Intimacy is sharing each other’s truths.
Intimacy is when you open the door to who you really are, the real self that lies behind the ego, and welcome someone inside. Maybe you don’t show her around the entire house, but she gets to see parts of you that are authentic. It is an offering where you surrender your safety to show another person the real you.
In order to make it true intimacy, the other person opens his door and welcomes you in. It requires a shared action. You have to invite her in and say, “Let me show you this about me.” That takes courage and often means taking a risk, but someone has to begin the intimacy dance. And, it must be reciprocal. Each offering is accepted and another invitation is offered.
The starting point of intimacy involves risk and vulnerability. If you are the first one to open your door and extend an invitation, you let go of safety because you also invite the possibility of everything you fear.
- You may be invisible. That person may refuse to look around and see your truth. He chooses to be blind to you.
- You may be rejected. She may insist that she is seeing something else entirely so that she can stay comfortable even though it is not the truth of who you are.
- You may be abandoned. He may be willing to feel your truth and accept your offering, but be unwilling to open his own door to you. And thus, there is no intimacy. You are left there alone.
But if the risk pays off, the other person accepts your offering and invites you through her door, you must meet her in the same way. You have to recognize that she is willing to take that risk in return and decide to accept her truth, too. You might see something that makes you feel uncomfortable, even afraid. But if you truly desire intimacy with her, you must also accept her offering. When you do, this becomes a sacred exchange. In an energetic sense, you are offering and accepting a piece of each other’s most true self. It is a connection between your spirits who are connected to a universal energy, a truly beautiful thing.
This is why it is so utterly painful to lose that intimacy with another person. And why it is agony to try to offer yourself to someone and never be able to create that intimate connection. I can relate so many heartaches in my life to moments where I so badly wanted intimacy that didn’t exist or intimacy that was somehow lost.
So far, I’ve been talking about intimacy between adults. These are romantic relationships, friendships, and the family relationships you have once everyone has grown up. Intimacy is a little different between a child and an adult. It isn’t always appropriate for a parent to share his or her big adult secrets with a child. What a child needs is to feel genuine and real loving emotions from a parent. He needs to know that what he is feeling and being told is the truth. He also needs to feel his secrets are safe and that he will be accepted for who he is.
I remember very clearly the first intimate relationship I ever had. Entering high school, I had never experienced intimacy. I didn’t know how to do it or what it felt like. The result of transitioning from Catholic school to public school between junior high and high school was that I didn’t know anybody. I had no friend to walk with through that experience. Before school started, the freshman were instructed to go to the school, pick up our schedules, find our lockers, and give ourselves a self-directed orientation to the campus.
On pick-up-your-schedule day, my mom sent me to the school to go through all of those tasks alone. Maybe I told her I wanted to go alone, maybe she thought I wouldn’t want a mom tagging along, maybe she was busy (I do have four younger siblings). I don’t remember. I just know that I ended up there by myself – totally not a problem for an independent girl like me. Until I got to my locker. I never had a locker before. How the hell do you open a locker? I couldn’t get the damn thing open.
As I struggled, an angel appeared. That’s all I remember. She helped me open my locker and from then on, we became inseparable. We told our secrets and shared our truths. She accepted everything about me I chose to show her. I accepted all of her offerings. That was the closest I ever felt to someone in my life up until that point.
A few years later, our intimacy was interrupted. I say interrupted, because we always manage to make it back to each other. It felt like we were simultaneously not opening up to each other and also not letting each other in, and both of us were utterly perplexed about the whole thing. She was suddenly angry at me and I didn’t know why. I was angry, because she wouldn’t tell me why. But when all was said and done, she really needed me to accept her offering and I really needed her to open the door. Sometimes teenagers (and intimate partners everywhere) just don’t know how to do that.
But I remember how much it hurt. Once you’ve established that intimacy, nothing feels worse than to feel its absence, the hole where it once was. Looking back, it was like I was on the outside of the door knocking desperately yelling, “Let me in, let me in!” while she stood on the inside of the door trying with all her might to open it yelling, “I’m trying, I’m trying. I don’t know how!” But that is from where I stand now, looking back. At the time, all either of us heard from the other person was silence.
At other times in my intimate relationships I have wanted in but was too hurt to ask. And I have also closed my own door and refused to open it even when I’m hearing the pounding on the other side.
In fact, one of my big life realizations was that I had been standing on my porch with my door securely locked behind me for years, making polite conversation with everyone, visiting them as they opened their doors for me, but almost never letting anyone into my truth. I reluctantly let a few people slip through, but only a few.
That is no way to live and it is no way to love. I know that now. Love requires risk and vulnerability, and intimacy most certainly does.