Not really “versus” per say, just my opinion and a very recent anecdote. I figure I may as well stick with the post title theme at this point.
“PDA” stands for “public displays of affection” for those not in the know. It usually is specific to couples who make out in public or at least canoodle or otherwise act very couple like with physical touching and hugging outside. Perhaps in more restrictive countries or cities it’s less common than it is where I live in New York, but I would have no idea. While it is difficult to travel anywhere within NYC or the five boroughs for very long without spotting at least one couple doing so perhaps every other day, it certainly upticks once the weather shifts from winter to spring (even accounting for Valentine’s Day). I imagine it is similar for anyplace with a similar climate.
For someone who is a lonely, dateless, older male virgin such as I, PDA’s can be a difficult thing to deal with depending on your age or mood. Being exposed to it on a constant and consistent basis (such as on a high school or college campus, or within range of one) can feed into the stigma of feeling like you’re apart from everyone else and different from the rest of the norm. It can get hard to shake off the sense that “everyone else is doing it” if it seems that you literally witness almost everyone “doing it” during a commute or daily routine at school. Even going to sections of town where there are a cluster of bars, clubs, and/or movie theaters (as in, common date locations) can usually ensure a healthy dose of this even during weekdays or odd hours.
If you’re in the wrong or at least in an unhealthy state of mind, it can easily breed feelings of envy, frustration, and even anger at witnessing others seem to engage in primal pleasure that you feel has been “denied” you (as if you were owed it). As a teenager, I used to occasionally joke that, “if I was king of the world, nobody would be allowed to make out in public until I did.” I imagined it would have been a while until I did despite that circumstance. While anger never bubbled within me, frustration, envy, and resentment did during various periods of my youth if I focused too much on it, or didn’t put my mind on other things. While I never wanted to “take” any similar acts by force or wanted to interrupt with a shaky prudish fist, a part of me perhaps wondered (and feared) that some of the emotions I was feeling at this time and towards PDA’s were similar to what some serial killers (such as the Zodiac Killer) may have felt. Such thoughts never excited me; in fact such things usually scared or saddened me. I’ve sort of always known and felt that my feelings of isolation and alienation, and the reactions to those feelings, place me on a similar plane as some of the worst examples of humanity. Behind some of the worst people who ever lived, after all, were children with abandonment issues, or awkward youths who struggled with women. I always did my best to be the best person I could be, which was always a work in progress, but at times my internal reactions to PDA’s would make me wonder if I was really so morally superior to other terrible people in a similar state as I, or if I was simply too much of a coward or simply “one bad day” away from snapping.
Growing up and having more important things to worry about, such as a job, bills, the health of family members, as well as keeping busy with work, hobbies, and friends helped dissipate many of these reactions to PDA’s. I’ve had many “bad days” since I was a teenager and never snapped or lashed out, or desired to become a predator. To a degree I think the choice to become a predator or not is a choice that someone makes deep down in themselves, no matter how mentally ill or sane they may be, by choosing their feelings and wants over someone else (even someone hypothetical). I’ve also had a lot of “trial by exposure” to not just PDA of strangers, but PDA among friends. I recall once in high school, I was at a friend’s house while he and his girlfriend were having sex in one room while another pal (and his lover) were necking on a couch a few yards from me. I’d zoned out on playing a video game; what else could I do? I can’t count how many times I was the unintended and unplanned third or fifth wheel when some of my friends wanted to make out or hook up. And boy did that used to make me envious. But over time, I realized I didn’t want to be the type of person who envied his own friends, and made a concentrated effort to alter my own reactions. This helped with stranger PDA too.
Last night on the train, though, happened to be a particular example. A young couple (mid to late 20’s) got on and naturally sat together. The man was tall, lean, and with dark blond hair and European features; the woman was Asian with short dark hair and a taste for flower printed tights. The way in which she seemed to gaze into his eyes from the side was intoxicating even from yards away. Their fingers were intertwined, her arm around his. Soon her leg was draped over his thigh. They never made out but simply the way they looked into each other’s faces, hung on each other’s words or minor actions, and enjoyed each other’s sheer company was obvious to anyone who wasn’t blind. Of course, logically speaking, we never see all of other people. We never see fights that happen in private, or so forth. For all I knew this was a first date.
Sure, I have plenty of desire to make out with someone (even if I don’t know how), or to make love with someone (even if I have even less idea of how). But this display had essentially boiled down all that I have ever wanted to experience within a relationship. In college I used to fantasize not of humping someone, but of what it would feel like to cuddle with someone in a bed, or lay together in the grass holding hands and looking at the stars. I attribute it to inexperience; my romantic desires never evolved beyond grade school, because my love life hasn’t. I know the euphoria of a new romance doesn’t last and that is usually when a relationship is tested (if not by one flaw or red flag from someone, from simple routine). Yet the intoxicating and hypnotic spell of mutual affection and desire alone seems to be what I have always craved. To be so into someone that just a ride on the train can seem like the most magical thing in the universe. Out mutual company is all we need; the set activity or event is just a detail or a formality. For as long as I could remember, I have desired it. But somehow, when I grew up, something about me was put together wrong and I’ve been unable to attract or incite this feeling of blissful, lovely euphoria with any woman I have desired. It doesn’t work if it is one sided; one sided attraction or affection is frustrating and distracting. It is all I have ever known. And getting used to the idea that this feeling between two people who were just sitting together on a subway was something that may seem wonderful but I am clearly too flawed or mangled a person to ever experience myself, even once, even for a minute, has been one of the most painful and emotionally exhausting steps of growing up that I have ever faced. It’s moments like this, more than lustful pangs or so forth, which make me feel like I truly don’t belong.
It almost feels like a youthful feeling. I tend to only see couples who are of a certain age displaying such infatuation with each other, at least in public. I’m sure that’s not true – in theory, romantic passion can exist at any age – but that can be the impression given especially by the media. This naturally only adds to the angst of the sort such as I. I’m no longer a teenager or in my 20’s. Once one hits their 30’s, thoughts of longer term planning and “real life” issues tend to complicate romantic entanglements, even if due to nothing more than experience. Is naivete part of attraction and affection, at least at the start?
I tend to be very reserved about my feelings – which I am sure is a shock to those who read this blog. Even in the hypothetical scenario of me being in some sort of relationship, would I be comfortable with PDA of my own? Would I be willing to cuddle or make out with someone in public? Or would I want it to be behind closed doors? Would that be a “red flag”? I certainly wouldn’t deny being at least a little “uptight”. Or would I be so lost in the power of mutual attraction, of the ecstasy of such a thing, that I wouldn’t care? Would a part of me even want to engage in some PDA as if to brag? I don’t know, and by my age, most people should know. Trying to coax a shy guy out of a thick shell may be something women may have tolerance for in high school or college, but after that when you’re supposed to be a “grown ass man” (modern slang)? Nobody has time for such nonsense. Life is complicated enough, especially for women.
It does seem sort of melodramatic and silly, doesn’t it? PDA’s sometimes (depending on my age or the proximity or the passion involved) cause me to feel things, then I feel things about the things I feel, then lament or become frustrated by the feelings I feel. It reminds me of those robots in sci-fi stories who lament about wanting to “have emotions”, without realizing that lamentation is itself a feeling. I’ve always found feelings to be overrated, in my opinion. They’re illogical and usually cause me nothing more than pain or frustration. The brief joy I get during outings with friends or by joking around sardonically isn’t usually worth the general sense of ennui or frustration that I tend to feel whenever I am not distracted by work or hobbies or think about my state for very long. I’m sort of like a reverse “Robocop” – I’d like nothing more than to become an emotionless robot. Humanity’s not been a terribly pleasant experience, overall; whether personally or historically. I can’t honestly say I’ve been “happy” for half my life, and that’s including infancy. I’ve felt like an “other” who didn’t belong since junior high, and in a way it’s never ended. I sometimes imagine what it would feel like to be free of emotional or physical pangs that I can’t ever express naturally with someone else. To simply no longer desire them again and move on with form and function, to not even miss those feelings. There are medications which can basically “make you a zombie”, but ironically I fear such things since I wouldn’t want to lose my intelligence or effect my own health. How I wish for some sort of psychological trick to just turn these desires “off” mentally like a switch and to no longer have them. After all, if I can’t ever experience the almost blissful and innocent joy of the sort of passion that is usually expressed with PDA’s, I at least don’t want the feelings one gets from longing for such things.
It certainly doesn’t help that longing for the feeling of “being in love” is a general, almost desperate thing. Desperation is a mood killer. It feels impersonal; women want to be desired individually, not because they merely were the first one who didn’t flee or retch. Even guys with plenty of experience sometimes have problems just dating for what they need, with things like “individuality” being details. With an inexperienced guy it seems doubly troubling, like someone is just looking to scratch notches on a bed post. Yet, whenever someone (usually a woman) tries to reassure a lonely older virgin, her narrative, almost to a person, goes like this: “I (or a friend) met a guy who was [similar age] and she didn’t care, and they’re engaged/married/dating for 5+ years so don’t give up!” And that’s more distressing than reassuring because it not only implies that someone such as I all but HAS to attach to the first person who hypothetically finds me attractive (which is, ironically, one of the fears that people of any gender have about dating older virgins), but that it implies that even under the best of circumstances, I will only get ONE chance at this. And I would, at least ideally, like the choice of the person I settle down with to be one made of desire and experienced preference, not out of desperation or “quitting while I was ahead”. But then again, I suppose there has to be a price for being different, for being put together wrong, and having your best option be “double or nothing” may be it.
Who thought touching on PDA’s would elicit this sort of essay, huh? At the very least I don’t get envious or angry about seeing such things these days, as I did in my youth. Most of the time I just brush it off; you’d be surprised how many couples one passes in daily life, even if they’re not smooching in public. I’ve done my best to get used to or suppress the feelings of loneliness which sometimes arise from it. But this last example for some reason struck me differently. It made me think about something in life which I know I am hardly owed, and isn’t necessary for survival like food or water, but seems like an essential spice of life all the same. And like spices, while one can consume food perfectly fine without them, they add to its enjoyment and taste. After all, can someone call a lifetime of bland, utilitarian food a lifetime in which one truly experienced food and what it could offer or be? And that almost magical sense one gets from being within range of a PDA can sometimes remind me that while I certainly may be better off than some people, there is still an invisible wall which I haven’t been able to pass between me and what seems “normal”. And sometimes, that reminder is not welcome.
Not that I’d want people to stop. If you’re into PDA, by all means, live it up. Enjoy what you have. Life is short. It’s one of life’s pure pleasures, and even if it’s something which I’m not worthy of, I wouldn’t want to deny it to others who are. I just wish I got a warning sometimes, is all.