Intimacy among animals

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It started with what seemed like a simple question I asked myself. That question, not surprisingly for anyone who knows me, led to a series of additional questions. Somehow, I wasn’t getting clear answers for myself, so I started asking people I came in contact with the same questions. The results were fascinating to me and I wanted to explore the topic more fully. The basic question: “What does intimacy mean to you?

The range of responses was wide and varied. I included both men and women, different ages, some were in relationships and others were not. Most people had to stop for a moment to really think about and put into words what intimacy meant to them. As I looked more deeply at the topic, I found that there are in fact four key types of intimacy.

What Does Intimacy Mean to You?

The people I asked generally started with the most common of the four types of intimacy: Sexual. This wasn’t too much of a surprise because sexual intimacy is probably the most stereotypical and most familiar definition of the word in modern society. Having sex, however, often has less to do with intimacy than with a physical act between people. As it ended up, the people I talked to wanted more than just the act of sex — they wanted some depth. They wanted to feel safe while being vulnerable, wanting to be seen by his/her partner. That made sense, as this form of intimacy also includes a wide range of sensuous activity and sensual expression, so it’s much more than having intercourse.

It’s interesting that the word intercourse is also defined as an “exchange especially of thoughts or feelings.” It’s curious why intimacy is challenging to people in their relationships. I continued to look further.

Connecting Emotionally

The next of the four faces of intimacy is emotional intimacy.This happens when two people feel comfortable sharing their feelings with each other. The goal is to try to be aware and understand the other person’s emotional side. My guess is that women have an easier time with this in very close female friendships, but I’d like to believe that men too are becoming more comfortable experiencing emotional intimacy. This form of intimacy I’ve become comfortable with and see as a healthy part of the give-and-take in all relationships, whether female or male.

Margaret Paul, Ph.D, refers to the fears people have in relation to emotional intimacy. She says, “Many people have two major fears that may cause them to avoid intimacy: the fear of rejection (of losing the other person), and the fear of engulfment (of being invaded, controlled, and losing oneself).” This made some sense to me.

Love and Intimacy

However, if we believe that there are only two major energies we humans experience, love and fear (or an absence of love), then I find it interesting that in this area of intimacy, it seems people have moved from their hearts and love to an energy that stops them from experiencing their true essence and what they often yearn for the most. Love and intimacy.

In her book A Return to Love, the brilliant Marianne Williamson says it most eloquently:

“Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we have learned here. The spiritual journey is the relinquishment or unlearning of fear and the acceptance of love back into our hearts. Love is our ultimate reality and our purpose on earth. To be consciously aware of it, to experience love in ourselves and others, is the meaning of life.”

Even the Bible says, “There is no fear where love exists.” Of course I believe that love and intimacy are highly spiritual. In her book Love for No Reason, Marci Shimoff states, “Love for no reason is your natural state.” She also tells a wonderful story about a spiritual teacher who once said to her, “I love you and it’s no concern of yours.” To love, from your heart, just to love. As I talked about in my piece on what makes a good relationship, my ideal is definitely a loving spiritual partnership.

True Intimacy

I kept wondering if true intimacy could be as simple as a matter of moving back to loving ourselves first? To rediscovering the unconditional love we all were born with? The idea of self-intimacy and self-love is a fascinating concept. I’ll leave these as open-ended questions for you to ask yourselves for now. I was curious to look more closely at the other two types of intimacy.Intellectual Intimacy_conversation between men

 

The next, intellectual intimacy, is something I personally have the most comfort with. This one is about communication, and as someone who lives and breathes words, it’s extremely familiar to me. The ability to share ideas in an open and comfortable way can lead to a very intimate relationship indeed, as I’m fortunate to discover quite frequently. As someone who engages in this type of interaction all the time, it offers me a wonderful and fulfilling form of intimacy. I wondered if this was my strongest area of intimacy.

Experiential Intimacy

The fourth kind of intimacy is experiential intimacy, an intimacy of activity. I realized I experience this every time I get together with a group to create art in a silent process. It’s about letting the art unfold, by working together in co-operation. The essence of this intimate activity is that very little is said to each other, it’s not a verbal sharing of thoughts or feelings, but it’s more about involving yourself in the activity and feeling an intimacy from this involvement.

During a recent encounter I had at a contact improv jam, I realized was actually this form of intimacy. I interacted with a young man, letting our body energy lead the dance, with no eye contact and no words, just movement in a sensual and open, if not dramatic, dance. So, I understood that this experiential intimacy is also, somewhat surprisingly, in my intimacy vocabulary.Intimacy_experiential

 Joining and Separating

Rick Hanson, Ph.D