In the strange, cynical world we live in, it is easy to get lost in the angst surrounding Valentine’s Day. However, even if it is just a holiday made to exploit human relationships for corporate gain, it also can be pretty beautiful, and people really want to share with the world how beautiful their relationships are.
The concept of public displays of affection (PDA) can range from innocent to raunchy in the form of a couple holding hands on the sidewalk to some random kids swapping saliva in a dark corner of a club. However, while there are obviously more acceptable forms of physical intimacy seen from the general public, it becomes a lot more difficult when you move past the heteronormative and conventionally beautiful couples.
It seems like for years the idea of “what if love was illegal” has plagued terrible teenage dystopian novels and horribly written fan fiction, but for a lot of people their love has — or still is, in certain countries — been illegal. From homosexuality being criminalized until 1961, interracial couples not being able to get married in Alabama until 2000 and certain people with disabilities still having laws that make them unable to tie the knot, a large group of people still face criticism for their relationships.
Being a white girl who grew up in the suburbs, I have seen others' disapproval of these relationships up close and personal. I remember walking home with one of my friends in sixth grade. We were talking about couples and love, and I heard for, what I believe was the first time, that some kinds of love are just “disgusting.” She told me about how seeing a black and white person in a relationship makes her uncomfortable and that gay couples holding hands on the side of the road makes her gag. However, they weren’t doing anything different than all the straight couples that surrounded our rich, white neighborhood.
There are so many forms of PDA that are taken for granted by people not in these groups. In many cases, just holding hands with your significant other can feel like a test of bravery, and — even though many people are accepting — it is easy to get discouraged by those who are not.
Every time I am out with my girlfriend, I become hyperaware of when people look at us. I am always scared of comments and slurs that could be thrown at us at any moment, and it’s draining trying to hold a romantic conversation while building a wall of protection around us at the same time.
For many people, the mere mention of PDA is met with an eye roll and a huff of annoyance, but when it reaches past what our society believes to be a traditional relationship, those responses can move from cynical to hateful in seconds. Valentine’s Day is a beautiful day to show your adoration towards your significant other, but it can also be a test of how socially acceptable your relationship is.
I would love to say, “Screw it, show everyone your love,” but sometimes it can be dangerous, so this year stay safe and stay in love.