Adapted from a recent online discussion.
A kiss not just a kiss when it's in public: It's so much more
Anonymous: My girlfriend is a lot more comfortable with public displays of affection than I am. She always wants to have her hand on my leg, kiss me, sit on my lap or whisper in my ear. I don't think this is wrong of her, but I'm really not comfortable with it in public. She understands that, but thinks I should put up with a little discomfort to make her feel loved.
I prefer to share those moments in private, and they feel false when I do it in public. But I want her to feel as valued when we're out as she does when we're home. I just wish she could KNOW that without the PDA. How do we reach a compromise?
Carolyn: There isn't any healthy compromise if one of you will feel uncomfortable without any relief in sight.
So, when she asks for PDA validation, you need to say to her, "I tried/wanted to be more openly affectionate, but it felt false, so I can't do this for you." Then she has a choice: Love you as-is, admit she can't love you as-is and break up with you, or remain in a perpetual state of nagging futility.
Her violation of healthy boundaries is egregious; her demanding your discomfort "to make her feel loved" ought to be carved into the marble edifice of the Dysfunction Hall of Fame. Nevertheless, you're making the same mistake on a smaller scale.
That mistake begins with "I just wish ... ." Any time you find yourself uttering those words about someone, that's your cue to take that wish, and accept that it won't happen.
You've told her you care, you've shown her that in your own way, and you've tried to show her in her way. Her vote is in: "Fake it to please me."
So ask yourself: "Can I be happy with someone who doesn't like me as-is, and doesn't trust my affections will last from one day to the next?"
Her "I just wish ... " statement about you is "I just wish he'd be more publicly affectionate." So she needs to ask herself: "Can I be happy with someone who has to force himself to touch me in public?"
My phrasing is loaded, for sure. But some people really can answer these questions in the affirmative — with "Yes, I see this as a small sacrifice to be with this person." Such compromises can work.
That is, when all wishful thinking has been banished in favor of facts.
Anonymous 2: Re: PDA: My brother has always avoided PDA. He dated a woman for nearly six years whose family believed for all that time that he didn't really love her because he was "such a cold fish."
At first, this woman was very self-conscious — primarily because her family was so busy telling her my brother couldn't possibly really love her if he was able to keep his hands off her in public. Eventually, she realized she should stop listening to her family on this.
And guess what — they're now married (18 years) with two kids. Sometimes people only think they need something because family/friends/society/trashy romance novels tell them they need it.
Carolyn: I like this, thanks — applicable far beyond PDA.
Tomorrow: Family/friends/society weigh in.