The Many Forms of Intimacy
The Many Forms of Intimacy
The Many Forms of Intimacy
I've been thinking about intimacy, those moments of understanding between two people where no words are, or need to be, spoken. I've been thinking about inside jokes between friends, new and old. I've been thinking about still being in my pajamas at noon, sitting toe to toe with another person, forgetting to eat, dissecting the lives we lead and that we want to lead. I've been thinking about intimacy that comes through sex and intimacy that develops outside of it. I've been thinking about roommates and lovers and family, relatives and strangers and even enemies.
I know what intimacy is. I've enjoyed it in any number of permutations.
I sit with a group of women in a circle of mismatched chairs: a rocker, a ladder back, an upholstered wing chair, weathered and worn. The women are 20 and 40 and 80. I haven't seen them, or even exchanged emails with some of them, for a year. We cannot pull ourselves from the room. We share story after story of the year gone by, the life gone by, and the futures that may lie ahead. In this circle, there is no age; there is no distance; there is no race or class; the superficial falls away. There is just that moment, amongst a dozen writers who come together every year to write and talk and revel in the intimacy that every day life often doesn't allow. They are the kind of relationships that developed instantly out of one common trait—the love of words—and that have lasted indefinitely.
My husband and girlfriend and daughter and I (or my father and my husband and my sister and her girlfriend and I) sit on the floor of our family room and play a board game. The competition is fierce and friendly. The hours disappear. And we are saddened when the game ends and wonder each to ourselves, "Why don't we do this more often?" We clean up the board. We put away all the pieces and we congratulate ourselves on giving the answers to the questions we never imagined would be asked. The questions on the cards that someone at Milton Bradley or Hasbro conjured up perhaps with exactly this sort of "togetherness" in mind, the kind where everyone gets a turn and everyone wins, if not the game then the opportunity to enjoy one another.
He is my waiter at a restaurant and I am far from home. There are few diners that night and he pays me more attention than he otherwise would. But it's not just the empty dining room; we have that strange connection that makes us barrage one another with questions and wish it was another time and another place where we could fantasize about a future where all of those questions might be answered. But for four days, in a hotel in nowhere, we are lovers. Maybe not the ones crossed by stars. But certainly the ones we will remember and be glad for and maybe even long for on some night when the restaurant we are in is empty but our hearts long to be full.
And yet, despite all of my experiences, I am regularly reminded how narrow the common definition of intimacy is. Why do we have such a limited understanding? Man and woman and marriage seems to be the only acceptable way to achieve true intimacy and then, of course, only with each other, to the exclusion of other people.
I think I know the answer, although it doesn't sound very nice. People embrace a closed definition of intimacy to excuse their own lack of it. They dismiss the intimacy and legitimacy of non-traditional relationships so they can create or elevate it for themselves. That is foolishness, of course, but it's not surprising. We are insecure creatures seeking approval and longing to prove our own worthiness.
Opportunities for intimacy are all around us, and they don't need to be sexual. (But they certainly can be…) We can have intimate moments with family and friends and they need not have naughty overtones. But we can also have intimacies that are rooted in sexual desire, and having and desiring and pursuing those relationships need not be precluded by our marital state. I hope that everyone who is married has intimacy with their spouse. But I also want to dispel the myth that marriage is the only thing that can provide "true" intimacy.
We meet a stranger on the train and we say, "It's like you know me." We see an old friend after years of not being in contact and we say, "It's like we were never apart." We talk to a family member about moments from a shared past and say, "It's like we are inhabiting one mind." Those are all intimacies and each is as valid as any other. So why when it comes to relationships based in romantic love, do we feel so sure that it is only with one partner that true intimacy can be found?
I don't believe that only monogamy can bring intimacy, just as I don't believe that only time can bring us intimacy. Moments of instantaneous connection can occur any time we are open to having and making those connections. For those who find no need for intimacy outside of their marriage, sexual or otherwise, feel free to ignore what beckons. You likely are contented enough not to even hear its call. But for those of us who do, I see no harm in heeding it. I see nothing "lesser" about those chance, momentary opportunities of connection and meaning. Intimacy is not the property of marriage. Each of us owns our right to be intimate with whomever we want, in whatever manner makes us most happy.
If we are lucky, we have experienced all kinds of intimacies throughout our lives. The thing is, many people only accept of certain kinds and only when they fit neatly within certain boundaries. But just as those kinds and boundaries can be different for different people when it comes to relationships with family and friends, so too can it be different when it comes to sexual relationships. The thing is, we limit ourselves when we spend so much time and energy defining what intimacy "should" be.
No one type of intimacy should be held as more valid or vital than another. And relationships that are not "traditional" should not be seen as barring or lacking in intimacy because, well, they're not. Intimacy within non-traditional relationships is just one variation among many. It is as legitimate and nourishing as the intimacy of traditional marriage. So why not open up to unexpected experiences of intimacy? Why not accept the value of intimacy, no matter where it comes from? Why not spend more time seeking to be happy than worrying about being right?