Affection is an essential part of all healthy relationships. It helps people express how they feel about each other and show that they care. However, not all types of affection are appropriate in all relationships and contexts, so it is important to offer your affection thoughtfully with respect to your relationship with the other person and the setting. Regardless of age or social context, expressions of interest and respect are often the deepest signs of affection that you can offer another person.
Asking Questions and Listening
Not all affection needs to be physical. If you really want someone to know that you care, sometimes the best thing you can do is ask specific questions and listen. Listening and asking thoughtful questions can also be an appropriate form of affection for people who are uncomfortable with physical affection, or in environments where physical affection is not possible. For example, you cannot hug someone over the phone or email, but you can show that you care by asking for an update on something the other person told you about in a previous conversation.
Physical Signs of Affection
Physical affection is very important, but should be offered carefully, with appropriate attention to your relationship to the other person, the environment in which you are offering the affection and your respective cultures. Sometimes you can show affection through a gesture as small as a brief pat on the back, but always observe the other person's reaction to verify that you have not done anything to make them feel uncomfortable.
Public Displays of Affection
When determining what gesture of physical affection is most appropriate, it is essential to read and follow any guidelines that have been published for the setting or institution in which you are showing affection. For example, your school might permit hand-holding and hugging, but forbid kissing or touching anywhere more suggestive than the hand. Some schools have expressly banned hugging between an adult and child unless the two are related. If you cannot find written guidelines, ask an authority figure or just play it safe by avoiding physical signs of affection while at school or work.
Affection Across Cultures
Because different cultures have different opinions on what types of physical affection are appropriate, you should always refrain from acts of physical affection until you understand the rules of manner and etiquette that apply to the other person's culture. Further, you must verify that these rules address your specific relationship with the other person. For example, in some cultures, it might be appropriate for adults to show public displays of affection to each other, but not appropriate for children to do the same.