eThoughts : November 1, 2011: Intimacy is Not One Thing

I was talking with a woman recently about various things. Along the way, intimacy came up. She railed about that. Intimacy, she claimed, is not about talking, intimacy is about being. If one talks about intimacy, that is not only not intimacy, it actually detracts from intimacy. She then proceeded to ask me what I thought intimacy was. That question sounded a lot like an official minefield.

Okay, I get that a map is not a place. However, even a map can inspire one to go to a place and that can make a map and a place intricately intertwined.

I’ve had this kind conversation with many others before, though it was usually more general—about how talking about a thing is not only not the thing, but actually detracts from the thing. I don’t get it. It always had the tenor of judgment to it, as though anything but what they thought was a child of a lesser god. Besides, if one is talking about something not being about talking, then what is the point of talking about something that is not about talking? There’s some entanglement somewhere.

And more: There is a friend of mine who will soon be eighty-eight-years old. He’s a feisty character and can be very difficult. Some say he drinks too much and in that dis-inhibition, he says things that are not appropriate and are dismissive of others. The issue is alcohol, I’ve heard.

Indeed, I have become uncomfortable when he waxes dismissive. Indeed I’ve thought that this does not happen if he is not drinking. Recently he once again became dismissive about what I was saying. Later, I talked with him about it, and I did so during the day when he had not had a drink. The issue I asserted was not about drinking—he could if he wanted to. He could drink too much if he wanted to. That particular behavior is not mine to judge. The issue was being dismissive, a rather different animal then disagreeing with another. His age was not a reason to me to be quiet. In actuality, remaining silent was disrespectful. Attempting to bridge the divide was necessary—if I cared, I’d try, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t. He seemed to understand. He asked me a number of times if he was tracking what I was saying. He paid attention, he did not give in to other notions. I was able to speak my piece, a speaking that was about building a bridge and avoiding a moat. It was a good afternoon as we had clarity return to our friendship. He was not in error, I was not in error, we were just having difficulty listening to each other. Our job was to reestablish listening. That’s intimacy.

And more: I have another “friend” who has also been dismissive—nearly from the beginning. It has become rather ugly at times and for long periods we simply did not speak. To this day, I remain extremely cautious around her. Apparently she believes that confrontation means someone has to be vanquished. I wonder if that is particularly dualistic in a world much more nuanced than simple dualities (not that duality is to be dismissed outright either). She recently told me that she is reevaluating the vanquishing bit. We have had less troubled interactions. That’s intimacy.

And more: Because that same lady had become less dismissive, energy was freed up. She offered me some insights about who I was and what I was up against. She was right. It is a good thing when someone listens—the world is a lot less narrow, we are a lot more freed up. That’s intimacy.

Sometimes it takes a lot of work and a lot of emptiness to get past judgment. I know I struggle mightily with sheer aggravation at the block walls of others, especially when I use it as an excuse for my own block walls. There is no simple enlightenment app that I’m aware of, but I think we have little choice but to stay with the struggle, including the struggle to let it all go for a time. That’s intimacy.

I guess the point I’m attempting to elucidate is that intimacy has many forms. Positive physical contact is not the only kind of intimacy. Sharing words is intimate. Sharing work is as well. So is sharing grief. Mutual aggravation can be intimate. Sharing the silence, one of my personal favorites when it comes to intimacy, is also intimate. Singing, dancing, so much of us—all of us actually, has the basis for intimacy. Intimacy is what we make it.

We have favored forms of intimacy to be sure. That’s fine. The issue is not about what is intimate and what is not, it is what we like or don’t like. And even at that, what we like and don’t like are not static. We can learn from each other, if we see the opportunity. When the opportunity butts up against our beliefs, it may be a call to say yes—or no. But if we listen, we have our best shot at connecting. Whatever our ideal, whatever our reality, whatever level we are involved with, we can tell if there is any form of intimacy afoot by the strength of our connections.

As the saying goes, love often, love deeply, love everything. That sounds intimate.

Hold on to the handrails, that’s not all: intimacy is not everything—as in passion, commitment, and intimacy. Whoa!

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