What is Real Intimacy?

Intimacy means self-disclosure and self-revelation.

Put another way, it means transparency. It means tremendous openness, candidness, honesty.

Our capacity for intimacy with another is determined by and limited by our level of intimacy (or openness and honesty) with ourselves.

When we are just starting out in adult life and love, part of our desire for intimacy with another is driven by our misplaced desire for self-intimacy—self-knowledge, to know and figure out ourselves. But instead of wanting to actually get down to the labor and messiness of understanding ourselves and coming to better know ourselves, we opt for the seemingly easier and more conventional and natural route of expecting another person to know and understand us.

Thus the all too common complaint in relationships—”You don’t understand me.”

The truth, more likely, is that the person him- or herself who is saying/complaining, “You don’t understand me” actually equally, if not more so, doesn’t understand him- or herself and doesn’t understand why he or she is doing what she’s doing, saying what she’s saying, behaving as he or she is. And moreover, the person doing the complaining/lamenting (“You don’t understand me”) is in all likelihood doing little to express him- or herself clearly or to in anyway improve the situation/interaction/relationship by trying to be more clear, understandable, reflective, et cetera.

“You don’t understand me” means I don’t understand myself, nor do I know how to, yet I expect you to, and I expect you to do so perfectly and in place of me.

In other words, “You don’t understand me,” is the dodge of an ego trying to preserve itself and avoid light—the light of scrutiny, examination, potential truth, et cetera.

If understanding were truly the aim, then the person doing the complaining would work harder to be clearer and more understandable—the person would be more pensive and thoughtful, instead of complaining and making matters worse and more obfuscated—and the person would be willing to truly see him- or herself, not just the good parts, but all parts of the buffalo.

You don’t understand me is the lament/complaint of someone who is confused and has regressed (momentarily or longer) to the state of a child or adolescent psychologically and who is no longer willing to be an adult-equal in a relationship—meaning, thinking, reflecting, scrutinizing oneself and the other with equal passion or dispassion.

Thus the first duty of intimacy is getting to know ourselves—which means penetrating through our own shells and masks and false-selves, penetrating through our own deception, bs, guises—and seeing ourselves as we are, as best as we can.

Which means owning up to our fears, anxieties, past, wounds, biases, et cetera. Until we know ourselves, and know ourselves deeply, we will not have the necessary tools to know and understand another.

Or put another way, we can only pierce and know and understand another to the extent that we know ourselves.

Thus as we come to know ourselves more deeply and meaningfully, we also become more available and better able to know another as deeply and meaningfully, and to pair up with another who knows him- or herself as deeply as we know ourselves.

That desire is a desire for—and signifies a real readiness for—true intimacy.

Thus the more real self-awareness and self-knowledge and understanding we have of ourselves, the more likely we will be to be able to connect deeply with another—to actually understand another and to be able to have the courage and self-trust necessary to reveal ourselves to another.

One further important consideration: our level of intimacy with ourselves—and thus our potential for intimacy with another—is also predicated by our level of intimacy with life and the bigger questions and mysteries in life, and whether they’re still in fact mysteries and questions at all for us, or whether they’ve been ignored and denied out of convention or fear, or whether they’re no longer in fact even questions anymore due to the intellectual suicide of dogmatic beliefs.

If—when—we are truly ready and able to be open and intimate with another, we will first have learned how to be truly open and intimate with ourselves and to be honest with ourselves about what we fear, what we’re anxious about, what terrifies us, and we will be willing to bear our scrutiny and others’ in these sensitive tender areas. When we no longer habitually or automatically cloak ourselves routinely in a swaddle of denial and self-deception and avoidance and discursive unexamined thinking, but instead have slowed down and opened ourselves and our own thinking to some real honest self-scrutiny and self-examination, then we’re ready to finally be open to and intimate with someone else and be good to him or her.

“[The] peril is that the human intellect is free to destroy itself. Just as one generation could prevent the very existence of the next generation by all entering a monastery or jumping into the sea, so one set of thinkers can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no validity in any human thought. . . . There is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped. That is the ultimate evil. . . .” G. K. Chesterton, “Orthodoxy,” pg. 33


“Those who are willing to be vulnerable move among mysteries.” – Theodore Roethke


“[H]ave patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” – Rilke, “Letters to a Young Poet,” Letter # 4


About John

I am a married, 46-year old, Midwesterner, with four children. My primary interest is in leading a very examined and decent and Loving life; my interests that are related to this and that feed into this include (and are not limited to) -- psychology, philosophy, poetry, critical thinking, photography, soccer, tennis, chess, bridge.
This entry was posted in G. K. Chesterton, Intimacy, Intimate Relationships, Living the Questions, Mental Health, Real Love, Rilke, Theodore Roethke, Waking Up, What is Love? and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to What is Real Intimacy?

  1. That last quote is one of my favourites.

  2. Pingback: Intimacy for the People | eitheory.com

  3. Pingback: Intimacy « tryingtofindserenity

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