Tag Archives: Intimate

Do you remember when you were young and you used to play the stare game to see who could stare at each other the longest without blinking? Granted, it was a challenge physically, but did you ever recognize, let alone remember, the feelings that came and went while you were doing it? Looking into someone else’s eyes is one of the first steps to becoming intimate with someone. And when you did, did you stop? Did you feel paranoid, self-conscious, or maybe even embarrassed? Or did you enjoy it and even get a rush from it?

There’s a lot more to intimacy than just facing off. Although, if you asked anyone of the younger generations what they thought intimacy was, the number one response you would probably receive would be, “Having sex.” So, what is intimacy? How is it different now than from what we’ve known it to be in the past? Does the younger generation really have a different understanding of what it means to be intimate from previous generations?  I believe so. Our culture has gone through a dramatic shift in how we perceive each other and how much we will let others “see into us.” What’s the difference? How could this come to be? Depending on how old we are and how we were raised, we may, even now, still have no awareness or depth in our understanding of what it means to be intimate with someone. There are many changes in the way we live that have contributed to the change in how we perceive and understand it. Let’s look first at its definition and then the history that brought it into its current generational context.

The word intimate comes from the Latin word intimus (1630s) meaning “inmost, inner most, deepest” and "closely acquainted, very familiar." We can see very easily how most people can assume that this can relate to anything sexual. Since many people are primarily physically oriented to their world, this may be the only way that they understand how to allow another to know them. Being solely oriented to the physical may be simply due to the inexperience of not having learned and accepted life in its depth yet.

Even in light of their having been experienced in intimacy, they may still purposely shut down from exposing their deepest darkest secrets to anyone else as a result of being physically or emotionally wounded.

We can all understand the second concept of being wounded but the first reason, youth, is becoming more the case as our culture socially and technologically “evolves” us into becoming more emotionally isolated. The augmentation of emotional isolation is becoming a very potent cause for many of the growing human atrocities that are taking place. Let’s take a look at how and why we have been “progressing” in this way.

If we turn back the way back machine to about sixty or seventy years ago, we see whole families living together under one roof. Imagine, if you will, that you’re twelve years old and living at home with your family. The house is fairly large. Living together are your parents, brother and sister, a pair of grandparents and an aunt and uncle. The house has four bedrooms and one bathroom. Your parents live in one room, you and your siblings share the second, your uncle and grandfather the third and your grandmother and aunt in the fourth. In one house this will be close quarters, especially with nine people sharing one bathroom. Before the 1960s, this was not uncommon.

With so many people living together, especially scattered through three generations, everyone is privy to many more varied aspects of each other’s lives than we might realize. If we were to “throw back” to living in that type of environment, many of us would feel extremely uncomfortable with the feeling that our privacy is constantly being challenged. Privacy and our luxury of having it involuntarily regulates our potential for intimacy. How? Living apart, as more and more of us do, there are more aspects of our lives that are not exposed to other members of our family. This is precisely the point that has enabled any talent, let alone the need, for intimacy to dwindle into the shallowness that it seems to be growing into.

The fact that living as an extended family together in one house does expose many of its members to each other’s private business is a catalyst enabling the necessity and our opportunity to learn, grow and become intimate with each other. If we live in close quarters with other family members, we are going to see and learn things about them that we wouldn’t have had we lived separately. This “enforced proximity” makes it necessary to learn behaviors and social protocols so everyone can comfortably live together without the threat of what we now perceive as a fear of embarrassment or exposure. Learning to be intimate in this way develops not only depth but comfortability in dealing with close personal matters that family members who live apart might never have the necessity or opportunity to experience with each other. The fear of exposure that I speak of is not only the fear of having someone know intimate details about us but the fear of them being used to manipulate us, almost like blackmail. However, this fear goes much deeper in leaving us feeling out of control with intimacy issues because when so many of us live outside of a close family group we don’t have the opportunity to learn how to handle them. When we live in close proximity of other family members, it teaches us how to deal with intimacy almost to the point where handling it becomes second nature. The younger generations who have moved out at an early age have never been trained or exposed as how to deal with the embarrassment that comes with feeling exposed, embarrassed or out of control.

Another dimension lost by living separately is that children raised in a close proximal family situation have the modeling of the adults in the family to show them how to deal with issues of intimacy. In this they learn that the world won’t end if they feel embarrassed and they witness the responses that they may choose to use to help them feel comfortable with it.

Even though technology and the internet seem to be “keeping people connected,” that connection appears to be a quality devoid of any depth in terms of how people relate to each other now. The connection seems to be one of following each other and aspiring toward independence, self-sufficiency and projected influence over others rather than any expression of anything deeper or internal. In messaging or texting very little of anything personal emerges other than a sense of belonging to a group or party affiliation. This is most evident in the political bashing that occurs on Facebook. What is the least obvious to the average individual are the clues that are lost when we relate to one another in person. That is, expressions, body language and the overall feel that can be picked up from each other in person are completely lost when either messaging or texting. Most of us have seen how easily our meaning and intention can be completely misinterpreted through the generic transcription that messaging and texting provide. What’s both sad and frightening is that our youth not only lives in their phones and cyberspace but perceives this method as being an “expression” of what they perceive as personal emotional depth. Having never been raised in closely enforced proximity to their family and others, how could they ever know that anything’s been lost?

Another contributor to the fading of intimacy is speed. The faster we move, the less time we have to think or assess what we’re feeling, let alone where it’s coming from or why. These days, everything has to be done at top speed. If you’re not fast, you’re accused of being not smart enough, slow on the uptake, have no ambition or even lazy.

It’s sad but many years ago salesmen were trained how to create the “bum’s rush” to push their customers off kilter so they would be inclined to make hasty decisions in the salesman’s favor while not understanding the implications or limits involved in what they were buying. When was the last time you encountered a used car salesman? We all know that when we are in a rush or get pushed into a rush, we often forget or not notice things that might be important. How can we recognize and listen to our feelings when we always feel like we’re being pushed or in a lather trying to get things done at lightning speed? At lightning speed, thoroughness becomes a virtual impossibility. These days most people have no patience with themselves, let alone with anyone else. Hype has become the heart’s enemy.   Intimacy requires patience.

The ability to know and feel intimacy has all but disappeared from our socially learned pantheon of recognized behaviors. Machismo and posturing have taken their place as the primary defense mechanism and as a distraction from the exposure of our perceived embarrassment or exposure. Due to the loss of becoming unable to experience or understand intimacy, almost all measures of humility, compassion and appreciation have rapidly been replaced with feelings of entitlement, outrage, persecution and belittlement. These operate as a distraction from our perceived exposure simply because we’ve never learned to handle the intimacy that allows for their proper integration and development. Most of the younger generations, although they’d never admit it, are now afraid of intimacy since their inability to handle it now signals such a threat for embarrassment through the exposure of their sensed but unrecognized lack of experience in being open with people. Because most of the younger generation hasn’t had the experience of living in the close proximity with an extended family and learning how to deal with intimacy, their perception and scope of it has been reduced to seeing and feeling it almost solely as an expression of sex.

Being intimate with another includes trusting others with our hopes, fears and perceived inadequacies while putting ourselves at the mercy of their potential manipulation and hoping instead that they will express their love by allowing our frailties to go acknowledged and unabused. Perhaps much of the violence perpetrated by so many is a reaction to their feeling of isolation and being exposed to the point of having to trust others by being intimate.

Holding Hands-1Simply answered; it’s when we have allowed ourselves to become vulnerable to the person we are having the relationship with. This also includes our enemies. But, I’ll explain that later. Let’s first look at what it means to be intimate and vulnerable.

The word intimate dates way back to the 1630s and simply means closely acquainted and very familiar. It wasn’t until the 1640s that the meaning was set to include a euphemism for sexual intercourse. Contemporarily, if you were to say that you are intimate with someone their most likely assumption would be that you are having sex. But that wasn’t always what was assumed. Most people in this day and age, especially those younger, have no understanding of the depth involved in intimacy other than having sex. This will take a little explaining relative to its evolution over the last forty years. Let’s start with the definition and its connection to our vulnerability.

Being intimate or having intimate knowledge about someone is not volatile in itself. It’s what we are able to do with what we know about them that makes another person susceptible to injury by our influence. If we know something about a person’s history or fears and use that to change another's perspective about the person we are intimate with, the knowledge we have about them makes them vulnerable to injury by us and the person we are telling.

Other than our physical body, the places that we are unsure about in ourselves, feel our disabilities and pending decisions are the places that we are the most vulnerable to injury. When we are with someone we deeply care about we slowly divulge our wishes, fears and uncertainties, first, as we begin to trust them and second, in the hopes that they will be able to assist us in resolving and stabilizing them within us. It’s this vulnerability that I see as the qualifying dynamic giving meaning to being truly intimate with someone.

Now that we have a clearer understanding about intimacy and its symbiotic relationship with vulnerability, let’s take a look at the last forty years to see how and why its definition has evolved.

The number one factor in developing an understanding of intimacy has been the family and its slow disappearance. For those of us who are a little older, this will be a little easier to comprehend since we’ve been through both “time zones.”

Family Crowd-1Imagine, if you will, that you’re twelve years old and living at home with your family. The house is fairly large. Living together are your parents, brother and sister, a pair of grandparents and an aunt and uncle. The house has four bedrooms and two bathrooms. Your parent live in one room, you and your siblings share the second, your uncle and grandfather the third and your grandmother and aunt in the fourth. In one house this will be close quarters, especially with nine people sharing two bathrooms. In the 1940s and 50s and before, this was not uncommon.

With so many people living together, especially scattered through three generations, everyone would be privy to many more varied aspects of each other's lives than we now are on our contemporary settings with everyone living in separate homes. If we were to “throw back” to living in that type of environment, most of us would have a big problem with privacy. And, there’s a reason for this. Privacy and our luxury of having it involuntarily regulates our potential for intimacy. Living apart, there are aspects of our lives that are not exposed to other members of our family. This is precisely the point that enabled intimacy to change and how it is that we perceive it today.

eye-through-key-hole-spyingThe fact that living as an extended family together in one house does expose all its members to each other's private business is the catalyst that enables the necessity and our opportunity to learn, grow and become intimate with each other. If we are in close quarters with other members of our family, we are going to see and learn things about them that we wouldn’t if we had lived apart. This “enforced proximity” makes it necessary to develop behaviors and understandings so everyone can comfortably live together without the threat of what we now know and fear as exposure. Learning intimacy in this way develops not only depth but a comfortability in dealing with close personal matters that families who live apart might never have the necessity or opportunity to experience. The fear of exposure that I speak of is not only the fear of having someone know intimate details about us and to use them to manipulate us, much like being blackmailed, but a fear that has much deeper roots leaving us to feel out of control with our intimacy issues because we haven’t learned to handle them. Had we lived in close proximity with our family when we were growing up we would have learned to deal with them almost to the point where handling them became second nature due to our early familiarity and training. The younger generations don’t know how to deal with the embarrassment that comes with feeling exposed or out of control. The development of humility is a quality that comes with being trained to deal with embarrassment and with the loss of intimacy has all but disappeared from our contemporary and socially learned rapport. Machismo and posturing have taken their place as a defense mechanism and as a distraction from the exposure of our perceived inadequacy. Most all measures of humility, compassion and appreciation have been replaced with feelings of entitlement, outrage, persecution and belittlement simply because we’ve never learned the intimacy that allows for their development. Most of the younger generations are now afraid of intimacy since their inability to handle it now signals such a threat for embarrassment through the exposure of their perceived inadequacy when their learning to handle it could have led toward learning to trust themselves and their intuition in relationships.

So, what can we do to increase our ability to become more intimate in our personal relationships without feeling threatened? We can find ways to disarm feelings of inadequacy that we might feel such a strong urge to defend, hide and compensate for. When we have accomplished this we will be able to trust ourselves more and in doing so a natural offshoot  will be toward allowing others to have their opinions of us even if they disagree with what we believe about ourselves. In becoming stronger in trusting ourselves the urge to defend ourselves will diminish and depending on how well we do, the urge will, most likely, altogether just fall away.

compassion-1Learning that it is not a weakness to have or show humility, compassion or appreciation is the first step in learning to become more intimate with others. We must slowly work our way back. Learning to trust ourselves is the first step. We must learn to become strong enough in our assessment of ourselves so we can share these qualities without fear of feeling used or diminished. It is then that our intimacy with others will naturally deepen and become the enriching encouragement that, once again, allows for the expression of our love.