I know I need to respect his wishes, but I think he was being oversensitive. No family or friends were present at the time. Am I wrong to think his reaction was over-the-top and rude?

As for the next-to-last sentence, is she really suggesting that it is perfectly fine to plant one on her fiance’s lips in front of strangers? Or better, in front of fellow members of the country club. How about in front of colleagues and associates?

Galanes does not opine about country club etiquette, generally considered more formal than casual encounters, but, his response merits praise:

Dead wrong! All of us are entitled to autonomy over our bodies. This includes stopping people, even those we love, from pawing our faces and kissing us (in public or private). You say the right thing — you want to be respectful of your fiancé — yet you still defend your actions, which clearly made him uncomfortable.

There is no “you’re too sensitive” exception to the rule of bodily integrity. And it doesn’t matter what your instincts tell you or who is present at the time. Now, I get that a fiancé recoiling from your kiss may be embarrassing, and that it may cascade into hurt and anger.

You can fix this, though. Just ask him what physical affection he is comfortable with — preferably, before the wedding. Don’t misunderstand me: I love spontaneous kisses, too! You simply need to work out if he does, or under what circumstances. A kiss is only delightful if it delights both parties.

So, proper etiquette requires us to respect the private space of other peoples’ bodies. Now that we live in a society where people commonly hug and grope each other, it is a good message to hear. Even better would be if people practice it. Intimate gestures should remain between intimates and within intimate spaces. Some things the world does better not to see.

The letter writer is naturally defending herself. But, she is defending the indefensible, and she is doing so even though her fiance told her that he does not like it. She ought to respect him, don't you think? Galanes notes the moral waffle, rightly so.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Would you say that grabbing someone's face and holding it in place as you kiss them is a very controlling element? I can see how lovers might do such things in private when it is done reciprically (sp)? or even just one person doing it to the other, as routine and acceptable...but that part of it is esp not appropriate -- it's a sign of domination in public, and I bet it had a lot to do with his discomfort. It's too close to "manhandling" and esp female-to-male.