If you were to hear the word intimacy, which kind of pictures would you conjure up? Sex? Romance? Erectile dysfunction commercials?
What about things like understanding, contentment, empathy, and peaceful relationships with your family and friends?
Now, nobody’s dismissing the continual evolution of urban dictionary definitions. Some words and expressions need to evolve with our continued understanding and acceptance of human existence while we do away with irrelevant, ignorant, and outdated perspectives. But to diminish or even hijack a concept that is so vital and precious to understanding ourselves—and to do it just to sell more Viagra— is tragic!
A definition of intimacy
Intimacy in its basic form means “closeness.” Technically, I’m intimate with my keyboard, monitor, and chair right now! More specifically, however, intimacy in human relationships is where things have been usurped, repackaged, and sold back to us at a premium. If we simply replace the word with closeness, then we see that we could be “close” in many different spheres: mentally, emotionally, geographically, physically (with or without sex), or even spiritually.
I share with my clients that intimacy is best understood in this multidimensional way in order to best explore how to improve it. Even if you were only concerned with improving your sexual and romantic intimacy, then you would be best served by improving some of the other dimensions of intimacy within that relationship. Consider looking at the quality of each dimension. How “close” are you?
From this perspective, sex and romance will emerge less as the source of intimacy problems and more as the result of intimacy problems. Sometimes, if we address the potential hidden sources of waning intimacy in other areas or less considered spheres, we may find inroads to improve and increase intimacy in the desired areas, like sex and romance.
Increased relationship closeness leads to increased relational knowledge. You will come to know this person more, the closer you get. Ultimate intimacy, in this perspective, can be defined as knowing as much as possible about the other person and being known by them as much as possible.
You can (and should) achieve greater intimacy!
Of course, getting closer can be scary. It’s a journey of vulnerability, trust, fear, and risk at times. But it’s a journey of bliss, fun, comfort, and courage as well! You are letting someone else into the innermost parts of your most protected fortress, your ultimate citadel. This is the place where you live inside of yourself and from where you see the rest of the outside world. And hopefully, they are inviting you to theirs. No boundaries, no gates, no defenses.
If you keep yourself from that courageous act, how will you ever know where you stand?
Just like any other courageous act or adventure of any kind, the risk is the force that gives the journey its meaning. Would your own existence (your awareness of yourself and relationship with yourself) have as much meaning if you avoided risk by keeping others at bay?
If you struggle with having or forming sustained relationships, it might be helpful to start with a basic identification of the problem. Ask yourself,
“How well do you know others? How well do others know you? How well do you know yourself?”
Intimacy leads to authenticity and vice versa
Answering those questions can be summed up in the ambiguous high-brow concept of increased authenticity.
I try to think of authenticity in this way: knowing yourself as accurately as possible, at your core, and congruently believing, thinking, feeling, and behaving outwardly, so that others see the same person.
That’s a tall order! You may not ever make it to the top of such a giant philosophical mountain as “pure authenticity,” and I would say most never truly do. But the epic adventure of intimacy is inevitably traveled along the road of increased authenticity! It’s a long, often risky journey, and it’s probably meant to be that way. But maybe it’s not about the destination at all! Perhaps it’s about the journey itself: the very act of walking the path and experiencing the transformation at every moment, increasing closeness and meaning with every step.