I am here today to voice my opinion that in the last few decades, there has been a devolution of the word ‘intimacy’ to come to represent a form of coercion. Intimacy refers to a degree of closeness – as related to those family or friends who knew us well. It also refers to sexual relations between partners, as this is considered to be of the closest of personal interactions. But in the last 30 years or so, the field of psychology has taken this word and run with it – placing great importance in intimacy as being a mutual goal of couples. This has created an atmosphere of almost demanding that innermost thoughts and ideas be shared with one’s partner, and vice versa, in an almost tit-for-tat fashion. It was touted as “mature” and “honest” to expose yourself on command if your partner asked it of you. But on closer examination, what this really encourages is manipulation, insecurity, and dependency between partners rather than enlightenment and trust. To demand that someone share their deepest and most personal thoughts and ideas with you because you are sharing yours with them is coercion and emotional intimidation. I think that society should be disabused of this implication that intimacy demands reciprocity.
‘Intimacy’ comes from the Latin word ‘intimus’ or ‘intima’, meaning “innermost or most secret.” It refers to a degree of closeness, either emotional or physical. True intimacy comes from a person’s desire to share themselves with someone in order to be known by that person. True intimacy, like love, is a gift that is given at great risk and without a guarantee that it will be well-received, or that the other person will do likewise. To be truly intimate, you are opening up a part of yourself to be known and explored. It is only a gift if it is given freely and not demanded. Otherwise, it is simply mitigation to a partner’s request or plea. If it is not given freely, the situation breeds resentment because it is “taken” from you instead of “given” from you. This is not to say that a partner may choose to reciprocate and also be intimate with you in return. But again, the essential element here is choice.
The other point I want to make about intimacy is that it is not always helpful or desirable to share everything with your partner. Some of you may reel back at this suggestion, but I have no doubt in my mind that this is true. There are just some things that are neither helpful nor productive to know about our partners. This does not mean that we should not explore their true nature. But in the grand scheme of life, there are many details that would not enhance our relationship one iota and are better left unexplored. We should have trust in our partners that if they believe a detail of their life, or their thoughts or fantasies are important to the relationship with us, then they will eventually choose to share it with us. To take their lack of disclosure (because we implicitly or explicitly demand it) as evidence that they do not love us or trust us is more a reflection of our own insecurities than their level of closeness to us. One does not necessarily imply the other. Women are especially guilty of this offense because of our reliance on verbal communication. You can ask for intimacy, but you cannot demand it. A healthy and honest relationship develops because of a mutual desire to share with each other and grow closer together, but always as two distinct and separate people. The paradox of intimacy is that if you demand it, you will not get it, because of its very nature. So if you choose to give of yourself, do it without expectation of anything in return. This is the risk of intimacy.