I really think this is an issue that is situation dependent. There are definitely men whose public displays of affection (PDA) are territorial. They’re making sure that all other men in the area understand that their women are their property and no other man should even glance at the “taken” women. In these cases, the men often don’t let the women step more than a few feet away from them. It is actually suffocating for the women, though I’ve known women who have happily gotten into relationships like this after having previously been in neglectful relationships with men who didn’t pay any attention to them. In those cases, the women think they’ve hit the jackpot with men who are interested in them not realizing that they are sacrificing their independence and their basic selves in relationships with possessive and overbearing men.
In other situations, though, a man’s arm around a woman is a beautiful thing. It’s a simple reminder to her that he’s there, and he’s got her back in a supportive way. He lets her move away when she needs to, and he doesn’t mind her talking to other men. For him, it’s not a possessive act but one rooted in love and affection. I personally love seeing couples like this where the physical connection between them merely reflects the deeper emotional connection between the two partners.
For me, one of the more painful parts of my relationship with my ex-husband was that he was not comfortable with PDA. He felt it was rude to other people to engage in affection in public, yet on a subconscious level, this was in part a story to cover up his own personal discomfort. When he was willing to touch me in public, it was often reluctantly and was generally limited to hugging or hand holding. Putting his arm around me was definitely beyond his comfort range. As a feminist woman whose love language is touch, I always was disappointed that the man in my life did not put his arm around me.
In the end, this is an issue that really boils down to the individual couple and what they want. Short of public sexual intercourse, we really shouldn’t be judging how others show (or don’t show) affection to each other. Our only focus should be on our own relationships. If Helen Mirren doesn’t want her male partner to put his arm around her, that is her choice. But it’s not her place or any of our places to judge others for how they interact with each other.
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC