I am plagued by a deep desire for intimacy and connection within all of my relationships and friendships. I call this a plague because often people are not taught to be intimate and vulnerable with one other, and particularly in heterosexual romantic partnerships and so it feels like a curse most of the time.** While I’ve had success with intimacy with my female friends, men, on the other hand, continue to be a challenge.
When I say intimacy, I am not describing something that necessarily is sexual. I am describing the gentle way in which we lean into one another for support, care, and safety. I am describing the desire to know someone beyond their outer shell and take the time to understand someone from their perspective. I am describing curiosity, and genuine love for another human being, because you can see their light that connects them to you. I am describing empathy, placing yourself in their shoes and relaying to them, that you too are human. I am talking about soft kisses on foreheads and lips, arm caresses with no expectation, and soothing hugs. I suppose this is an emotional type of intimacy.
It seems to me, at least in my experiences, intimacy is often a second hand thought or something expected to be a by-product of everything except vulnerability, and often, derived from sex. My experience has been that sex alone rarely leads to intimacy; that intimacy is intentional, requires more work, and requires a certain aspect of emotional availability and maturity than sex. This quote speaks to me about that.
“It’s easy to take your clothes off and have sex; people do it all the time. But opening up your soul to someone, letting them in your spirit, thoughts, fears, future, hopes, and dreams – that’s being naked.”
We aren’t truly naked enough with each other and yet, we want and expect others to be physically naked with us. We do this often with false promises of true nakedness that never comes; “Let’s see where this goes” or “go with the flow.” Sex itself is just sex, and perhaps in some circumstances, a gateway to intimacy, but it has never been that for me. Perhaps it is the way my brain has been wired – part genetics, partly influenced by trauma – but to trust someone who has only seen me physically, but does not make an effort to know my spiritually and mentally (and I’m not talking about religion here, I’m talking about my inner being), is near impossible for me.
I have never had sex with someone that I felt intimately connected to in my adult life. Sure, I’ve loved them. But I did not feel the intimate connection that allows sex to transcend the physical and become something supernatural. I have never had a man try to get know me, understand my intricacies and apply that to how he loved and cared for me, both in practice and in sex. In turn, I have never felt 100% safe with a partner. I am admitting this now, but it is painful and weird to say that out loud and to the world. And I know that the key to this is a deeper level of intimacy. But how do we even go about building this? Does this even exist?
I wrote a post recently about the love I crave and I think within that are many metaphors describing what my ideal relationship; freedom, independence, interdependence, passion, and also intimacy. I once had a garden and although a lot of work, it never felt that way, because I loved the work it took to tend to it. I felt connected to it. I spent time looking at it, admiring it, learning about it, and trying to listen to what it was that it was saying that it needed. I gave it quite a bit of my attention and enjoyed sitting with it quietly. It also made me laugh and we had hiccups here and there, and we recovered together. Growing a garden is a very intimate affair, whether you know it or not. And truly committing to a relationship also requires this (and likely more) great deal of intimacy – at least for someone like me.
I wish that we could learn more about what it means to be intimate with one another and not to shy away from it. I wish we could see that some of us need safety and intimacy to thrive, and understand how that contributes to an invaluable amount of love. And for some of us, that fertile ground of intimacy and safety, can lead to the best sex, and even more worthwhile, love of your life. That every time you say, we can’t be more emotionally intimate because we just met, and yet expect someone to disrobe for you and be fully present for sex, in some ways you diminish the ways that sex can be intimate, that each time I try to tell you something about me or is core to my life, and you quickly switch to asking me about the color of my panties or sexual fantasy, to every time you kiss or touch me with only an intention to have sexual relations, that you create more distance, that you get further from your goal, that I mentally dismiss you, and for some of us, you may even make us feel used or detached.
I am not sure I can convince many of you of this. We live in hook up and fast paced culture that seems to often place higher value on pace and quantity, and well, sex feels good. I am not saying that every encounter should or ought to be intimate, that there is no place for hookups and one night stands (trust me, there are places and reasons for this), but rather, I am offering that should we ever want anything more substantial, we have to become more substantial. I’m saying connection still matters. I’m also offering to those who feel like me, that they are too deep, too introspective, too intimate, that you are not alone. I’m offering to all my many clients who have struggled with meaningless encounter after another, that I understand.
I do not know if I will find this intimacy in a romantic relationship. If not, I don’t know if I can ever fully commit to a person romantically. I may have to be content in my close friend circle that provides me emotional intimacy without any conditions. I consider myself lucky to have that. I cannot imagine how some people go through life without it. To me, it seems like a zombie or a shell of a life, not fully realized. I hope for you all, that you find intimacy.
**I have a hunch from discussions with my friends that this may be true in other types of partnerships as well, but I can only authentically speak from my experience, which romantically have been heterosexual. I’m interested in how this differs for others though!.