Is Your Relationship's Excessive PDA a Good or Bad Sign?

Love or overcompensating?

Updated 01/01/19

Kate Daigneault / Stocksy United

PDA is a loaded subject that people have very strong feelings about. Some of us are more affection-averse, while others would gladly wrap ourselves around our partners like a baby sloth on a public bus.

Outsiders witnessing public displays of affection have intense feelings and reactions towards these behaviors as well. (In fact, we at Brides created a simple guide for those wondering if their PDA were “too much.”) I think we can all agree that PDA has the potential to cross the line.

But what exactly does PDA mean for your relationship? If you’re someone who enjoys kissing in public are you simply showing your partner love or are you trying too hard? When you see a couple essentially having intercourse on the MTA are you grossed out by their lack of boundaries or rolling your eyes at the obvious overcompensation? Perhaps both?

And where does social media come into all of this? With new public platforms allowing for even more visible relationship “bliss,” we have an intimate look into the romantic lives of others. We have greater opportunities to assess someone’s relationship based on a status or profile picture; We have a larger field for private judgement.

Here is what it means when you have a lot of (or a little) PDA in your relationship.

When you love someone you probably want to touch them

Whenever we see a couple on the train, on a plane, on the street (or anywhere for that matter) holding hands, kissing, or grabbing each other, the first thought for many of us is that they must be new to their relationship.

In the first stages of a relationship, your brain is flooded with feel-good chemicals. You’re doused in oxytocin and dopamine, your brain’s love and motivation hormones. Researchers believe this “honeymoon phase” lasts anywhere from one to three years. Yet, as biological anthropologist and researcher Helen Fisher has pointed out, it can last longer for others—sometimes forever.

Don’t fret. If you don’t want to smother your partner in affection, this doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed, nor does it mean they aren’t the person for you. Your brain’s chemicals have simply evened out into a more sustained love.

Should you worry if the PDA doesn’t slow down?

There is nothing wrong with showing public affection, even if you’ve been together for years and years. Heck, we’re sure you’ve seen those 80-year-olds in relationships grabbing each other’s butts and giggling. They’re just in love and still enjoy showing it.

When you love someone, you want to touch them. Maybe you’re not making out all over the place or grabbing each other’s bodies all the time, but holding hands or kissing goodnight are all normal things.

If you think you might be overcompensating, that’s when you should probably question it. Only you can make that distinction. Do couples show uncommonly egregious amounts of PDA to make up for a lack of real romantic feelings? Sometimes, sure. But, this isn’t always the case.

Some couples are more affectionate than others. It’s not an indicator of whether or not that couple is happy. PDA is not the key factor in knowing the way two people function.

What about all those social media pictures though?

You probably won’t believe this, but posting relationship pics is actually a sign of healthier relationships. We know, it sounds absurd. When you see a couple posting gushy, mushy kissing pictures on Instagram doing “couple things” the automatic reaction is: Wow. They are really trying to look happy and obviously aren’t.

But in two separate studies, researchers found that couples who post about their relationships on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. report being happier in their relationships. Maybe someone who posts happily about their relationship isn’t trying to make up for something that’s lacking, but instead are just happy and want to show it? What a conundrum, right? People who post happy couple pictures might just be happy? Crazy.

Of course, this doesn’t account for what Psychology Today calls “excessive relationship displays.”) Meaning: Posting content that a partner would find embarrassing or posting things about your partner that you wouldn’t say directly to them, etc.) If you find yourself doing this in your own relationship, you’re likely less satisfied with your relationship. As an outsider, it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference. As we’ve noted, every couple is different and has different values when it comes to outward declarations of love.

Anyway, the jury is in: When you have a lot PDA, whether it’s in public or on social media, you might be overcompensating, but it’s more likely you’re just happy in your relationship.

*Gigi Engle is a certified sex coach, educator, and writer living in Chicago. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @GigiEngle.

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