Intimacy – we all want it, but can you define it?

“Intimacy is the opposite of loneliness, I get that. But that takes me only halfway to enlightenment. The trouble is, I can’t put my finger on what intimacy is. It’s one of those words that I understand on a cellular level, but struggle to define.”

Close and loving, mother and son, intimate

Mother and child have the most intimate relationship of all – for the first nine months of life, at the least

Sophia Dembling writes in online mag Psych Central about intimacy, trying to find the intangible something in its definition.

Merriam-Webster online defines intimacy as the state of being intimate, and defines the intimate as:

1 a : intrinsic, essential

b : belonging to or characterizing one’s deepest nature

2 : marked by very close association, contact, or familiarity <intimate knowledge of the law>

3 a : marked by a warm friendship developing through long association <intimate friends>

b : suggesting informal warmth or privacy <intimate clubs>

4 : of a very personal or private nature <intimate secrets>

Sophia concludes with this paragraph:

“Intimacy requires more but I’m not sure what. I’m not even sure exactly what it is, except that I know it when I feel it.

Her feeling is spot on. She has touched on it several times in her article, which Merriam-Webster fails to do.

Go to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, and you find the clue. Intimacy’s derivation is the latin phrase tunica intima, the under-tunic, the garment worn next to the skin. The OED goes on to define intimacy and intimate using words like deep, close, connection.

The intangible extra that you’re missing, Sophia, is actually the tangible element. Touch, contact, connection. If you only put your physical finger on it, you’ll have put your metaphorical finger on it.

The fundamental factor in intimacy is being next to the skin – inside the social barrier we all keep around us for all but our intimate friends and family.

Everyone needs their own space, and everyone unconsciously sets their own rules for distance. Think of meeting someone for the first time – you probably stand at handshaking distance. Once you know them better, begin to trust them, maybe find them attractive, you may be within arm’s length, but only when you really trust them, like them and are attracted to them (not just sexually), do you let them get close – perhaps within hugging distance. That’s intimacy.

Intimacy is feeling comfortable body-to-body, and even skin to skin. It’s not just a sexual thing. It’s a parent holding their baby in their arms; girlfriends sitting next to each other, touching at shoulder, hip and knee. It’s lovers, arms entwined and holding hands; it’s child cuddled by grandparent… It’s an unconscious state of trust and affection – you don’t think about it, you’re just there, in touch and connected.

So, Sophia, I hope this makes sense to you and fills the gap in your definition. Stay in touch.

 

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5 comments on “Intimacy – we all want it, but can you define it?

  1. Thanks for letting me camp out in your blog for a little while today. I had a great time and tried to leave my campsite as good as when I arrived. I’ll be back!

  2. […] Intimacy – we all want it, but can you define it? (arabellafulloflife.wordpress.com) Share this:Share on TumblrPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

  3. Cate says:

    Interesting timing on this one, as I’ve been thinking how, despite our technological interconnectedness, as well as the almost insane degree of narcissistic oversharing, from tweeting to reality TV, there seems to be no dearth of alienation/isolation on this planet. Have you had the experience of watching two people sitting opposite each other in a restaurant while their eyes and fingers never seem to stray from their smartphones?

    I wonder too how many of us are capable of intimacy — and how many fear it.

    • Arabella says:

      Good point, Cate. Connection needs to be more than electronic… The thing about being half-present and half-virtual, keeping an eye on the phone or txting/tweeting while with someone else is abominably rude, and destroys all true connection – their attention and intention are elsewhere.

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