On public displays of affection, and getting a room

Image by the brilliant Stuart F Taylor

If we’ve all been taught one thing about relationships and affection, it’s that although it might be fine to snuggle your favourite person behind closed doors, doing it in front of others is as rude as blowing your nose at the dinner table. And yet they’re everywhere – these happy, affectionate couples – snogging and touching and holding hands and occasionally forgetting they’re in public and referring to the other one as ‘babycakes.’ Public displays of affection are enough to make you either vomit or masturbate.

I’m firmly in the latter camp. Public affection is a beautiful, lovely, warm thing both to do and to see. So why are some people so cruel about it?

More public displays of affection please

Sometimes when I like boys, I snog them. The sort of snog that might cause you to mutter ‘get a room’ under your breath. An obnoxious, thrilling snog accompanied by a hand slipped subtly up the back of a t-shirt to press tight against the small of his back. It’s hot.

What’s more, I love seeing other people do it. Couples snogging in parks, in pubs, outside the entrance to tube stations – sucking each other’s faces like they’re ice cream and ignoring the looks of disgust from passing strangers. I like seeing people in love, in lust, or just being affectionate towards each other.

Affection’s nice. There should be more of it. In a world where you can see people calling their children ‘shits’ and barging into strangers in their rush to get to work, watching a couple in love is a visual treat. A respite from the other mean things we see humans do to each other.

I mention this now because it’s nearly summer. Glorious, beautiful summer when – unless you’re a miserable workaholic goth such as myself – you’re probably out and about, bumping into plenty of people engaging in the sorts of public displays of affection that I love to see.

The merits of not getting a room

So why is it, when I see a pair of lovebirds kissing each other on the train, they’re surrounded by commuters rolling their eyes and muttering ‘get a room’? People who don’t know them see fit to disapprove of their behaviour and in some situations to openly question it. In the past I’ve heard people either challenging a couple directly (“Hey, mate – you should get a room”) or making a deliberately loud comment so that the couple in question overhears.

And even without the overt comments, there seems to be a general acceptance of the fact that some types of affection are just too much for our delicate stomachs to handle. Snogging in public is ‘gross’ or ‘inappropriate’, and should be relegated to the same cultural sin bin as people who eat chips on the train, or wear leaky headphones while listening to obnoxious music.

“I was on the train next to a kissing couple and I could hear everything. Euggh.”

“There was a couple in the park snogging and he was lying on top of her. Too much.”

“You and so-and-so are all over each other. No one wants to see that. Get a room.”

If I hear you say something like this, I don’t smile approvingly and inwardly thank you for making the horror stop: I feel sad. For the couple, who have been publicly shamed for doing something that’s as natural as eating or sleeping. And sad for the world, because there are now a few more people in it who’ve learned that being affectionate in public is unacceptable.

We see people swearing, we see them fighting, we see them screaming at their children in the supermarket. We see offensive t-shirts and patronising adverts and tits on page three of the newspaper. And yet to see two people kissing is apparently beyond the pale.

Well, I disagree. I like it when you kiss in public. I like it when you hold hands. I like it when you hug each other for a bit too long, or fall asleep on each other on the bus on the way home. I don’t want you to get a room, and I certainly don’t want strangers to tell you that something as simple and fun as kissing should only be done behind closed doors in the dark, away from anyone who might be offended.

There are a million and one things that would be genuinely unacceptable to do in public. I’m not going to start wanking on the bus any time soon, or testing out new swear words in the playground of my local primary school, because there will be people there who could understandably be traumatised. But kissing? I can’t see how two strangers kissing is going to have a negative impact on anyone nearby.

We’re used to people being angry in public, so why can’t we cope with them being in love?


  • Ezequiel says:

    “It’s enough to make you either vomit or masturbate. I’m firmly in the latter camp.”

    Considering the comparatively large list of things you find hot… when do you ever find the time to write this blog? :)

    And let’s be honest. I’ve felt uncharitable towards people publicly displaying affection; but only because I was jealous. I was lonely and largely celibate for years. This is probably one of the big reasons for the make-out hate.

    Now that I have someone to “snog” (such a delightfully British word)… well… let’s just say that I’ve never been what most people would call shy.

  • Daisy says:

    I have long perceived moral indignation as jealousy with a halo.

    Attended a “swingers” party – for want of a better word (I’m sure there must be one) and it was…liberating for me, to be kissed and touched by my partner in a roomful of people. I adored the feeling that we were so into each other that we didn’t give a damn who was watchong or what they might be thinking.

  • rny says:

    Nicely put. I will admit to not always feeling warm and fuzzy about it, down to feeling a bit jealous. Or a lot. But I know that’s my problem.

  • Chaz says:

    I have been known to tell people to “get a room”, but only ever in jest, never because I was offended or thought they were being inappropriate.

    I’ve had it said to me in the past, usually in fun, but the last time was just over a year ago when kissing a good friend goodbye at the train station. These two women, who weren’t much older than me and my friend (we’re early 40s to early 50s), were whispering their disapproval of our public display of affection for each other. I told my friend who, devil that he is, kissed me even harder ;-)

    I don’t understand why it’s such a problem for people – the “British reserve” argument is long since defunct – but I do blame Americans for the phrase itself. The first time I heard it was in an American sitcom, although I can’t recall which one now. Our love of all things American has made this a standard phrase in the English language, but I’d rather it was replaced by something else, or that people just minded their own damned business! If you don’t like what you see, avert your eyes. Leave the happy couple alone. They’re not hurting anyone.

  • John says:

    I think like all things there’s different shades.
    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it but I would put three caveats on it
    1) Intensity. Hugs & general snuggles = good, kissing = good, weird pet names = usually highly amusing especially if one half is embarrassed. However I have been subjected to having to listen to someone getting fingered on a train and a couple engaging in some kind of sexual biting game. Call me old fashioned but that’s for private times. Especially not on the lunchtime train.
    2) Proximity. If I’m sat on a table seat on the train and you’re on the. other side in some passionate snogging session it feels weirdly like I’m somehow involved. Which is off putting.
    3) Noise. I’m irritated by people breathing so loud, repetitive smackaroos do my head in.

    All that said (I fully reliase I’m a bad tempered git) it’s pretty low on my radar for annoyance. All the other egregious behaviors you mention are far more worthy subjects for wrath. Usually it gives me a nice “awww” feeling inside seeing people get all snuggly – except when I get the impression it’s only intended as a public spectacle. And I do think you can tell, it’s easy to see when people are lost in each other. Do it because it’s love/lust not just to show off.

  • Faith says:


    My beau is ever so British when it comes to these things and hates public affection. He’ll hold hands and maybe go for a peck but gets really awkward with anything else. I’ve seen him check the room to ensure no one is near enough before he tells me something nice about me…

    I usually end up pushing him to see how far he’ll go. But then sticking your tongue down the throat of someone who is obviously uncomfortable just doesn’t feel quite as warm and fuzzy.

    Making out is fun, why would I want to judge someone for doing it?

    PS I used to work in a building with a great view of the park. Seeing people getting down to it was entertaining for all of us – until the Park Rangers inevitably turned up to ruin it all :(

  • Some people can take it too far of course. Like the time I walked past a couple shagging up against a wall on my way home from the pub. This was in a busy area of town and not exactly secluded. He didn’t even pause as I walked past. Ew! His white arse pumping away still gives me nightmares…

    • LightCycles says:


      I’m an abnormal sort, so I don’t really see why it should be any worse than watching someone eating (all those juices and mucous membranes) or jogging (the sweat, the jiggling, the heavy breathing), or any other non-stinky body-thing.
      So long as they clean up afterwards, what’s the problem?

  • Anna says:

    A while ago, I was getting off the tube and saw a woman greeting another woman with a massive snog. A guy walking past them them took it upon himself to loudly tell his friend, “I don’t mind people being gay or anything, but I hate it when they shove it in your face”. Because of course, they couldn’t possibly have been kissing just because they were in love and happy to see each other.

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