Intimacy or intensity?
So, D and I were up last night talking about intimacy. What’s your definition? I asked. He said something to the effect of “a deep connection with someone.” And I said, “well, what is your definition of a ‘deep connection?'” And it went on like that to the point where neither of us could really come up with any clear definition of intimacy.
What we could define, however, was intensity: that powerfully charged feeling of passion and sexual energy that makes us feel alive and on fire. Simple.
It occurred to me that despite the fact that intensity doesn’t last nearly as long as intimacy, it’s far easier to define. Possibly because it has a beginning, middle and end. We know it exactly when we feel it. And we know exactly when we don’t. And, of course, intensity is part of the addict’s problem. Our addictive high is “intimately” dependent on intensity, and the basis for nearly all our decision-making. If someone doesn’t make us feel that lighting bolt of passion, or, if our loved one removes himself from our lives, thus removing the extreme highs and extreme lows of a chaotic relationship, we feel doomed, depressed, lonely, detached. When intensity is the missing ingredient, our pain is all too evident. So much so, that we even try to create it on our own (drama, anyone?). Intensity, far more than intimacy, is what motivates addictive behavior.
But back to intimacy. D and I decided that intimacy could be sitting face to face with someone you love and staring deeply into their eyes. I was quickly reminded of one of those couple’s retreats in the 70’s led by a bald-headed guru in a long robe where couples practice tantric sex and hum “OM” through one nostril. We tried it. Not the tantric part, or the OM. Just sitting on our bedroom floor and staring into each others’ eyes. We couldn’t stop laughing, for starters. And then, I insisted he look at my right eye instead of just my left. When we finally got into a groove, we both admitted that our eyes glazed over and we weren’t exactly staring “into” each other at all as much as we were hyper focusing on each eyeball, darting back and forth, like you would a ping pong ball lobbing across a net. Fail.
I then suggested that intimacy might be exposing your vulnerabilities to someone. Like, if I feel shame or embarrassment about some aspect of myself, but I expose it to my partner anyway, and he still lovingly accepts me, then this is true intimacy. But is it? I exhumed my age old issue of shame regarding my body. D loves my body; I often do not (I’m getting better). And while I’ve pretty much gotten over the need to cover up as soon as he walks into a room, his presence in front of my naked body doesn’t exactly draw me closer to him, nor does it make me feel any heightened sense of love. If anything, it causes me to be all too aware that if I stand there long enough without my clothes, I can almost guarantee my husband will jump me.
So, if none of that is intimacy, what is? And, why choose it at all if intensity is the clear winner when it comes to making love addicts, or anyone for that matter, feel exhilaratingly fabulous?
I found a blog this morning, that sums it up nicely:
Possibly the simplest definition of intimacy is this: knowing another and being known. Intensity is defined as strength, power, or force- in relationship terms, it’s getting a surge of whatever makes a person feel good. Intimacy is developed over time, with patience, with love, with understanding, with compassion, with sacrifice. Intensity happens quickly and fades quickly- it is not long lasting. Those that trade it for intimacy will find themselves dissatisfied and using people like objects. —Taken from: The Jog
Knowing another person and being known. This thought makes me smile. No, it doesn’t blow me away or make me feel high or even exhilarated. It makes me feel grounded, loved, appreciated, whole, human. It makes me feel I did something right in my life to experience something like that.
Intimacy is work. It’s a long-term goal, not a short-term one. It doesn’t exactly “feel” intense or give you an immediate high, and it often cannot even be defined by two people’s ability to stare into each others’ eyes. Intimacy is in between these acts. It’s the black matter that cannot be seen, but glues the universe together. It is the daily work two people put into loving themselves, and loving the other.
And it’s not something a love addict sees value in, until the intensity of their most recent relationship wears off.
When we go after intensity we definitely know we’ve found it. We feel it, sense it, love it and, sadly, blow right through it. Intensity doesn’t last. It’s immediate gratification. A thing that children and teens consider valuable, but not emotionally mature grown-ups.
Grown-ups look to the future. They see the benefit of deferred gratification. And intimacy can only be gotten through deferred gratification. When we go after intimacy, it’s not always so clear. It means waiting. It means being patient. It means putting in long hours getting to know someone, first, before going after more intense moments. It means we will not always recognize true intimacy, but that we have to make healthy choices for ourselves, anyway. It means giving up and letting go of people who can’t possibly offer more than chaos, pain and intensity. And above all, it means that those who we do hold on to, with whom we become intimate, may not offer us the thrill of the roller coaster ride, but rather the warmth and security of being “known” without sacrificing who we are and what we value most.