Intimacy: An ongoing process where two caring people share, as freely as possible, an exchange of their thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, experiences and time, in an atmosphere of mutual acceptance, commitment, tenderness and trust. – Isaac
A few days ago I was asked to help some aspiring life-coachey energetic-healing types (the particular discipline kept vague both for their privacy and because it’s not relevant) to practice some of their skills before they graduated their training and went into the wider world. The task was actually not hard at all; for the session, they simply asked that I identify something around sacred intimacy and then address it with the student I was paired up with for about an hour.
It was a very endarkening experience.
Well, if “enlightening” means you learn something you didn’t know before, “endarkening” would be discovering that something you thought you knew turned out to be actually unknown, right?
In this case it revolved around the words “sacred” and “intimate.” I’ve long known that my own ideas of intimacy are not quite within normal parameters, whether that’s through body touch (a dance degree tends to make you a bit less self-conscious about your and other’s bodies) or emotional openness (I used to write and blog about much more personal stuff than you find here on LLP). I found myself having a very hard time finding a place that felt either intimate or sacred.
Intimacy, to me, is not that definition Isaac (a twitter friend and polyamory advocate and educator) came up with above. In fact, I would have to change a few things in order to make it fit my definition:
Intimacy: An ongoing process where caring people share more than they are comfortable with, thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, experiences and time, in an atmosphere of open acceptance, commitment, tenderness and trust.
In the workshops that I’ve co-taught about intimacy, we operate under the understanding that true intimacy requires vulnerability. You have to be so authentic, so open with the other person that you show them the things about you that scare you – the things you don’t necessary like, the whole you. You take the risk that that “atmosphere” might be too thin to support the relationship.
With my partner the student at this training, I found that I couldn’t feel any intimacy, because I didn’t feel vulnerable at all. It wasn’t that I wasn’t open; I would have happily told her about anything she wanted to hear. It was because I didn’t have any fear of rejection.
That’s not to say she would have accepted me (although she probably would have; she was a very competent empathic healer and I suspect she’ll do well with her calling). It was actually that I didn’t really care if she accepted me. Within that space of the hour, there wasn’t any risk to me that I’d come out changed, nor did I want to change her.
“You Keep On Using That Word…” – Inigo Montoya
It was pretty profoundly disturbing, actually. I’m also one of those life-coachey relationship-counseling types (really, I am, ask me about my rates!). Shouldn’t being able to open up mean that I was able to get onto an intimate and sacred plane with someone, especially someone who is also trained in this kind of energetic and physical bodywork? I’ve had intimate dances with complete strangers, after all, and even once had one that started out as a contact improv dance and ended up, by the time the song was done, being a full-fledged relationship that lasted, on and off, for years (and still is a good friendship).
Why was the word “intimate” suddenly such a difficult thing to find? I found myself actually worrying if my work at self-acceptance and being comfortable with my body, occupation, and proclivities had resulted in the loss of intimacy in the sense of being “vulnerable.” I already knew that in relationships I had substituted other things – connection, excitement, sex, arguing, chocolate, my daughter’s orchestra concerts – for “intimacy” – but I had always thought that was simply because of the relationships themselves.
Now suddenly I was faced with the possibility that I didn’t even know where intimacy was even if I wanted it. I could help others find it, I’d helped couples develop it, I devote a relatively large portion of my life to various aspects of it – why couldn’t I find it for myself?
In the Mess
I can’t say I’ve figured it out. In fact, I’d love to hear in the comments what intimacy means to you. How have you developed it – or if you use a different word for that feeling of “oh my god, this could hurt but I think the risk is worth it“, let me know what it is and what it looks like for you.
I do think I have an idea of where it lies for me. It’s not in anything as simple as physical bodies (I’ve had too many dance classes for that, not to mention Marine Barracks!). It’s actually more to do with something that one of my co-teachers brought up when we were developing a class on Vulnerability and Intimacy in Relationships. It’s something that’s a tiny, tiny glimmer of light in this whole endarkened subject that’s been occupying my brain, and it’s something that’s going to require more writing and pondering than just one post.
“It’s not just being authentic,” she had written. “It’s not just being seen. It’s about being willing to let the person see you at your worst and having faith that they’ll still love you.”
“It’s being willing to be in the mess together.”