If you’re like me, you’ve been uncomfortable when strangers (or friends) have touched you in public in a way you didn’t like. If you’re really like me, you’re also eating chocolate right now and wondering whether you need a shower, but that’s a topic for another essay.

Joe Biden is in the news for being a little too “handsy” in public. A lot of online controversy has started to swirl, most of it reaching the same conclusion:

  • He didn’t mean to be inappropriate, so it doesn’t count.
  • It’s not nearly as bad as what other people – one in particular — have done, so it doesn’t count.
  • The woman in question lets other people touch her, so it doesn’t count.
  • He’s old and grew up treating women like that, so it doesn’t count.
  • He apologized, so it doesn’t count.

Just last night, at an event I organized, a 70-something male friend greeted me by kissing me on the cheek. I like this guy a lot and know it’s his way of showing friendly affection, but I always find that uncomfortable, no matter who does it, unless they’re a dog. Dogs of all breeds, sizes, and ages are welcome to kiss my cheek and nose and lips and neck any time!

I struggle with others’ PDA boundaries as well. I’m a hugger. I will hug almost anyone as long as they’re not a family member (yet again another topic for another essay), but I never just grab someone and force my body against theirs.

I usually open my arms and announce, “I’m a hugger. Can I hug you?” And if they say no, I perform jazz hands, then drop my arms to my side.

Other than wearing a nametag listing the PDA we’re comfortable with, what can we do to make sure we are neither forced to accept unwelcome touching or guilty of doing it ourselves?

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but here are some guidelines that might help:

  • Never sniff someone’s hair. I’m talking to you, Joe Biden. That’s just weird and uncomfortable for everyone. If you have a head-sniffing compulsion, just smell the shampoo in your house or hotel room before you go out in public to get it out of your system.
  • The only people who should be allowed to rub the shoulders of others in public are massage therapists who are also good friends. I have a friend who gives professional massages for a living and I practically demand his 2-minute shoulder rubs whenever I run into him. If anyone else were to try that, I might have to test out the new kick-boxing moves I’ve been learning.
  • Kick-boxing someone is NOT a sign of affection.
  • Ask consent before a hug. If the other person agrees, don’t go in for full-frontal contact unless you’re VERY good friends.
  • The best kind of acquaintance/stranger hug lasts only a second or two and usually ends with someone patting someone else on the back. Never say “Your boobs are so soft” when you’re finished either.
  • When it comes to people you are not currently sexually intimate with, keep your lips to yourself. No check-pecking, no lip touching, no kissing someone’s hand and pretending like you’re a member of ze French aristocracy. Avoiding smooching can save you worries; you won’t always be wondering how long it’s been since you’ve brushed your teeth or applied lipstick.
  • If someone is distraught and sitting down, refrain from placing your hand on their knee and saying, “There, there.” This may not be your natural instinct, but it is mine and I learned from counseling hundreds of crying college students that just because I think something might be comforting, doesn’t mean they won’t think it’s a come-on. If you must tap a knee consolingly, tap your own.
  • When it comes to displaying affection or greeting, it’s not what you mean, but how it’s received. This is very similar to telling a joke.
  • Handshakes are generally okay, unless it’s cold and flu season or you’re aware of the fact that recent studies show that only 31% of men and 65% of women wash their hands after using the bathroom. (https://www.theroot.com/yall-nasty-cdc-confirms-people-arent-washing-their-han-1829921439). I generally tell people I’m a fist-bumper and they willingly do that instead, especially when I encourage them to end the bump with jazz hands.
  • Different cultures have different greeting standards, but even within those, individuals have their own comfort level. If they tell you what those are, respect them.
  • Butt-bumping is only acceptable with really good friends who have sufficient padding and give you consent to do so. Do not bump them so hard you knock them into a nearby table and spill everyone’s wine. That will NOT end well.
  • Just because someone allows others to do any of the things on this list does not mean it’s okay for you to do so. Consent in situational.
  • If all else fails and this is too confusing, start wearing a top hat every time you go out. Rather than touching anyone anywhere on their body, simply tip your hat slightly and say, “Delightful to see you again, guvner.”

You listening, Joe?