Let's Talk About Intimacy | CBE International

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Let's Talk About Intimacy

On September 23, 2015

In Davis Abdallah’s last blog, she laid the ground work for a discussion on the complex nature of intimacy and how it extends far beyond mere sexual intimacy. In this blog, she explores the complex issue of intimacy as it relates to gender, power, and selfhood. Both articles are excerpted and adapted from The Book of Womanhood (Cascade Books) to be published in November, 2015.

It is okay to want deep intimacy, to not have it, but to not choose false intimacy—and to sit in the longing. God meets us there.

Really? Then, why do I desperately want to avoid sitting in the longing?

It is okay to want deep intimacy, to not have it, but to not choose false intimacy—and to sit in the longing. God meets us there.

Really?

I first came upon this concept of “sitting in the longing” when I read Ronald Rolheiser’s The Restless Heart: Finding Our Spiritual Home in Times of Loneliness. I was teaching full-time and writing my dissertation while feeling a deep lack of intimacy in my life.

I responded to this lack with restlessness. I went to coffeeshops to write so as not to feel lonely. I exercised harder, worked more, socialized while exhausted, and did whatever I could to escape feeling that longing for intimacy. But every time I came home alone, I felt it again.

When Rolheiser identified my restlessness as one type of loneliness, I was freed. This is the type of loneliness where we are “never satisfied, but always restless; never quiet, always wanting more of everything." [1] Regardless of how our lives look, how many relationships we have, how much social activity we enjoy, it is never enough; we are never content. We are restless, dissatisfied, always pushing to do more—to break through and to break out. [2]

When I learned that most people who feel things very deeply suffer from the loneliness of restlessness, I began to accept my loneliness and longing for intimacy as a “normal” part of my identity. I had already realized that being with people or in a romantic relationship did not solve my “loneliness problem.” Thus, when I was instructed, when feeling lonely, to go into solitude, pray, and wait until I heard God lovingly call my name, I was ready to try it. And though often difficult to do, it has helped me develop a sense of self.

It is okay to want deep intimacy, to not have it, but to not choose false intimacy—and to sit in the longing. God meets us there.

Sometimes I feel like I have to do this all the time. I have to sit in the longing and wait for God to meet me. And sometimes it’s about the last thing I want to do, but I know it will give me greater satisfaction and make me feel greater intimacy than any of the alternatives I’ve mentioned.

Psychologist and author, Dr. Harriet Lerner states that women are experts on intimate relationships, and traces this to the fact that those in subordinate positions (for reasons of gender or ethnicity) “possess a far greater understanding of the dominant group members and their culture than vice-versa.” [3] Despite the negative fact that women’s expertise on relationship is derived from a subordinate status, “the valuing of intimacy and attachments is an asset, not a liability. Surely, women’s commitment to relationships is part of our proud legacy and strength.” [4] Women can be satisfied that our drive for intimate relationships and community is a good desire, for it is a way we reflect our creation in the image of God.

Lerner warns us that a woman’s drive and talent for relationships is sometimes distorted. “The problem arises. . . when we confuse intimacy with winning approval, when we look to intimate relationships as our sole source of self-esteem, and when we enter relationships at the expense of the self." [5] Self-knowledge is vital for healthy relationships. As we seek to develop our self-understanding, the question becomes, how do we bring our authentic selves to our relationships?

Since our authentic self is in the image of God, when we bring ourselves to others, we must seek to reflect both aspects of God’s image—relationality and stewardship—in balance. This takes practice.

In order to avoid extreme intensity and extreme distance, one must come to every relationship as a “clear, whole, and separate ‘I.’” [6] As whole persons, we look to no one else for completion; we look to others simply for companionship and help along the way.

In the same way that intimacy is a process, being a “clear, whole, and separate “I” is not static, but also a process. It is often in relationships that we realize heretofore unnoticed aspects of ourselves. Many of us attribute certain relationships with the healing of “holes” in our psyche, and can even remember how conflicts in a relationship or the ending of a relationship made us cognizant of personal issues and/or strengths. In relationships, it is important not to become overly dependent, but to seek to work on ourselves as we continue in the relationship.

And that is what Lerner recommends. She emphasizes, “Real closeness occurs most reliably not when it is pursued or demanded in a relationship, but when both individuals work consistently on their own selves.” [7] We all want to experience real closeness and intimacy—the kind that satisfies our soul’s desire for connection. I can remember times when I have demanded it of others. During a particularly lonely time period, I remember expressing to a friend how much time I wanted her to spend with me. Though we were already close, she was unable to give me that kind of time and it put a strain on our relationship. I was demanding that she fill a space that she couldn’t fill. I needed to work on my own self rather than fleeing aloneness.

It is okay to want deep intimacy, to not have it, but to not choose false intimacy—and to sit in the longing. God meets us there.

It has often been said that each human has a hole inside that only God can fill. If this is true and if God is infinite, that hole inside of us is an infinitely deep hole that is never infinitely full, at least on this earth. We will always feel that we are lacking something. Loneliness and longing for intimacy are thus neither scary nor sinful, but rather a part of the human condition—which some feel more than others. Let us allow our longing to move us to seek solitude with God, and there, to know our authentic self. Only then can we come close to the intimacy we long for—with God and with others.

Notes

[1] Ronald Rolheiser, The Restless Heart (New York: Doubleday, 2004), 51.
[2] Ibid., 53.
[3] 
Lerner, The Dance of Intimacy: A Woman’s Guide to Courageous Acts of Change in Key Relationships (New York: Harper & Row), 6.
[4]
 Ibid., 7.
[5] 
Ibid.
[6] 
Ibid., 18.
[7] 
Ibid., 68; emphasis original.

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