We get so tangled up, it’s hard to know
What is hers and what’s my own.
Vines at the bottom of an olive grove.
When two people find each other and decide that they can spend their lives together, something special happens. A process of getting to know each other more deeply than we’ve known any other person starts. We start to know each other’s worlds. We start to understand the things that excite them or those things that make them tick.
The longer we continue this pursuit, the we might even find ourselves becoming more and more like the other person. We finish each other’s sentences and can almost seem to predict the future when it comes to our partner.
This is the groundwork for intimacy. Songwriter Foy Vance describes this state as the vines at the bottom of an olive grove. And it can be a beautiful state to be in, but it can also have some real fears associated with it too.
What Is Intimacy?
Do you have time for some word association? What ideas come to mind when you think about intimacy?
Arguably, most people come up initially with ideas that relate to sexuality. It’s important to know that that there’s far more to the idea than just this, but it actually is a fantastic place to start.
First of all, it’s usually true that we aren’t intimate with just anyone. We are truly intimate with a relatively small number of people. We’re pretty selective about the people that we are sexually involved with. That looks different for every single person and we all have our own set of attractions and values that lead us into these sorts of relationships. If we think about having deeper, emotionally intimate connections with people, the same thing is true. We don’t reveal our deepest darkest secrets or the most important parts of ourselves to just anyone. It requires trust and a sense of safety that what we share is protected within the relationship.
Secondly, when we are sexually intimate with someone, we are literally laid bare. It’s the naked truth and not much else. There’s nothing to hide. There’s nothing to cover up or keep secret. Everything is in the open.
This extends outside of the sexual realm too. The degree to which we feel safe is directly related to how emotionally bare we want to be as well. When we feel safe enough to be who we really are, we are more willing to let our partner see the truth. We are more able to express our feelings without any worry that we are going to be mocked, or betrayed, or rejected. We would never want this to happen to us sexually. The same danger exists in all forms of intimacy.
Which brings us to our third idea: vulnerability. To open ourselves up in this way is to expose ourselves to the highest levels of vulnerability that a person can imagine. There is a risk of rejection inherent in the trust that is required for intimacy. The other person can, in fact, reject you at any moment. Your truths are completely in their hands. Imagine that pain for just a moment: You have seen who I really am and you’ve rejected me. You know my weaknesses, and you exploited them.
The potential for this great pain, though, comes with the potential for great connection. If you’ve ever experienced this sort of intimate emotional connection, you already know the incredible impact on your life. There is something validating and enriching about knowing that someone understands you in a way that no one else does and that they choose to be with you; they choose to pursue you each and every day.
Great intimacy comes with great responsibility. It’s powerful and brings with it great risks as well as great rewards.
When you know someone intimately, you understand that they are beautiful, complex human beings. You understand that their responses come from a place that is not entirely contained in their bodies. They have histories and experiences that have formed them. They have circuitry in their brain that respond even faster than they can think.
You also start to realize that your own life interacts with theirs in deep ways. The way that you choose to speak, the words you choose to use, cut deeper and have the power to encourage them more than most other people. They value your opinion more than others. They want to always know that you love them unconditionally.
Intimacy is Risky.
Incidentally, this is exactly why therapy can be risky too. Therapists work in the world of intimate relationships on a daily basis; the positive effects of therapy depend on the ability to clients and therapists to form a healthy, intimate relationship, full of trust and positivity. Therapists specialize in creating a sense of safety and spurring conversation that probe those areas where the most hurt – and the most risk – exist. Therapy works because, no matter what you may be holding onto from your past, therapists reinforce that they understand your scenario and that the way you respond makes sense.
It’s means that you’re not alone.
This is one of the most powerful aspects of intimacy – realizing that there is another human being that sees and hears your story and still chooses to love you and support you.
Intimacy is important. The depths to which we know another person enables us to know their world with nearly the same detail as we can know our own.
I like to call this a High-Definition Relationship. It’s this kind of relationship that we’ll start to describe in our next post.