This article originally appeared on rabbisblog.brsonline.org.
Once upon a time, PDA stood for something now obsolete – Personal Digital Assistant. I will never forget my first Palm Pilot together with its cool stylus and what seemed like a miraculous ability to hold over one hundred phone numbers and a To Do list, all on something that could fit in my pocket.
Today, PDA means something very different and not only is it not obsolete, it seems to be growing in popularity. Public Display of Affection or PDA is when a couple, married or otherwise, engages in more than casual physical contact in a public setting. More and more people can be seen engaging in public displays of affection unaware or unconcerned with the impact on others.
The etiquette and appropriateness of PDAs depends on the time, place and cultural expectation. A few years ago, actor Richard Gere affectionately kissed actress Shilpa Shetty on the cheek at a charity event in New Delhi. After becoming aware of the PDA, an Indian judge issued a warrant for his arrest saying the behavior “transgressed all limits of vulgarity.” Gere left India, but five months later, Shetty was actually detained on obscenity charges.
While India has an extremely low tolerance for PDAs, the culture in the US is much more accepting. Just this week, after a historic pick in the NFL draft, a picture of the player chosen became highly controversial, not because of the act of PDA he engaged in which no longer garners attention, but only because of whom it was with.
Thanks to social media, public displays of affection are not only limited to physical contact. I sometimes feel uncomfortable reading Facebook posts written from one spouse to another on their anniversary or birthday or most recently on Mother’s Day. Genuine expressions of affection and love between spouses are wonderful and should be encouraged, but in a private setting, not displayed in a public space. Would anyone write a card extolling their spouses virtues, describing the love they feel towards them and articulating how lucky they are to have found them and then instead of privately handing that card to their husband or wife, hang it on the wall of the Shul, school or supermarket for all to see? Of course not. So why post such sentiments online for public consumption?
Some may liken posting a public message to one’s spouse which is gushing and personal to making a toast in front of a room full of friends and family, but there is a fundamental difference. If I go to a birthday or anniversary party or simcha of any kind, I fully expect to hear words of praise, love and adoration. In fact, if they were absent, I would find it peculiar and ungrateful. But if I was walking down the street and I saw you on the corner shouting out about your love for your amazing, one of a kind spouse, who is the most amazing person you ever met and who changed your life forever, frankly, I would think you are strange and inappropriate. To me, the internet is a street corner, not your private party.
When we see people holding hands in public we would most often think it is sweet and endearing. If we saw the same couple engaged in greater displays of affection in public it would make us uncomfortable and would cheapen their bond. So too, there is the social media equivalent of holding hands in public which let’s the world know you feel love and affection without violating anyone’s space. But engaging in more intimate verbal displays of public affection makes us feel uncomfortable and I think cheapens the relationship of the author as well.
If someone wants the world to know just how much they love, adore and cherish their spouse they can do so simply by treating them really well. Be affectionate in public by being attentive, kind, helpful and appreciative. Let us know how lucky you feel and how in love you are by how you act, not what you write.
Often, those engaging in PDAs are calling out for attention, but more than just attracting attention, they are doing something that is harmful to others, and ultimately to themselves. Being inappropriately affectionate in public, in words or in deed, is simply immodest. But moreover, it can also be offensive and insensitive to those who are lonely and lack loving companionship that don’t need to be reminded of what they don’t have and yet still crave. Many are not married and some are in unhappy and unsatisfying marriages. While certainly not intentional, being physically affectionate in public or penning romantic and adoring messages for all to see, can be unkind and at times even cruel.
But don’t hold back from PDAs online and in person only for others. Do it for yourself and for your relationship. The gemara (Bava Metzia 42) says – Amar Rebbe Yitzchak, ein ha’beracha metzuya elah b’davar ha’samuy min ha’ayin – blessing is not found except in something that is hidden from the eye. There is nothing wrong with sharing and connecting with family and friends using social media. But Facebook is the opposite of samuy, hidden, and inappropriately flaunting our relationships for all to observe will make it difficult to receive beracha, blessing.
Ironically, public displays of affection don’t actually promote intimacy, they detract from it. In Judaism, intimacy, a deep, emotional bond and connection is achieved when something is shared in an exclusive, private and modest fashion. That which we value the most, we protect, shield and keep from the public eye. Our most expensive jewels sit in the vault. Our most precious heirlooms and items are not on display to the public. What does it say about how we value our relationship if we engage in a gesture of affection for everyone to see or post a statement of our love for everyone to read?
And what does it say about how genuine we are when we post messages to people who will never possibly read them. On Mother’s Day, rather than tell their mothers directly how they feel or take the time to write a private heartfelt card, countless people turn to social media as a public stage to profess their love and appreciation to their most amazing mothers in the world, who don’t even have Facebook accounts.
The world is changing rapidly. The Palm Pilot is now an ancient relic of the past and PDA has come to mean something new. Let’s not lose our sense of etiquette and appropriateness either in person or online. By preserving our modesty and privacy in displaying affection, not only will we be showing sensitivity to others, we will bring blessing and true intimacy into our relationships as well.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.