Aisle Always Love You
My boyfriend and I have been together for a year and a half, and we really love each other. His parents adore me and are thrilled that he might not die alone. After his mom saw us being all cuddly in the supermarket, she warned him that we may be getting in people’s way or annoying them by “hanging all over each other.” (We aren’t doing anything dirty or gross — just hand-holding, play wrestling, quick kisses.) She wondered whether we do this because one of us is insecure. I felt sort of offended. We’re just affectionate. Most people who see us smile.
There’s being cuddly at the supermarket, and then there’s being cuddly in a way that says, “We usually do this with whipped cream.”
Even if what you’re publicly displaying is affection, not foreplay, there are a number of reasons it may make onlookers uncomfortable: It’s them. (They were raised to think PDA is not okay.) It’s their relationship. (The more warm, cuddly and adorbs you two are, the more you remind them that their relationship temperature is about three degrees above “bitter divorce.”) It’s the wrong time and place. (They’re watching you do huggy headlocks at Granny’s funeral.)
You’re actually onto something by being so physically demonstrative. Charles Darwin observed that expressing the physical side of an emotion — that is “the outward signs,” like the red-faced yelling that goes with rage — amps up the emotion. Modern research finds that he was right.
For example, clinical psychologist Joan Kellerman and her colleagues had total strangers do something lovers do — gaze deeply into each other’s eyes. Subjects who did this for just two minutes “reported significantly more feelings of attraction, interest, warmth, etc. for each other” than subjects in the “control” condition (who spent the two minutes looking down at each other’s hands). Research on touch has found similar effects.
The upshot? Act cuddly-wuddly and cuddly-wuddly feelings should follow.
Maybe you can science his mom into feeling better by explaining this. Consider that she may just be worried that you two are going to burn yourselves out. If you think that’s part of it, you might clue her in on what the greeting cards don’t tell you: Love is also a biochemical process, and a year and a half in you’re surely out of the hormonal hurricane stage.
You also might dial it down a little around her (not because you’re doing anything wrong, but because it’s nice to avoid worrying Mumsy if you can). The reality is we all sometimes get in other people’s way when we’re trying to find something at the super-market — organic Broccolini … grape kombucha … precancerous polyp in the girlfriend’s throat.
I love my girlfriend, but the other night on the phone I said something that really hurt her feelings. I was out with my guy friends and one said, “Get her flowers. Girls love that stuff.” I ran around in the middle of the night looking for them. Obviously, there were no florists open. I had to hit a slew of 7-Elevens. I came home with a rose and told her about my treasure hunt to find it. She loved it, and all was forgiven. For a flower? I don’t get it.
— Temporary Jerk
It is a little crazy that when you love a woman, you’re supposed to express it with a handful of useless weeds — that is, “Say it with flowers” and not something nice and practical, à la “Say it with a repeating stapler.”
“A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose,” wrote Gertrude Stein.
Sorry, Gertie. It’s actually not.
A rose can also be a form of information, one that anthropologists call a “costly signal.” A costly signal is a message that’s more than just words — meaning it involves an investment of time, effort, risk and/or money, which tells the recipient that it’s more likely to be sincere. So, the pointless extravagance of buying a woman flowers is exactly the point. To be willing to burn money on something so intrinsically useless suggests you’re either a natural-born idiot or so in love that it makes you droolingly dim.
But, as you might argue, you only spent a few bucks on that rose. Well, context counts. Research by evolutionary social psychologist Yohsuke Ohtsubo and his colleagues points out that buying just one flower will make you look cheap — but only when “a more costly option [is] available” (like if you’re at a florist). Otherwise, effort counts.
In other words, if you only bring your woman a single rose, casually mention that you got it by crawling over broken glass to 7-Eleven while dodging gunfire from the Albanian mob. (Or that you at least tried Rite Aid, CVS and 12 other 7-Elevens first.)
Got a problem? Write to Amy Alkon at 171 Pier Ave., Ste. 280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or email her at AdviceAmy@aol.com.
Alkon’s latest book is “Good Manners for Nice People who Sometimes Say F*ck.” She blogs at advicegoddess.com and podcasts at blogtalkradio.com.