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How to Respond to Public Displays of Affection

How to Respond to Public Displays of Affection

EDITOR'S NOTEHe Said-She Said is a biweekly advice column for singles featuring a question from a reader with responses from a male and female point of view. If you've got a question about anything related to singleness or living the single life, please submit it to He Said-She Said (selected questions will be posted anonymously).

QUESTIONI am a 31-year-old single female and have a question regarding public displays of affection among married people. At my church there are several newlyweds, some of which are very affectionate during services and in Bible study settings. It's not vulgar but involves frequent kissing, back rubbing and cuddling. I am generally not an overly affectionate person, so I wonder if this is more my problem than theirs. So I began sitting where I would not be distracted by one particular couple during church, but this cannot be avoided in our Bible studies which are in a home. I have never gone to a church where this was a practice, so I also think it may be a cultural difference. I've always attended predominately African American churches, and my church is more diverse racially. This topic was brought up at dinner among singles who attend my church and others were uncomfortable with it as well. Afterward, I was convicted about the discussion that may have been viewed as gossip or bad-mouthing people we care about, so I wanted to have a more godly response to the issue. I thought about going to one or both of them but then thought, I don't want to offend them if I'm wrong and they are only doing what married people should be doing.

I e-mailed my pastor about it for advice and his response was that there are a lot of distractions in church and gave the suggestion of sitting in the front. He also encouraged me and the other singles to be righteous in our conversations and be guided toward 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 and away from gossip and carnality. This was sound advice but still left me wondering if this was appropriate behavior. I am content in my single state, and the PDA is not something that causes me to lust or long for a relationship. It's simply uncomfortable to see things that in my mind are private. I've been trying to get used to it for a year now, and I still don't want to see it. I guess I would rather continue to be uncomfortable at times rather than offend the couple who is not really doing anything wrong. What is your opinion on or experience with this subject?

HE SAID: Aside from crying children, rambunctious teenagers, sick members or ringing telephones, public displays of affection seem to be a fairly common theme and disruption in many places of worship today. As you have discovered, there is no blanket biblical answer or universal approach in dealing with it besides wanting to scream “Get a room!” which may be slightly more disruptive.

Although what these couples are doing is not “wrong,” their actions could be construed as somewhat inappropriate or at least ill-timed. Since you are not as overtly affectionate, you may be a bit more sensitive to noticing such conduct.

Having witnessed similar behavior over the years, I just try to keep in mind each of us are uniquely made and diversely wired, equipped with different “love languages” (refer to The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman), and I can only control my own actions.

Our world has become so negatively driven toward relationships and void of showing appreciation, care or love to one another that I actually appreciate seeing public displays of affection (once in a while and within reason). Just the other day, I saw an elderly couple walking down the street cuddling, hand in hand, and it made me smile. Call me a romantic.

Depending upon how well you know the couples who are engaging in this activity, you may want to try a subtle approach if you really feel led to confront them. “I can see the honeymoon’s not over,” accompanied with a smile, may be enough for them to realize others are noticing them, but I don’t see a need for a major altercation about it.

Even though most singles, including myself, desire a relationship with their soul mate someday and seeing such an exhibition may exacerbate those feelings, I would give them a pass even if it causes me a little discomfort because I don’t know if their actions may actually be encouraging or convicting other couples who do not have that sort of relationship.

The front row or a seat in the balcony for a couple of weeks may help to give you a different perspective.

SHE SAID: Well, I commend your pastor for encouraging you to look within first and to examine what is going on inside of you (heart, mind) and being careful not to gossip, etc. And I believe that his advice to sit toward the front of the church is also a good suggestion.

But I also don’t see anything wrong with calmly talking with this young couple—especially if you are still feeling uncomfortable with their public displays of affection and you still desire to be a member of the Bible study that meets in a home (which means, because of a smaller space, they will always be in your line of vision). If they are sensitive to other believers’ needs/struggles in your group, I would think they would be open to hearing from you and to know of your concerns with what you are seeing in their behavior that is making you not at ease.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved (1 Corinthians 10:31-33).

In this passage, Paul is talking about considering others and what could either cause them to stumble (i.e. make bad life choices) or be troublesome to their conscience. In your case, you are conflicted in what you are seeing. So that is a problem.

Let’s look at this from a different perspective. If you were a new believer and had just joined the home Bible study group or your church and you would occasionally use foul language from time to time in your conversation, it would probably offend other believers in your midst. Because of your spiritual immaturity, perhaps you would not be aware of how your words would be causing someone else to struggle whenever he or she was around you or how these words might sting in their ears. Would you want to know of this so that you could make changes or alter your actions (speech, in this case)? I’m sure that you would and that you would strive for unity (as a believer) and want to do that which brings the body together rather than causing disruption or disunity.

So, should you decide to have a side conversation with this young couple, I suggest that you do it in private—as in not at your Bible study group time and not in your church’s sanctuary or meeting room. Select a separate meeting place (perhaps a coffee shop or restaurant). Share with them exactly what you have shared in your question—that you don’t struggle with lust nor are you covetous, but that you feel that this couple (in their healthy marital excitement for one another ... and that’s great that they are happy to be together!) might need to tone down their PDA just a bit and be more aware of how they are interacting with one another in public. You can also be a source of edification for them (1 Thessalonians 5:11) as you affirm their marriage and also thank them for their strong commitment to one another, even in the infancy of their union. And speaking of infancy, because of their ages, they truly may just not know or realize how they are coming across to others when it comes to PDA. So a kind, informative word could be very helpful to them as they mature as a couple.

Continue to bathe this matter in much prayer before you take any action, though. And you might also meet with your pastor one more time and advise him if you plan to meet with this young couple. Should you decide not to meet with the couple, then the temporary answer might be that you take time off from the home Bible study group and only worship and fellowship in your church (where you have more control over where you sit and what you are seeing) for the time being.

HE is … Cliff Young, a contributing writer and a veteran single of many decades. He has traveled the world in search of fresh experiences, serving opportunities, and the perfect woman (for him) and has found that his investments in God, career and youth ministry have paid off in priceless dividends.

Laura MacCorkleSHE is … 
Laura MacCorkle, Senior Editor at She loves God, her family and her friends. Singleness has taught her patience, deepened her walk with the Lord and afforded her countless (who's counting anyway?) opportunities to whip up an amazing three-course meal for one. 

DISCLAIMER: We are not trained psychologists or licensed professionals. We're just average folk who understand what it's like to live the solo life in the twenty-first century. We believe that the Bible is our go-to guide for answers to all of life's questions, and it's where we'll go for guidance when responding to your questions. Also, it's important to note that we write our answers separately (we think they sound eerily similar sometimes, too!). 

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