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#139 Pew PDA

posted by Stephanie Drury

PDA (public display of affection) takes a specific form in the church pew. When a married couple sits together in church it’s understood that the husband will put his arm around the wife and he’ll keep it there until it’s time to get a hymnal. After the hymnal is retrieved the arm resumes its rightful position like a reflex. The people in the pews behind them are to understand that they have a Good Marriage.

If a couple is engaged or dating, the Pew D. A. can get cheeky. Backrubs are performed with one hand and heads are leaned on shoulders. This is considered absolutely acceptable in the evangelical worship setting. Dating couples can really get into the back rubbing and you might wonder if they’re about to engage in some non-denominational throwdown under the hymnal racks. Occasionally they’ll each manage to get an arm around the other and rest them along the back of the pew. This is called the Double Reacharound and is performed almost exclusively by new couples.

Whenever the pastor says something pithy or spiritually poignant the boyfriend will squeeze his girlfriend’s shoulder and they’ll exchange a tender glance. If you are single when you observe this (or even if you’re not) you may suffer nausea, dizziness, or lack of faith. This is normal. If you continue to experience these symptoms after you leave the church building, maybe you shouldn’t go back for awhile.

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posted March 24, 2010 at 2:06 am

yeah, i’ve seen that, my fave was the peck on the cheek into the cuddle pew hug. ugh, it’s about as close as those who are “abstaining” for their right one as they are going to get.

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posted March 24, 2010 at 2:25 am

Oh man! Is this true, or what? Once, I sat directly behind an entire family love-fest. The parents, in their 50s, kept exchanging adoring glances between themselves, their adult daughter, her significant other (apparently a new boyfriend), and their adult son. The boyfriend and daughter kept locking eyes and back-rubbing, then switching up the loving gazes with her parentals and brother. Reminded me of the introduction to the Brady Bunch with more incestuous overtones and worship music in the background. Blech.

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Rollo Tomassi

posted March 24, 2010 at 8:17 am

Lets not forget the “knowing glare” accompanied by the cutesy smile delivered by the wife whenever a uniquely male idiosyncrasy or intimate desire is mentioned in the sermon. This “that’s-about-you” moment is generally the only time a wife will initiate a pew PDA such as it is.

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posted March 24, 2010 at 8:18 am

If you’re single when you observe this…or if you’ve been married for a long time…you may suffer nausea, etc.

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posted March 24, 2010 at 8:20 am

At first when I saw “PDA” I thought you were referring to those electronic Personal Data Assistants (or whatever the proper title of those things is)! I had to read for a little bit before I realized it referred to something else!

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posted March 24, 2010 at 8:57 am

Sometimes the father will put his arm around his kids so when they act up he can thump them in the back of the head. That’s my favorite.

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posted March 24, 2010 at 9:08 am

Seeing married couples have the arms around each other while they are sitting in the pew doesn’t bother me. It is actually kinda nice to see, especially if the couple is past that “honeymoon” period. It is certainly less awkward than seeing a married couple in church and you can tell they have been arguing and they would continue it at church if they could.
What bothers me is when you see couples that are just dating and the feel the need to constantly hold hands and the woman leans against the man during while everyone is standing to worship. And then they still insist on leaning aganist each other in the pew during the sermon.
And they wonder why their single friends disapear……it is not that we are jealous. We are just nauseated.
The idea of anyone giving someone a backrub in church creeps me out. I would call someone out on that if I saw it.

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posted March 24, 2010 at 11:26 am

My wife refuses to participate in cheesy church PDA. What should I do?

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posted March 24, 2010 at 11:59 am

Oh, so true! And there’s also the “innocent” backrub for youth group. I remember a guy sitting behind me giving me a backrub completely out of the blue and without thinking turned around and said, “What the hell are you doing?”
I saw a very sweet pew PDA once with an elderly married couple sitting in the pew in front of me. (You don’t mention, but it seems that often there’s a limit on when the arm can be employed; empty nesters often give up the practice in favor of statesmanlike dignity, but this couple did not.) The sermon was on temptation and after it was over, I overheard this lovely gentleman say, “Good man, good sermon,” and then lean over and whisper to his wife, “You’re my temptation.”

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posted March 24, 2010 at 12:02 pm

Jess: The simple answer is — Stop going to church with your wife. Then you don’t have to worry about it. If you can send the kids and keep her home with you then you can participate in some PDA (Private Display of Affection) far far more enjoyable than PDA at church.

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posted March 24, 2010 at 12:21 pm

So much for the allegation that Christians make that gays are the ones shoving their sexuality in everyone’s faces.

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posted March 24, 2010 at 12:26 pm


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posted March 24, 2010 at 12:40 pm

That picture is perfect. That couple has about as much chemistry as the couples that used to innocently canoodle at my church. Why is he grabbing her wrist? Awkwaaaaard.
PDA: You’re not doing it right.

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posted March 24, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Great post. So true. Still I have to say that even after all these years of marriage, I’m still a fan of the “Double-Reacharound.” The reacharound has been an important part of our relationship since we
we began dating, and time has only proven that I love a good Reacharound. A casual reacharound during church is nice, but it’s also nice at home as well.

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posted March 24, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Did you have anything _intelligent_ to say?

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posted March 24, 2010 at 1:27 pm

That guy’s head looks strangely proportioned. I think it’s a gorilla wearing a mask. Maybe she’s teaching him to read.
In few places have I felt more alone than in church in a sea of PewDAers. And it’s hard not to wonder just how much of it is for show. Even down to the “knowing glares,” it feels like a group performance. Much like looking put together and free of struggles and “sin” and full of “the joy of the Lord” the moment one enters the building on Sunday.
Frank, I liked your point.

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posted March 24, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Thanks. My experiences were similar to yours, obviously. ;-)

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posted March 24, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Even in my late 20’s (now in early 30’s) this disgusted me. We had an older couple in our Sunday School class where the wife would not stop rubbing her husbands back all through the morning along with being cuddled right up next to him. We also had another younger couple who would practically sit on each others lap during the service. I will put my arm around my wife’s shoulder if my back starts to hurt and I need to stretch, but there’s nothing intimate about it.

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posted March 24, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Laura, regarding ‘you’re my temptation’
That man must be proud to have a such a hot Christian wife.
Actually, that was a sweet story; I love that.

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posted March 24, 2010 at 4:59 pm

That’s why most of us are here. :) Glad you’ve joined us. I can’t tell you how instrumental this blog has been in my work toward peace and healing.

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posted March 25, 2010 at 1:01 am

Brilliant. I HATE the church back rubs so much!

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Still Breathing

posted March 25, 2010 at 7:05 am

You got me again. My wife and I stil hold hands in church after nearly 30 years of marriage. If I have my arm round her it means one thing – she’s cold because you get a lot of draughts in a Victorian church.
There are positives to the youth indulging in PDAs in church – it’s the oldies find out who is going out with whom.

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Still Breathing

posted March 25, 2010 at 7:09 am

I forgot to say I’m with Em – why is he grabbing her arm in a non-affectionate controlling way? Oh sorry, I just answered my own question.

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posted March 26, 2010 at 1:56 am

I once had to call out some newlyweds because they weren’t only fully caressing, but they were yappy! My focus was so thin I was losing my mind. I had to do the embarassing…’Can you please be stop talking’ bit. What do you make of the fondle and talk combo?

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posted March 27, 2010 at 1:05 am

Ugh, yep. Had the misfortune of sitting behind one couple in which the guy was rubbing the back of his significant other in a circular motion which both hypnotized me and nausiated me. I have no idea what that sermon was about. All I know is that I left annoyed. Please, everyone, hands off in church okay. Not being a prude, but seriously, it is distracting and creepy, especially between family members (mothers stroking their teenage childrens hair, etc.). Blech!

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posted March 28, 2010 at 8:49 am

Considering that church is supposed to be about the worship of God I don’t know how Pew PDA is even allowed. Sure the elderly couple doing it is sweet and as far as I’m concerned serves as an example to the younger generation of the reality and importance of committment. Engaged or dating couples should not be doing it because it gives a clear indicator that they are doing much more without the benefit of marriage. Overll it’s a hurtful scenario for the single whether s/he is looking to begin a relationship with someone or not; for the divorced or widowed or recently dumped; and certainly for the mistress that undoubtedly is sitting somewhere nearby.
And since each description of Pew PDA seems to reflect that it’s the man initiating it all it is a clear reflection that men in the church dominate their women and it is the accepted norm.

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Still Breathing

posted March 28, 2010 at 1:53 pm

So there I was sitting in church waiting for the start of the sermon and, as is normal, I put my arm round my wife. Suddenly a voice from behind me said ‘PDA’ – yes my daughter reads this blog as well!
Jauharah, ‘Engaged or dating couples should not be doing it because it gives a clear indicator that they are doing much more without the benefit of marriage.’ does not make any sense. A couple feeling comfortable enough to display their affection publicly has absolutely no bearing on what they do in private.

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Happily Married

posted April 1, 2010 at 5:00 am

Let’s not judge, so long as it’s not sexual, I dont see how this is an issue at all. I am not suggesting I do that but it’s for me to tell them if it’s right or wrong.

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posted April 11, 2010 at 4:52 pm

Bloody BRILLIANT Steph…. and ‘Happily Married’… hilarious.

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posted January 19, 2011 at 10:10 pm

OMG! I LOVE THIS! I have never said this to anyone before but I always feel it at church. LOL

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posted May 19, 2014 at 11:26 am

Thankfully, I haven’t experienced much pew PDA. However, I can imagine that it can be a nauseating experience. You would think that couples would be encouraged to do PDA in the privacy of their own home. Not only that, but it gets awkward for the single people. . . talk about integration of different types of people into the church.

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