This word intimacy usually conjours up what most people think of an intimacy, a close embrace, romance, sexual relationships, but is that truly what intimacy means, or is it something deeper and more mysterious than that?
It can include all the above including sexual interactions of course, but of itself sex does not create deep intimacy and can in fact exclude it. I will come back to this point.
Spiritual, emotional, sexual, and contextual dimensions of intimacy will be explored.
SO let us start with what intimacy is not and how I see it contrasted against my own experiences.
You want near constant contact
This might be intimacy or it might suggest a deep problem with your ability to relate to other people. Look deeply into this for your own sake.
There is a difference between clinginess and a deep desire to relate to each other constantly -i.e. through multiple texts per day or phone calls when you just want to hear the other person’s voice once more, even if you already spoke to them several times that day.
Clinginess is that place of insecurity where it is needy. It is demanding attention. It is requiring constant re-assurances for your place in that relationship. It is dependency at its worst.
But there are other ways of experiencing the same external behaviours
I am away from home for a few days at a time, a few times a year. My husband and I text and talk several times on each of those days because when I have an interesting experience or thought, I want to share it with him and he me. We are close, we are each others reference point on more or less everything and getting closer by the decade (we are into our third together now). So constant texting can just be about that instead. I can be away from him and he me too but it just feels like part of me is cut off if we don’t touch base a few times a day every single day of the year pretty much. Luckily we both work from home so not a problem all the other days. lol. But that to me is not clinging or needy — that is our total intimacy of heart and mind.
Sexual activity requires a level of physical intimacy that can masquerade as true intimacy. The reason it dies off is that although it is a route into deeper intimacy, if that has not been developed alongside the initial passions of early romance when the pheromones wear off, it fizzles.
When we take our clothes off we are more vulnerable and thus possibly more likely to close down emotionally as a final layer of self defense. However the aim of relationships is to increase intimacy beyond naked bodies and instead find nakedness to our inner cores.
This requires two inter-related skills, for want of a better word, the ability to learn how to trust others and the ability to trust our intuitive selves. Intimacy depends almost entirely on trust to create that deepest of bonds of human connectedness.
First we have to make sure we have complete and total consent by both parties involved, both for each occasion and overall within the relationship, however you express yourselves.
You must trust that this is a connection between you and not a competition or performance. You must trust that whatever happens must stay confidential between you both. You must trust that your personal sexual expression will not be betrayed in any way. We also have to trust ourselves, that we are enough, beautiful in the eyes of our lover, have made a good and wise choice for our own emotional and sexual needs as well as for those of our partner.
We often learn by making bad choices first of all but that is part of this process of learning how to be intimate. We must also trust that no- one will suddenly abuse that vulnerability in ways that may traumatise, however unintentional that might be. Men and women are both vulnerable at moments of openness and this should always be respected, or you may lose more than you bargained for if you don’t.
Sexual interactions can also be a source of emotional blackmail and coercion, not just to have sex but to make you feel guilty if you do not meet their other desired needs without consideration of your own, i.e. social, emotional, financial etc. and this can be a practical part of the sexual interaction of an ongoing emotional blackmail. People ‘pleasers’ are particularly vulnerable to that kind of thing, especially when they meet up with narcissists, but there are many other dynamics in relationships that lead to emotionally abusive sexual encounters.
When managed with complete openness and honest communication, sexual intimacy can bring two bodies and emotional /spiritual beings, into a deep connection that is far more than the outcome of oxytocin release or orgasmic pleasure. It can make two people able to explore everything about themselves on every level without fear of rejection, ridicule or anything else. And this brings me onto the next kind of intimacy.
Emotional intimacy requires that we share all our innermost secrets without any fear of rejection or judgment. Only then can we say we truly trust our partner and they us.
We have all done some pretty bad or dumb ‘stuff’. We mostly all have ‘stuff’ we are ashamed of, or times when we were not at our best. One of the most healing things about intimacy is that it allows you to confess these secrets and thus release them, be healed of their burden. When you are truly intimate with someone you can tell that the confessing partner did not mean to be unkind or to mess up, but that we are all human and thus need to ‘forgive us our trespasses’, but it is much easier to forgive yourself when you have confessed and been accepted anyway by your lover, or even a friend.
Emotional intimacy improves a great deal when you are both willing to look at yourself and learn the path of personal change and development. Self knowledge and self awareness is the other essential tool in your ‘happy life toolkit’ for developing the deepest kinds of relationships. The best route to get there that I have found is mindfulness, especially the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chodron. They both have the amazing knack of interpreting the dharma and mindfulness psychology in ways that apply for most people’s lives. There are of course many others.
For me this is simply an extension or a culmination of all the other forms of intimacy. When two people are completely one with each other, there can be a kind of ecstasy that is beyond words. I can only describe it as a spiritual union. where there is no self, or other, just the combined energy of both, which makes something greater than everything.
For me it feels like a bubble of love that surrounds us both all the time, whether together or apart. We can bask in that energy and do frequently.
But it is beyond sex or romance, it is often beyond words and instead is a state of being in oneness, a meditation of love. Within that we can explore all that we fear, think, or ponder upon in the spiritual or existential world. Those ideas are often our deepest moments. Some people also have profound experiences within their spiritual practices and often find it hard to share those with anybody. We can so often ridicule others for these deepest dimensions of being human, and in a truly intimate relationship it is safe to share and explore together.
The intimate mirror
One thing we all most need in life and may never have is a mirror that is honest with us, who helps us to see our own faults without recrimination and judgment and which helps us to rectify those same faults where possible, or learn to adapt them into lesser foibles or even positive traits. A truly intimate relationship can do this for you with out fear. The fear which mostly stops us being honest with each other is the fear of being rejected if we do speak out, and judged or criticised if we are the one needing guidance. We all desperately need this mirror. Not a sycophant or a preener but a respected, wise and loving person who knows us, warts and all. It is only with that level of deep intimacy that we can trust that feedback, insight, guidance and support.
Why bother with developing intimacy?
It can seem like a lot of effort but it is what takes a relationship of any sort from surface level to deeper and deepest. The word marriage does not mean a social legal contract though that is how it is viewed by many, nor is it a status to use.
Marriage means union, ‘in the eyes of God or not’, but it means deep, intimate and exclusive union between two people. It does not stipulate details beyond that. Humans have added the additional tags, or have perverted marriage into another form of control, domination, and wholesale abuse. This needs to be reversed and fully understood. I remember an ex friend of mine more or less stopped talking to me when I got married to my soulmate — she thought I had sold out as a feminist, but I could never do that. She totally misunderstood what marriage means and that was the problem.
Marriage is a joining or coming together. Thus we also say a marriage of two flavours to create something sublime in cuisine, or a marriage of two musical talents to create musical heaven. The idea is that by combining the two, something much greater than either of you individually comes into being.
From personal experience I can say that I do not regret a single moment of effort on my part to create the level of intimacy and connection I have with my soulmate. There is no feeling of claustrophobia as we hold each other lightly, there is no clinging or dependency and no connection beyond that which we are comfortable with. We are also both pretty independent characters. It is my priority in life, to nurture and develop this relationship for as long as it may last, but never to crush it with insecurities or anxieties. Instead we simply want to celebrate each moment it exists and know that the next one only grows out of this moment. I am less when I am not with him but I am still myself and thus we complete each other and co create something much deeper and richer than anything anyone can create on their own. This is true intimacy