When the question was originally posed, we were laying side by side, trying to ignore the mounting sexual tension in the room.
Was physicality really that much of a complication to relationships? We considered it quietly. And, so he turned to me, and asked, “How do you process intimacy?”
And I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
When I was younger, I often had a hard time differentiating between platonic and romantic. My friendships always seemed to carry elements of both. The love I felt and expressed was never neat: I was attracted to most of the people in my life, very close to them, and I trusted them deeply. For me, sometimes that meant I was secretly a little bit enamored with my friends.
And that happened because I grew to read all of our interactions as intimate. When my best friend asks me to play with her hair because it helps her fall asleep, I consider that intimate. When my other best friend skypes me while she showers, I consider that intimate too. When we exchange secrets, I read this as intimate. When I cry in front of someone or vice versa (which happens often), this is intimate too.
My closest and most meaningful relationships are founded on vulnerability, which is a key component of intimacy. As far as I’m concerned, if there is pretense there is no truth.
So, to answer an easier question, here’s how I define intimacy:
I measure intimacy as any private or personal act that strengthens the bond between two people or broadens their understanding of one another, either by allowing vulnerability or an overlooked insight into their habits / feelings / beliefs.
This definition is why I think going to the laundromat together can be “cute” or why I view grocery shopping as potentially romantic. This is why late night or early morning phone calls when your voice is still hoarse and groggy–all these things can be intimate. Anything that brings me a degree closer to seeing You (the real You), truly and completely, is enriching to my spirit and the depth of our relationship.
When he posed the question, maybe he wanted to know if sex was going to ruin things. But more often than not, I’ve had sex that wasn’t intimate at all, where I felt like my authentic self was as far away as humanely possibe during the act, devastatingly out of reach whenever anyone touched me. If that’s the kind of response he was hoping for, I didn’t know what to tell him, because I read our interactions–sexual and otherwise–as important and worth preserving.
And my response to intimacy is affection. I am kind, and I make things, and I make myself emotionally available and I am patient and forgiving and sincere. In exchange for vulnerability, I thank people in gifts, in caresses and kisses, in kind words and compliments. I try not to take people for granted and do my best to show gratitude for the fact that they were comfortable enough around me to bare their truths. I think this is important.
Intimacy, in my eyes, has a purpose–a mutual benefit. I seek it in all my relationships and find it in the smallest places. It means that my heart trusts often and is always in bloom, and that the people in my life whom I care about have earned their place there. And so, to answer the question: I process intimacy as an opportunity for greater understanding, and I take it seriously.
What does it mean for you?