Loss of intimacy is painful.

The truth is that people get hurt in intimate relationships and when we get hurt, it all seems to boil down to someone breaking the rules on us. Unfortunately, the rules that are being broken are often ones we create in our minds rather than ones we agree on with our intimate partners.

Rule #1: Certain relationships are supposed to be intimate.

Sometimes the rules are ones we invent about how relationships are supposed to be. When people we think we should be having an intimate relationship with don’t let us in, that is painful. That withholding feels like a rejection.

So often in life our expectations of others are what cause much of our suffering. We never have their signed agreement for what we are going to hold them to, and yet we hold them to it. When they don’t show up as outlined in the contract, we are disappointed and hurt. But really, aren’t we responsible for that? That is our story, our invention. We don’t have to see it as a rejection.

It can be equally frustrating when one of the people in a relationship that has never had true intimacy suddenly wants it. That feels like the rules are being broken, too. Hey, we never agreed to be intimate. Why are you ruining everything now?

Rule #2: Once intimate, always intimate

Sometimes it feels like there was an agreement that has suddenly been breached. We have known intimacy with another person. They let us in, at least a little. We responded and the dance began. And then, they push us out and slam the door or close it gently when we’re not paying attention or shut it slowly and painfully. When that sacred exchange ends, it can feel like a promise has been broken.

But there was never a promise. Even when we have an intimate connection with somebody, neither person is agreeing to remain intimate forever. Two people can even honor a marriage bond until death, but end the intimacy dance at any time or even never begin it at all. Without knowing it, you might assume that promise when you have become intimate with someone. That makes the suffering that much worse when you are shut out.

This has happened to me.  Once I made a beautiful friend who I adored. We had genuine love. We were close. I can’t tell you what she might have said about her experience of our friendship. I can only tell you my experience of it and it felt intimate, like I let her in and she let me in and we were engaged in the dance. We spent a summer apart and when we were back together again, things were different. I didn’t know why. I just felt the distance and felt it gradually widen between us, and I could feel that the door had been shut on me.

The whole experience hurt so much. It was one of the most painful moments in my life story, and the source of the pain was the loss of intimacy. One moment the door was open and the next, the dance was over. I had assumed it would go on for always (or at least for as long as I was open).

I felt like I wasn’t worth letting in anymore, like it was a rejection of who I was. That shut me down for a long time.

When something like that happens, we could just accept that the dance is over and the other person is moving on, because it is time for them to do that. We could stand steady in the belief that there will be other intimate relationships and those, too, may not last but will be a wonderful experience. But we don’t. We feel discarded, unworthy. Something must be wrong with us that their door is closed, and they’ve shut us out.

The pain of that can cause us to retreat and close our own door, hesitant to open it again. We might even lock it and turn the lights off. That was my response. It took me a long time to be willing to open myself up again. I’m always impressed with people who can get back in the game more quickly than I did, especially when they come back fully open. It is beautiful to watch when someone suffers a hurt, nurses their wound, and then is able to open up and go all in the next time. I am inspired by that. I aspire to that.

What if we were able to release these rules? What if we were able to believe there are no guarantees of intimacy in a friendship, marriage, or partnership, while still remaining open to the possibilities? What if we were able to accept the end of intimacy with the simple notion that it had run its course? What if we could navigate all of this without connecting it to our worthiness, or as a rejection of who we are?

That would be beautiful, wouldn’t it?