For most of us, the word intimate conjures up romantic images of candlelit dinners, slow dancing, and long passionate kisses. Romantic gestures are certainly a dominant theme of intimacy, but there is more. Intimacy in the real world is the result of expressing our feelings, our personal secrets, and our deepest truths to each other. It arises when we feel cared about, accepted, and loved for our own sake, warts and all.
The word intimacy originates from the Latin word intima, which means “inner” or “innermost.” Thomas Patrick Malone writes in The Art of Intimacy, “The outstanding quality of the intimate experience is the sense of being in touch with our real selves. It allows us a fresh awareness of who, what, and how we are.”
Ideally, intimacy is a blend of emotional closeness, spiritual connectedness, and an open heart and mind. Its origin lies in intellectual collaboration and familiarity, especially with one another’s culture and interests. It may also involve shared religious or philosophical beliefs. Finally, intimacy can be an emotional response to knowing someone well by virtue of shared experiences. When we think of the word intimate we see both the word in and the word mate. That is kind of how it works: being inside another person in a way that feels as though we psychologically mate with him or her and in that way become intimate.
When we share details about our life that usually remain hidden, we are connecting in an intimate way. The extent to which we can disclose deeply private personal feelings and experiences is proportionate to how safe we feel, so safety is a requirement for intimacy as well. Of course, intimacy means different things to different people, and its meaning for us may even change over time. It can be linked with sexual closeness, but not necessarily; intimate feelings arise from shared moments of emotional connection as well as from sexual encounters. Whatever its particular nature, intimacy is the product of relationship work and the result of feeling emotionally connected to our loved one. It’s the operating principle for creating love.
As Thomas Patrick Malone eloquently makes clear, intimacy is not only about the other, it is about who we are. And the most powerful and profound awareness of who we are comes when we open our hearts to others, allowing them to touch our deepest sensitivity. In the act of risking our tender inner world, we become more of who we are because we feel touched in an untouched place.
Intimacy takes courage because we must risk expressing our deepest sense of self to create it. We may be apprehensive about opening our hearts and minds to another for fear of being judged or rejected. But the reward is immense. It is the antidote to painful loneliness. It reaches into our hearts, providing love that satisfies our need for emotional food. Our ability to establish and maintain nurturing intimate relationships is not only gratifying, it nourishes us and ultimately helps keep us sane. Our survival as a species requires that we seek connections with others and open our own inner world to them. Intimacy breaks into our isolation and intertwines our souls and, if done with tenderness and care, creates safe and secure attachments. This ability to intimately connect with others is the backbone of civilization. Intimacy is what makes us human.
Tags: Couples Dating Marriage Personal Growth Psychology relationships