eThoughts : March 1, 2009: Intimacy

Let’s start with a human relationship definition and not a completely dictionary one: Deep intimacy is the sharing, acceptance, and growth (declines can lead to growth in truly intimate relationships) between two or more people of all things personal, including strengths and vulnerabilities. This definition is not just about the individuals involved, but includes the “we” or synthesis of two or more individuals.

Here’s the problem: Intimacy tends to be one thing when it involves strengths and another when it involves vulnerabilities. And gender matters. It seems clear to me that men expect women to be much more vulnerable then strong. And men tend to think women should acknowledge the superiority of men’s strength. This perception can leave women having to be careful about showing their strengths—and they do have a boatload of those, even if they don’t know or acknowledge it—especially ones that might challenge a man’s perception of his own strength. Men tend to be nervous about strong women and can see such a woman as having balls.

It also seems clear to me that women do have vulnerabilities and expect men to care for those vulnerabilities, but a man with vulnerabilities—especially emotional ones, and they do have a boatload of those, even if they don’t know or acknowledge it—tends to be seen as basically lacking balls.

And finally, it seems clear to me that the “we” is defined by the perception of who has huevos and who is huevo-less.

And guess what? Time tends to change perception. So a couple that starts off in a state of “gender correctness”—the man has huevos and the woman doesn’t—can shift to an opposite perception—the woman has huevos and the man doesn’t.

What a mess.

For the men: Women are strong and likely more so than you are. And God help them if they express that strength in ways that challenge you—though it may feel safe in the short run. Generally speaking, women tend to think and feel very differently than a man. As someone once wrote, that doesn’t make a woman a defective man. But if men accept that a male’s perspective is the burning bush, the template of templates in interpersonal and worldly behaviors, then women will always fall short. And men, you cannot ignore a woman and expect her to become your best friend and know when to leave you be and when to help. It’s a Catch-22 if you do, because in ignoring her to main your space, you’re likely to feel abandoned and see her as unconcerned. And if she responds to your ignoring her by asking for attention, you’ll likely see her as a bitch.

Women need attention (what did the comedian Chris Rock say—women need food, water, and compliments?), but they don’t need to be smothered with it. Read that again. Women are screwed—and not in a good way—if they’re treated like they have to be cared for 24/7. Women are independent, not just men. Women are at their best when they have independence, but are not left alone, when they are supported, even if that means they might be better at your stuff than you are. Good grief, if a male friend is better, men will often see that as a challenge to get better. But if a female is better, men often feel like they’ve lost their genitals. Hey guys, man-up. You can do it. You’ll have more intimacy and less abandonment and women will have more independence and less whining.

Do women need to learn about being alone? Absolutely. But that learning works best when they’re not driven to be alone. In fact, they won’t be, unlike men. They will find someone to support them, even if it’s bogus. But if they are nurtured in knowing about aloneness, then aloneness is not abandonment, it is peace—a place to reassess before entering back into interpersonal relationships and mutuality. Gentlemen, if you truly want intimacy with a woman—and I don’t think many of you really know how, though there is lots of lip service about it (after all, for most of you such intimacy seems to equate with being stripped of your maleness)—you have to be there to relish in more than the vulnerability of a woman, you have to be there to relish in the strength of her as well. And I don’t mean patting them on their head for finding the way across town unaided, I mean relish in her warrior-ness, her ability to have your back and not just feed you when you’re hungry. Such an undertaking is not for either the weak or the dogmatic. It takes balls and it takes caring. It takes empathy, vulnerability, and a true understanding of what strength really is.

For the ladies: Men are very fragile and likely more so than you are. And God help them if they express that fragility—though it might be cute in the short run. Generally speaking, men tend to think and feel very differently than a woman. As someone once wrote, that doesn’t make a man a defective woman. But if females accept that a woman’s perspective is the burning bush, the template of templates in interpersonal and worldly behaviors, then men will always fall short. And ladies, you cannot bitch a man to be a woman’s definition of maturity and a caring being. It’s a Catch-22 if you do, because you’ll then see him as weak. And if bitching doesn’t work, you’ll see him as uncaring and self-centered.

Men need space, but they do not need to be alone. Read that again. Men are screwed—and not in a good way—if they are alone. Men are at their best when they have space and yet are not alone—when they are supported, even if all a woman can do is to take an interest in wondering what a man is up to. A good man will respond to that interest. But it’s hard for a man to respond positively to complaining about what a loser he is, no matter how it’s framed.

Do men need to learn about being alone? Absolutely. But that learning works best when they’re not driven to be alone, they’re allowed to explore aloneness, knowing they can come and go in and out of the cold, in and out of the “womb.” Ladies, if you truly want intimacy with a man—and I don’t think many of you really know how, though there’s lots of lip service about it—you have to be there to relish in more than the strength of a man, you have to be there to relish in the vulnerability of him as well. And I don’t mean relish as in make fun, threaten, or humiliate him, I mean relish as in meeting the challenge of the enigma that is a male being. Such an undertaking is not for either the weak or the dogmatic. It takes empathy, strength, and a true understanding of what vulnerability really is.

With such a large divorce rate and with so much deviate expectation and disregard for each other afoot, we might consider setting aside old, old templates for a bit and realize there’s a new evolution in place. Maybe, just maybe, those old templates will take up their rightful place alongside all the other fossils from the past.

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