Amy Alkon drags people, kicking, screaming, and laughing, out of their misery with her behavioral science-based advice column, which runs in about 100 newspapers.
Buy her science-based and bitingly funny new advice book, "Good Manners For Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck" (St. Martin's Press, June 3, 2014).
Got a problem? E-mail Amy at AdviceAmy@aol.com.
The Boors And The Bees
In your response to the woman with the publicly gropey boyfriend, you deemed French kissing at a workplace event inappropriate PDA. How about French kissing one's girlfriend during a performance of "Stomp" (musical theater)? The woman behind me that evening gave me negative feedback... which was of no interest to me. My take on people put off by PDA (isn't it really only women?) is that their disgust is based more in envy than superior decorum. Someone reacting negatively to seeing my tongue go into my girlfriend's mouth is suffering at their own doing — because of how they process their witnessing of my actions. (I'd love to hear their reaction to my having sex in a movie theater. Come on, we were in the back row, and the seven people there would've had to turn their heads 180 degrees to see anything.) Basically, I own my actions and I'm fine with them. Others need to start owning their reactions, and you need to stop promoting arbitrary standards of behavior.
—My Two Cents
There's public display of affection and there's public display of foreplay. If you're incapable of understanding the difference, let's hope your name is Koko or Bongo, and you aren't allowed out unsupervised from your cage in the primate exhibit at the zoo.
Social standards for behavior aren't arbitrary. There are minor variations across cultures, but do you think there's a person in Japan, Belgium, or Saudi Arabia who thinks it's okay to take off their shoe and bite their toenails at dinner? There's private behavior and public behavior, and we're all pretty clear on which is which. If ever you're unsure about the polite thing to do, there's a pretty simple guideline to go by. As I write in my book "I See Rude People," at the root of manners is empathy (might your makeout session or your loud discussion of your loose stool make people around you seriously uncomfortable?). You have a very different standard: total disregard for anyone's feelings but your feeling that you'd like to get your rocks off ASAP. And sure, maybe your cinema sex escaped notice by your fellow moviegoers, but if there's a wet spot for the next audience to avoid, they'd like it to be a puddle of Pepsi One.
Outrageous behavior is sometimes an exercise of free speech, like when a bunch of women go topless (typically, those most desperately in need of bras) to protest how women get arrested for toplessness when men don't. But, let's get real here. In nixing the public sexcapades, you won't be setting back the course of democracy, just keeping from grossing a lot of people out.
By the way, I'm not exactly the park ranger for prudishness. I love seeing couples being affectionate in public — in a way that says "I've got a thing for you," not "I've got a thing for you in my pants." People do need to take into consideration what they're doing where and whether they have a captive audience. Nobody wants to see you sucking your girlfriend's ear in the pharmacy line or hear you making sex noises at the coffee bar. If you're making out in a corner at a nightclub, you still might yuck somebody out, but, well, it's dark, people are drunk, and they also probably aren't Grandma or age 4.
You tell yourself that only women are bothered by PDA, and only out of envy. Right. If a woman does feel envy, it's typically at the sight of a guy acting loving to his girlfriend, not feeling her up at the mall. The lady at "Stomp" got steamed because she paid roughly 80 bucks to see some pretty unique theater — not a close-up of some guy jamming his tongue in his girlfriend's mouth. Had seeing a live sex show been her goal, she could've saved $79 by going to one of those places you put a dollar bill in a slot, the window opens, and for the next three minutes, you get to watch the triplets with the chicken.
Your final justification is the best: "I own my actions and I'm fine with them." Oh, yay. Nothing like murky new-age language used to take responsibility for taking no responsibility at all. (Follow that mantra far enough, and you can "own" a machine gun, and "own" using it to take out 14 people.) In privatizing public space as your own, what you're actually "owning" is acting in a way that's only appropriate if your zip code traces to a neighborhood on the moon (population: one narcissistic jerkwad). You are right about one thing: that those forced to watch you getting your freak on should "start owning their reactions" — especially those who grew up on farms and who react to two animals humping each other by running to get the hose.
©2010, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail AdviceAmy@aol.com (www.advicegoddess.com)
Read Amy Alkon's book: "I SEE RUDE PEOPLE: One woman's battle to beat some manners into impolite society" (McGraw-Hill, $16.95).