Kissing, stroking and wild embraces are common enough, but now the quiet, romantic gesture of holding hands in public is a final frontier for many young couples in the west-even though, traditionally it was the first step towards intimacy.
Power couples on the world stage have taken to handholding as a sign of equality and commitment. The Obamas are often snapped hand-in-hand. UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his wife parade with fingers entwined. And Nicolas Sarkozy and wife Carla Bruni are notorious for their public affection.
That very fact--that it's a simple but powerful statement of commitment--is exactly what deters many young people from linking hands.
There is no public display of affection more intimate between two people than handholding, writes New York bachelor Jozen, on his blog. "Holding hands is the ultimate sign that two people are not only together, but happily so. Couples kiss madly, hug madly. But hold hands madly? Oh no, they don't do that."
Public Display of Affection is so common and varied that it's earned its ownacronym, the PDA.
I was recently in London sharing a coffee with my uncle, who's in his 50s. When we went to leave a teenage couple was wildly embracing and kissing in the doorway in front of us. "If they really loved each other they wouldn’t feel the need to do that," he muttered disapprovingly.
Sarah Maddock, a 26-year-old Londoner, explains that a lot of young people aren't thinking about the long term when they date someone:” Kissing and touching are fueled by passion and don't necessarily mean people plan to be together forever. But a couple quietly holding hands shows something deeper."
In the fast paced, constantly changing world of youth where everything is permitted, but nothing is certain, people have time for passion but are scared of the commitment of love.
Behavior changes as people age but still many older couples don't share physical contact in public.
Sometimes, this is due to time. People are too busy with work or kids to share small intimacies. And there may simply not be enough space in our crowded cities.
Whatever the reason, Denise Mah, a writer on love relationships, thinks it's a bad sign "when your love partner stops holding your hand for no obvious reason...or stops putting an arm over your shoulder in public when he or she always did before. It is a sign that a breakup is imminent."
Going hand-in-hand may not only be a sign of a sturdy relationship but may also have health benefits.
Holding the hand of a loved one reduces pain during times of distress, according to a recent study by psychologists at the University of California.
Another study by an American psychology professor, Julianne Holt-Lunstad, showed that support between couples reduces stress. One important way that people express this support, researchers say, is through” non-sexual, caring physical touch, such as hand-holding".
Subtle shows of affection maybe increasingly rare in our frenzied world. However, if the statesmen can teach us anything perhaps it's that a little handholding wouldn't go amiss.