The naysayers

A few days ago, Pakistani actress Saboor Ali and her husband Ali Ansari came under fire by netizens for sharing photos of their public display of affection (PDA) at their wedding. They are not the first couple who have been morally shamed for expressing their feelings publicly in the form of a hug or a kiss on the cheek.
In recent times, a trend has started where celebrities are not only more transparent about their relationships but also do not shy away from sharing images of their public display of affection.
I am curious about the reaction to such images and the psychology behind it. There is a divided reaction to this. Those who love it and go all mushy over seeing these images and send heart emojis to share their appreciation of such posts. Then there are those who hate it and leave no stone unturned in expressing their disapproval through vile and hateful words.
The most common criticism from the haters is rooted in moral policing where a public expression of love between a man and woman is seen as shameful act. Cultural context is an important dynamic here, especially in our conservative society and I can understand that it’s not the norm in Pakistan for people to hold hands or hug each other in public, let alone share photos of it for others to see. Intimacy is as private as it can get. At the end of the day, I believe that it’s a personal choice by everyone and rather than hating such posts; those whose sensibilities are so deeply offended can get off social media or unfollow anyone whose life choices are unacceptable for them.
The haters also believe that couples who overtly express affection in the public eye actually do not have strong relationships and it almost feels like they are trying too hard to convince themselves that they have authentic feelings for each other. It stands for strong argument that PDA has its roots in narcissism to begin with; along with insecurity and denial about the shortcomings of the relationship, self-doubting what you are claiming or behaving like this as a way of overcompensating for what is lacking by trying to project a perfect relationship. There is also validation seeking through the responses of appreciation they receive on their social media posts. Having said this, everyone is different and people who are more extrovert in their life choices simply behave how they feel is best.
One can argue that in the wake of social media boom, where how many million followers does a celebrity have on Instagram weighs more than the work they do, sharing bits and pieces of their personal lives is part of the social media game. Their relationships are always of great interest to the public and such photos, no matter what the reaction might be, keeps the millions of followers engaged with them.
The reactions people have to anything in life say more about who they are rather than others. If these naysayers grew up in homes where parents for example, hugged each other in front of the children, physical expression of love would be normalised for such adults. Whereas if they had a childhood where there was no physical language of love, such children would either need validation in the form of physical love and need to make a loud gesture as adults by not shying away from publicly loving their loved ones and like to show it to the world. Or they would completely shy away from it and also judge anyone who engaged in any form of affection; privately or publicly.
A loving relationship creates a stable footing in life. We are all seeking companionship, intimacy and support from a significant other. Some of us do not have healthy and happy relationships and looking at another couple’s evidence of love might trigger us into feeling more frustrated and helpless to our own situation. Thus, we might project the shortcoming of our own failed relationships as well as to console ourselves into falsely believing that no one is happy.
So, all those who hate PDA, please recognise that this judgment is more about you than the other. This judgmental voice within you will always find a reason to judge. Start embracing others with empathy and their difference. Every relationship is unique and every one behaves differently. To the netzines out there, I would humbly suggest to them that they should stop unfairly attacking others on their life choices, which definitely includes how and with whom they choose to display affection with. Live and let live.

The writer is a BACP (British Association For Counselling and Psychotherapy) accredited individual and couple psychotherapist based in Islamabad. She can be reached at or her official website.

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