Posts Tagged ‘intimacy’

At the end of last week’s piece on being single, I said I’d tell you my least favorite part of being single this week. I added that in later on after I was done writing the piece. I didn’t want to sound smug, or like I was dismissing the difficulties of being single. Because while I have had many positive things come out of being single, it also brings its challenges and can be something of a roller coaster. In a society that values coupledom so highly, the benefits of being single come with a price tag.

I could talk about stability, perhaps, or partnership. I could talk about not having to think about who you’re going to invite to that wedding next month. I could talk about my feelings about dating and how much I sometimes really dislike it.

But what I’m going to talk about is intimacy. The intimacy of sharing a history together. The intimacy of trust. The intimacy of proximity and regular contact. The intimacy of being known, of folding back the layers one by one until you’ve allowed another person to see as deeply inside yourself as anyone else will ever see.

Yes, sometimes I’m a really sappy romantic.

Here’s something I wrote to a friend a few years ago, when newly single:

“And while I’m having all these ideas and thoughts and out doing things and meeting people and working on my book, there’s no longer one person who basically knows all of it, who hears all my stories and my opinions and what I’m thinking about and everything. Except me, of course.”

And this continues to be true today. It’s not that I don’t have people with whom I am close, or that I can’t find someone with whom to talk about any subject of my choosing. But the comprehensiveness is not there, and the regularity is not there. You might, for example, know all about my recent thoughts about writing but since we’ve never talked about the past, you have no idea where I’ve come from. Maybe we’ll communicate several times this week, and maybe we won’t communicate much at all. Who can tell? This is often the nature of friendship, and it’s not a bad thing. It’s just…not the same.

So yes, I miss the easy intimacy of not having to fill someone in on the details of events that happened two weeks ago, or two months ago, or two years ago. I miss no longer having to navigate through so many vast expanses of unknowns when relating to another person. I miss the kind of comfort and honesty that only comes with familiarity and trust. I miss knowing someone so well, and I miss being so well known.

This also further elucidates why I think asking questions is so important. How else can you move toward this kind of understanding? A friend of mine told me she was speaking to a potential date on the phone soon after she’d read this post, and when he didn’t ask her any questions, her desire to meet him plummeted. After awhile it’s hard not to notice this kind of thing because the relationship that results from it is inherently somewhat static. Intimacy doesn’t spontaneously arise from a date every Saturday night, or even from a physical relationship. It must be built, with care and interest and over time. And not everyone is interested in building it.

There are nights when I feel lonely. It’s always nighttime, usually late. The apartment is quiet and mostly dark. Nala is sprawled out in deep sleep on her maroon pillow in the music room. Sometimes this is peaceful and relaxing, but other times, I feel a little sad. I want to talk about what happened today. I want to curl up and watch TNG with someone. I want to share a smile that means, “Look, here we are together, and isn’t that wonderful?”

Late at night....

Late at night….

But happiness, they say, comes from within. And so I remind myself, even though I don’t have everything I want (and who does?), my life is pretty damned good. And that is enough.

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Creating intimacy can be something of an art, whatever the nature of the relationship.

One of the most important parts of my job as a voice teacher was to create a safe space for my students to be vulnerable and experiment with their voices. An important part of the teacher-student working relationship was establishing trust: that I wouldn’t mock them; that I genuinely believed experimentation was key to the learning process, even when that meant messing up; that I believed in them as individuals and as musicians; that I had been where they were and so could understand; that I would be constructive but kind.

It was a part of my job that I was damn good at. And I think it was a large part of why I was in demand as a teacher.

Everyone’s been talking about the piece in the New York Times about Dr. Aron’s study on falling in love that resulted in a marriage between two of the subjects. The big takeaway from this study seems to be that falling in love is not so much a random happenstance as it is a choice: the choice to be vulnerable with another person, the choice to cultivate intimacy, the choice to give another person the opportunity to see you. Share enough personal information, stare deep into each other’s eyes, and off you go!

My first thought was, this is something people don’t know?

Look at one of the favorite fictional romantic couples, Elizabeth and Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth can’t stand Darcy at the beginning. His first proposal is disastrous because even in the process of making himself vulnerable, he is hiding behind his pride (and failing on the kindness front, as well). He makes himself truly vulnerable only when he takes her admonishments to heart and seriously attempts to address them. And it is when Elizabeth makes herself vulnerable to him in return by revealing the true nature of her family scandal that she begins to actively reciprocate his feelings. It is his reaction to this vulnerability, of continued regard and attempted assistance instead of judgment and reprimand, that seals the deal.

Photo Credit: °]° via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: °]° via Compfight cc

Vulnerability can create intimacy in all sorts of relationships, but romantic relationships can be more complicated because they require a reflection of some kind. As a teacher, I expected my students to treat me with respect and to honor our business arrangement, but beyond that, it was my job to create an effective learning environment for them, not vice versa. Whereas in romantic relationships, at least the ones I’m interested in, trust has to go both ways. Both people have to ultimately choose to be vulnerable. Both people are involved in creating an environment conducive to love and partnership.

Dr. Aron’s experiment simulates, to a certain extent, the process of creating intimacy. After all, what do two people dating often do? Spend time together and talk together. Stare into each other’s eyes and give each other goofy grins. Affirm appreciation of each other. The common wisdom about not going to a movie on the first date (interaction at a movie is minimal) is given for a reason.

But the lab experiment also simplifies things. It gives each person a script, and it demands a certain level of reciprocity. (Both people have to answer each question, so the focus never freezes on only one of the couple.) And because it isn’t presented in the context of dating, there are fewer expectations going along with it, and perhaps less anxiety as well.

In real life, it’s less clean, and the opportunities for intimacy are less well-defined. When we confide in someone and ask for support, we are asking for something, yes, but we are also presenting the other person with an opportunity. And that opportunity will not always be accepted or handled well. But once you’ve ascertained a certain amount of chemistry and interest in another person, one of the big next steps is giving these opportunities, because how somebody responds is very revealing, and can either deepen the relationship or hasten its ending.

Because really, many of us want what I gave my students as a teacher. We want a safe space to be ourselves and share our stories without judgment. We want room to experiment and mess up. We want to be appreciated. We want someone who will listen and do their best to understand. We want someone who is both kind and helpful in a constructive way.

We want to choose to love because an intimacy has been established that is worth the fall.

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