Public display of affection: How much is too much?

Falling in love is wonderful, and when the feeling is mutual, it’s like heaven on earth! When it happens, we want to show this love to whoever cares.

Falling in love is wonderful, and when the feeling is mutual, it’s like heaven on earth! When it happens, we want to show this love to whoever cares. 

However, some people think being too affectionate in public isn’t exactly the best way to express love, as it shows a lack of general etiquette that some people may find distasteful. When you and your main squeeze make out in front of people, they are likely to feel extremely uncomfortable.

Some people say when they are in love, they are on cloud nine and usually don’t care about anything or anyone else in the world. As they fly on cloud nine, they are okay with public display of affection (PDA) anywhere and with anyone watching but what do people think is the limit?

Is it disrespectful?

“If it is to express feelings towards each other, why do they have to involve everyone else?” asks Marie Clare Mbabazi, a mother of three.

“If PDA is showing affection towards someone, then it should be done in the presence of only that person. PDA isn’t a show of love, it’s a childish way of two young people telling each other that they are in love no matter what - until they breakup a week later,” she explains and continues, “When two people get married and are fully grown, don’t they love each other? Do they still get involved in petty canoodling in public? They know better what true love is. The young should learn from them.”

Mbabazi adds that holding hands while walking is alright, a kiss on the cheek is also a common way of saying hello and if it’s a couple in love, then a simple kiss on the forehead will do.

“In any relationship, no matter how much the two are in love, they should always avoid PDA,” says Sarah M (not real name), who speaks out of experience.

Sarah, 31, dated her boyfriend for almost two years. Having thought he was the one she was going to marry, she didn’t hold back on kissing him right in front of her friends, relatives and the general public.

“We loved each other, that is all that mattered. I knew that whatever people had to say didn’t mean anything to our love. The only people I didn’t try to display this affection in front of were my parents. It was okay for me at the time and we kissed, we went a little beyond limits while at the cinema, something that most thought was crossing the line,” she says.


While many warned Sarah about her actions, she paid no mind to the limitations. Until one day, she found out that the man she thought was her “forever” had plenty more “where she came from.”

“I couldn’t stand the thought of meeting up with them after the breakup, not afterall the things I had done.The breakup was hard, but dealing with the way I behaved during the relationship was even harder. It was a hard lesson learnt but it taught me a lot,” she says.

While some warn against the action, what really is PDA’s limit?

Harriet Ingabire, the owner of Red Rocks, an NGO that empowers widows in Musanze says, “The number of things couples do beyond the PDA limit are many. They all can’t be mapped out, but kissing in public, hugs that end with either one of the couple touching the other in inappropriate places like the chest, butt or lower body all count for beyond the limit of PDA,” she says.

Ingabire tells the youth, some of whom she mentors, that whatever they can’t do in front of their grandparents isn’t worth doing in the eyes of anyone at all. Some grandparents are used in this case because parents of these days are embracing modernity as it is and tend to be okay with some of the things their teenage children do.

Ingabire adds that social media has also widened the scope of what constitutes to PDA.

“Just like all other aspects of our lives, social media also affects how much of the affection we show. People might be doing something in private but the moment they take a picture and post it, that immediately becomes PDA.

Sharing a timeline post, comment or text to a lover and it is displayed in public, that is PDA as well,” she says.

It’s not so bad

Tiger Ndoli is a graphic designer and part-time DJ. To him, PDA is a gesture and the people that look at it in disgust usually do the same with their partners but act like they don’t.

“In Rwanda, we greet by kissing on the cheek. In some countries, that looks strange,especially when you are doing it to someone you are not married to or even dating. PDA doesn’t mean someone has to go to the extreme, but they should be allowed to show each other love,” he notes.

When asked how he feels when he sees a couple displaying their love in public, Ndoli says he too does it and finds it cute when a couple shows love, but with certain limits.

So what is okay for Ndoli?

“Holding hands, a simple kiss and incase a man hasn’t seen his wife, fiancé or girlfriend in a while, he can carry her when greeting her. That is all okay,” Ndoli talks of his preferences.

What if your partner thinks it’s cool and you don’t?

Christine Mugabo Keza, a newly-wed, says it is important to be in harmony with the person you are dating or are married to.

“As a lady or gentleman of esteem, don’t get into something that devalues your dignity just to please someone.

First of all, agree on what you can or can’t do in front of people. If both of you aren’t in sync, then let that relationship go. It starts with compromise on one thing then another and another and before you know it, you can’t recognise yourself in the mirror,” says Mugabo.

Back in the day

87-year-old Ancilla Nyirakigeri says the things she sees and hears about young couples are a shock to her but she prays that things change for the better.

“Young couples meet today and by the end of the week, they engage in unspeakable and shameful acts and it only gets worse. They feel no remorse or shame for their actions,” she says worriedly.

Nyirakigeri says in her time, a woman never even met her husband alone without the family.

“It was important to only do certain acts after marriage and even then, everything was done in private. We were human and had temptations but we didn’t put our earthly desires before our morals and love for God which doesn’t permit the immorality of kissing in public when a couple is not even married,” Nyirakigeri says.


How does PDA affect others?

Jean Paul Ntwari, the sales director at AC Group, is an outgoing person, someone you are bound to bump into at the most happening entertainment spots.

“Some people even leave the place just to avoid a couple’s PDA. Others refrain from going out altogether. I’ve seen some who have approached a couple to tell them that what they are doing isn’t appropriate,” he says.

Ntwari strongly warns against the action because when children are present, it isn’t about the couple anymore. It is about setting an example to the kids, whether we are related to them or not.

PDA comes in many forms and it is tolerable for a couple to ‘express their love’, however, without making others shift uncomfortably in their seats.


Acceptable Public Displays of Affection

To help you figure out exactly what acceptable public displays of affection exist, we’ve broken down some of the most common PDA attacks and their proper place in your relationship.


PDA meter: Acceptable

Holding hands in public, whether to lead each other in the right direction or just feel close is fine in just about any setting. It isn’t intimate enough to make the people around you squeamish, but it is intimate enough to let each other see it as a sign of affection and a declaration of your status as a couple. Proceed at will.


PDA meter: Acceptable, within limits

As a greeting, kissing is most definitely on the “acceptable” list and is fairly standard in most relationships.

Obviously, this extends to personal social situations, and can be bypassed in professional arenas. To keep kisses acceptable, keep them brief and abstain from continued tongue action throughout the course of an outing.

Declarations of love

PDA meter: Unacceptable

Saying those three magical words is a milestone in every relationship, and it’s expected that your declaration is private and should be kept between you and your girl. Breaking out a public “I love you” is unacceptable in just about every situation, save for joyous, celebratory events, hospital settings and other highly emotional moments.

Under no circumstances should your buddies ever witness a man uttering those words to his girl, just as he should be the only one within earshot of his girl when she lets loose on the L word.

Pet names

PDA meter: Unacceptable

Excluding common nicknames that transcend your relationship, pet names should not make it outside the privacy of your own home. The last thing anyone needs to know is that a lady calls her man her teddy bear; his reputation might not be able to take the beating. It might be hard to avoid the odd “sweetheart” or “baby,” and the sarcastic “yes, dear,” but try to keep them to a minimum and avoid responding to them to discourage future use. This one goes both ways. A man should tame his desire to call a lady “sexy” or “babe” around her friends, as it might be taken as a sign of disrespect, and friends will turn into vigilante feminists — which he doesn’t want to see.


PDA meter: Unacceptable

It’s always nice to do things for each other, and generally speaking it can be a sign of a strong, healthy relationship. Unfortunately, watching two grown people feed each other or groom one another can upset even the strongest of stomachs. So, aside from gentlemanly behaviours like fetching drinks from the bar or giving up a jacket on a cold night, excessive babying is unacceptable at all times. This goes for talking to your partner like they’re a child.

Public displays of affection are part of every relationship you’ll ever be in, so it’s worth learning the rules. As a rule of thumb, keep your PDA limited to things that you can witness from other people without feeling the need to turn away. If you don’t want to see others conducting themselves in a certain way, it’s very likely that the feeling is mutual.



YOUR VOICE: What do you think about PDA?

Ronald Athanase, sales person

Ronald Athanase

PDA is tolerable only when it is carried out in a simple and mature way. It loses meaning when it becomes more than a simple affection gesture and goes as far, for instance, as a long make-out session. This, at some point, becomes too much for the people around to handle. In my opinion, doing it is fine as long as you keep it simple.

Aggrey Mukama, graphic designer

Aggrey Mukama

It is inappropriate. It should be saved for when people are alone or in private places. Not all people enjoy looking at individuals engage in such intimate acts in public. Let’s say a couple is “at it” in public, and children are present, what kind of message are those people sending to those children?

Deborah Isimbi, former Miss National University of Rwanda (Butare)

Deborah Isimbi

I think PDA’s relevance depends on where one is. If you are in Rwanda where our culture does not permit such acts in public, then it’s inappropriate. Some cultures may not mind it, but for us, we do. As people who take our culture seriously, some practices that are not appropriate, like PDA, should just be dropped.

Tito Gakire, Employee at ASL

Tito Gakire

PDA is just a way to show off. I think in public, people are supposed to act in a civil way and not only respect themselves, but those around as well. People in love need not only think about themselves; what message are children getting from that? Intimacy is best done in private.

Compiled by Dennis Agaba