Intimacy is something we all, as humans, long for. We need it to feel complete. We often actively seek it out. But what exactly is it?
What is Intimacy?If you're like most people, you would probably answer that question with something like romance and/or sex. And, this isn't exactly wrong. But it isn't complete either. First - let me state that it is not sex. Yes, sex and intimacy can be linked - but it is possible to have sex without intimacy. And, it is also possible to have intimacy without sex.
That said, let's get back to defining intimacy. I found one definition that broke the word down to "Into Me See". What does this mean? I found one source online that described it quite nicely:
“Intimacy isn’t strictly about romantic relationships, or even relations with family — sometimes it happens quickly, and often times in ways we hardly notice.Another definition I found (which I'm paraphrasing since I can't remember the exact wording or the site I found it on):
I’m talking about that moment when someone allows the world to see what’s inside… what they are really about. It’s about seeing someone for who and what they are and that the glimpse was offered either voluntarily or without the person’s knowledge. This is an incredible moment where our existence suddenly makes sense and all comes together in a singular place.
For those of you who have experienced this, it’s something that never gets lost in memory or time. It’s like a little mirror we take out every now and then to remember a time when something so complex became so inconceivably simple. It’s pretty incredible.” Hugh MacLeod http://www.gapingvoidart.com/gallery/soul/
Intimacy is feeling safe in being vulnerable with someone; it's about being truly seen.
And, intimacy comes in several different forms. In researching this topic, I found that many sources didn't fully agree on how many different types of intimacy there are. One even had it broke down into 16 different types. But, most of the sites agreed on the following five:
IntellectualIntellectual intimacy is when two people are able to share their thoughts and ideas with each other openly and comfortably. It's about being able to safely express your thoughts on life, where you'd like to travel, what your favorite book is and why. It's about enjoying and accepting the thoughts of each other, whether you agree or disagree on the topic at hand. It's letting another person see the real you in regards to your thoughts.
EmotionalEmotional intimacy is when two people are able to openly and comfortably share their feelings with each other. It's when they can empathize with the other person's feelings. It's trying to understand and be aware of the other person's emotions. It's feeling safe being vulnerable with that person.
ExperientialExperiential intimacy is where two people involve themselves in activities with each other - going for walks, watching movies, painting a house side by side. There doesn't need to be any talking or touching involved - it's just an enjoyment and comfort of being able to share experiences together.
SpiritualSpiritual intimacy is when two people are able to safely tell each other about their own spirituality. There doesn't have to be an agreement on what their spiritual beliefs are (i.e. one friend can be agnostic or atheist and the other Christian), but there is an understanding and an ability to comfortably discuss the topic with each other. It's also about being able to share spiritual things together where there is an agreement... such as praying together, or attending church together.
PhysicalPhysical/sexual intimacy is the most common thing we think of when it comes to intimacy. This is the intimacy where we display our affection for another person in physical activities including sex itself, but can also be cuddling, kissing, touching, etc. As with all the other intimacies, there is a comfort and safety in allowing yourself to be vulnerable; there is an understanding of what the other wants and needs.
Intimacy in MarriageA healthy, strong marriage will often have some degree of intimacy in each of the 5 categories above. And, it's beneficial to try to strengthen each of these categories. A marriage that only has a strong physical intimacy, and lacks the other 4, may not last long... just as a marriage that only has a strong experiential intimacy probably won't last (it's great that you two can both comfortably share in the experience of taking walks together... but if there isn't any trust/closeness emotionally, or ability to discuss your thoughts with each other, those walks are eventually going to grow stagnant).
Intimacy in a Platonic RelationshipIntimacy in platonic relationships doesn't have the physical (or, at least, the sexual) aspect. But they can have any of the others. One site I stumbled on tonight stated it better than I can:
Intimacy is a concept not exclusive to romance. I think it's also a potential descriptor of high-wattage interactions, feelings, and trust between two platonic friends....
...Here's one possible sign of intimacy: When you're with this friend, does your best and most natural self come out? Does being the person you want to be become effortless?
Intimacy in friendships is one of those things that you can get along fine without but miss once you've experienced it. Most people I know who maintain deep, intimate friendships value these relationships more highly than their ever-growing list of weak ties. Peak human experiences seem to happen in conjunction with intimate, soul-nourishing relationships.
So Much More to Say
The topic of intimacy really isn't something that can be fully completed or understood in one blog post. This is going to end up being a series of posts (how many, at this point, I am uncertain). This one simply touched on the definition of intimacy. Next, we will discuss the definition and different types of love, and how they interact with intimacy. And, there will be a third, discussing the importance of understanding these differences and how they look in our real life.