The Challenge of Intimacy
Probably the biggest challenge to those of us wanting to live conscious spiritual lives in these rapidly transforming times is the changing form and expectations of romantic courtship, relationship, and marriage. The traditional models are rapidly disappearing, and the foundation for new forms is wobbly.
In this series of articles, I offer you my thoughts and experience in this realm. Your comments and feedback will be an important part of a vital dialog that will contribute to new and expanded possibilities for modern love and relationship. Let’s jump right in with a look at intimacy.
When my dictionary defines intimacy, it beings with “a close personal relationship,” and after a few less interesting ideas, ends with “sexual intercourse (used euphemistically).” Unfortunately, the same dictionary does not define any derivation of “euphemistically,” but it means using mild language to tone down something harsh or offensive. So, we use the word “intimate” as a way of obliquely referring to sex. Or, of course, a close personal relationship.
So how do we define a close personal relationship? It is an unfortunate result of our childhood domestication that most of us are afraid of being seen. Our parents saw us, in our first “close personal relationships,” and rejected us as not good enough, not smart enough, too smart for our britches, not quiet enough, too loud, or whatever particular set of standards of Good and Bad they were dreaming. Our worst offenses were usually related to free expressions of our emotions. We cried, laughed, sang out, jumped on things and ran in joy, pouted, and yelled in anger.
When we learned those emotional expressions were not acceptable (“go to your room until you stop that crying”), we knew we had to deny them in order to survive as part of our families. In the place of our denied truth, we mocked-up the “appropriate” behaviors that would assure our acceptance. We learned to wear masks to please our caregivers so they would take care of us.
Now, as adults, we expect ourselves and each other to be intimate and reveal and share our truth as it arises in our feelings and emotions. Fat chance! Been there, done that! Intimacy has become the most desired and dreaded part of human relationships. We want to be seen, known, appreciated, loved, and accepted—and yet the old fear of being judged and rejected is very strong, and most of us rely on our masks to substitute for real connection.
Is this making sense? Do you recognize it?
Very often at personal growth workshops we create experiences where people look in to each other’s eyes. For many, it is a very uncomfortable exercise. The reason seems to be that the eyes are the only vulnerable hole it people’s masks. If you are uncomfortable when someone gazes too long into your eyes (I think the standard agreement is under 2 seconds), is it because you are afraid of what they might see or find out? Will they find out all the bad and undesirable feelings and behaviors that your Inner Judge criticizes you for—and then reject you? None of this is good or bad, right or wrong, or a spiritual success or failure… simply the truth of the ways we each manage our levels of intimacy to stay comfortable.
I would like to redefine intimacy as “our willingness to be open and present and share ourselves with others.” When two people can share this openness and presence, they can be said to have an “intimate relationship.”
What are we intimate about? The very feelings and emotions that we have repressed and denied for so long. We open ourselves to be seen, without fear of being judged or rejected. We stay present in our experience of other people, and their experience of us.
This level of openness requires an intimacy with our own emotional truth, our willingness to accept it as it is, and the courage to share it with others.
In my next article, we can share more about how this level of emotional intimacy is attained, how it feels, and how to practice it in romantic and all relationships—e