Exploring those Rare Moments When You're Actually On the Same Page With Another Person
Article by LiveReal Agent Mary
The word "intimacy" comes up, most of the time, unfortunately, when we feel a lack of it and a hunger for it. We tend to feel that "lack of intimacy" is a problem, and assume that the solution is to, somehow, "experience more intimacy."
But what is "intimacy," anyway? How do we experience it? Why is it so rare? Why does it appear sometimes, and why does it vanish?
What is "Intimacy"?
For starters, let's go over what intimacy is not.
It's not loneliness. It's not the casual shoulder-patting and bum-slapping of chums. It's not being physically close to other physical bodies. (The most alienated, non-intimate moments of life can happen when you are physically close to other folks - even folks have known for years.)
So it's . . . something deeper, more invisible, more intangible, more subtle.
It's an experience of . . . something that's more powerful than casual companionship. It can involve "getting to know another person," but it's more mysterious than, say, simply learning their life histories and secrets. It's more than simply being vulnerable in front of another person. It's not limited to people who you really know well, because sometimes intimacy is more common with strangers than it is with someone you've known for a long time.
Yet . . . there's something about the experience of what we call "intimacy" - whatever it is - that is precious and powerful enough enough to affect people so deeply that its effects can linger for years. Those effects can be more powerful than the hardest drugs - and just as addictive.
Why Do We Hunger For It?
Why aren't we satisfied with nice, normal, ordinary relationships? Why do we hunger for intense experiences of intimacy?
There are plenty of evolutionary, sociobiological, psychological, and biological theories about it all, but for now, we'll just say this:
And often, that search takes the form of a search for intimacy.
After all, we've probably experienced moments of intimacy that seemed like "This is IT" - I've found IT!"
- and then it fades, and later, we want that experience again.
But if intimacy is "IT" . . . then why is it so rare? Why does it fade? Why do people even avoid it?
We are going to look at two situations:
first, the person who avoids experiencing intimacy;
secondly, the person who wants to experience it, but isn't.
- and what we discover is that "intimacy" is strongly connected to some bigger issues . . .
Why Does It Vanish?
Often we'll experience profound, intense, even life-altering moments with a person . . . and then, in time, they fade and vanish.
Folks come up with a lot of different answers to this question - we imagine that we're with the "wrong person," there isn't enough money, religious differences, in-laws, the breakdown of church and family, sexual incompatibility,
. . . and so on.
This can sometimes be important factors . . . but more often, we believe that the above issues are relatively minor compared to the real reason it vanishes...
Why do we lack intimacy?
Why do we even deliberately avoid it, and push it away?
Many folks who long for intimacy assume that intimacy is completely good, powerfully fulfilling, and totally desirable ...
- but in fact, there is another side to it: intimacy, when it's real, is also seriously terrifying.
So we not only desire it, but we fear it as well.
This creates the dilemma: on the one hand, we desire it. On the other hand, we fear it. So we're driving with one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake.
". . . people are faced with a basic dilemma:
They must choose between investing in relationships
and remaining vulnerable to possible loss and rejection,
or attempting to protect themselves by retreating to an inward, defensive posture.
This dilemma is analogous
to the one facing all human beings:
the choice between fully investing in life despite its temporal nature,
or accommodating to death, and defending against death anxiety
by limiting one's gratifications
and denying one's enthusiasm for life."
- Robert Firestone and Joyce Catlett
This "dilemma of intimacy" is a variation on a theme, that theme being a more central dilemma of human nature - and, not surprisingly, one that is suspiciously similar to a possibly identical dilemma that comes up on the search for "spiritual enlightenment" . . .
This role of "dilemma" plays out as well in another way as well, which we will explore below, we we investigate "who" in intimacy gets "obsessed" with "who."
Yet is it still puzzling - if intimacy is such a good thing, then why do so many people avoid it?
Why Avoid Intimacy?
In our search for answers to these admittedly hard questions, we'll admit, it's been difficult to find clear, straight, self-evident answers. When this happens either our trail runs cold, or we're forced to come up with what is essentially our best guess on the matter. And that's where we've arrived in this particular hunt.
So here, we're going to put our own thoughts - we can call them speculations - out there, to sink or swim on their own merit.
Here's the way we see it:
Real intimacy, when it happens, is not merely being psychologically or emotionally close to another person.
Intimacy after all, is something that many see as incredibly valuable. Inspiring, even; fulfilling, life-enhancing, meaningful, joyful, enriching, "the stuff that makes life worth living."
We could describe this as a glimpse of something more.
That's it: intimacy can be a window. A window to...something.
After all, the effects of all these things - fulfilling, life-enhancing, meaningful, joyful, enriching, etc- can be the same.
And here's the trick: that - when it's the real thing - terrifies the living tar out of us.
. . . because it essentially means tasting, however momentarily . . . death.
". . . men and women are faced with a truly fundamental dilemma:
above all else, each person wants true transcendence . . .
but, above all else, each person fears the loss of the separate self,
the "death" of the isolated ego or subject.
All a person wants is Wholeness,
but all he does is fear and resist it . . .
And there is the fundamental double-bind in the face of eternity,
the ultimate knot in the heart of the separate self."
- Ken Wilber
"Our primordial fear is not of being hated.
In fact, it's just the opposite.
Our primordial fear is actually of being loved so completely
that our experience of separation from others
will dissolve entirely
and we'll disappear.
The ego's survival depends on the existence of the "Other."
In fact, that's exactly what makes the "Other" so very significant.
We just don't want to be alone.
Ironically, our other fear of being alone
is only an external manifestation of the inner fear of being "all-ONE."
- Chuck Hillig
"The stronger a person's "I"
the smaller his capacity to become one with anybody.
The "I" is a wall in between.
It proclaims itself. Its proclamation is, "You are you and I am I.
There is a distance between the two."
Then, no matter how much "I" may love you,
no matter how "I" may hold you close, still we are two.
No matter how closely we meet, still there is a gap -
I am I and you are you.
That is why even the most intimate experiences
fail to bring people close.
Bodies sit close to each other, but the persons remain far away.
As long as there is the "I" inside,
the sense of the "other" cannot be dissolved."
So the fear of intimacy is not solely a fear of being close to another person, but is based on larger existential issues. Intimacy brings us into a confrontation with these core existential issues - the death of ego.
The Role of "Ego"
What is "ego", anyway?
For the purposes of this discussion, we will assume the following:
1) Basically every "normal" person has it - every person has "ego."
2) "Ego" for now can be defined as "self-obsession," or being obsessed with oneself (however that person defines "oneself").
3) This means that at some level, however conscious or unconscious, the "normal" person-with-ego secretly thinks that he or she is, almost literally, the center of the universe. After all, to be honest, when thousands die in a faraway place, "I" don't ultimately care too much; but when "I" get a splinter in my finger, I care a great deal.
With these puzzle pieces in place, we can now examine how this plays out with "intimacy."
When two people get involved with each other to experience intimacy, given the above premises, inherent conflict in built-in from the start: after all, if two people, each of whom is self-obsessed, and so secretly (or not so secretly) thinks that he or she is the center of the universe . . . sooner or later, at least one of them must discover that they can't both be right.
Then the battle begins. Which reveal how most folks apparently understand "intimacy" - an understanding which, though normally unspoken, says something like this: "I want you to be as obsessed with me as I am with myself."
Then the battle plays out, usually with unfortunate consequences, in one of three different scenarios: 1) the battle rages back and forth, each person wanting to be "the center," with no clear winner or loser, until they both give up and end the relationship; 2) one person "wins" the battle (although they both actually seem to lose), which means the "winner" becoming the center for both people and the "loser" becoming codependent, transferring their self-obsession into obsession with the "winner".
If neither of these options sounds too attractive . . . I agree. Neither option is attractive.
But perhaps the third option - the only one that seems desirable - will do the trick, and solve this most difficult problem: 3) each person involved approaches the relationship with the goal of becoming free of their own self-obsession, or with the goal of becoming more free of their own ego. The the relationship, among other things, become much less about "who" is right, and become much more about what is right.
How is this done?
What To Do?
For the person who is avoiding intimacy - and wants to stop avoiding it - what they can "do" is a certain type of inner work.
The strategies for avoiding intimacy manifest in different styles depending on one's emotional condition. The process of learning to experience intimacy, then, is essentially a practice of overcoming one's conditioning . . .
- or in another way, overcoming the fear of the death of one's ego.
For the person who is longing for intimacy - especially from a specific person - but isn't experiencing it . . .
- the practice is similar in ways but also slightly different. The problem is more one of overcoming loneliness., and believing that intimacy from another person - especially one specific person - is "IT". The other person can experience this as smothering, suffocating neediness that threatens to suck the life right out of them, and naturally, they back away, which causes more lack of intimacy, which causes more neediness, which causes more . . .
...which involves not just a website, but a way of life.
Of course, this is a broad and general overview,
and we've barely made some scratches
on a huge, huge topic.
And we definitely plan to dig deeper, clarify more, and hopefully get a little closer...
See more on "Fear of Intimacy" here