“Physical intimacy isn’t and can never be an effective substitute for emotional intimacy.” – John Green
What most people want more than anything in the world is to be loved. What this means is that they want to be seen, heard, and understood. This is the basis of their burning desire to connect.
In a society where everything is set up to be high-speed and instantaneous, we have developed an expectation that everything, including our relationships, should be realized as quickly as possible. Dating apps that allow us to swipe mindlessly to find a match and speed dating events have made people seem like commodities. The abundance of choice that these avenues provide has made our approach toward relationships shallow and superficial.
Like a bee buzzing from one plant to another, singles are hoping to find their match through this speedy evaluation process—after all, it is a numbers game. In this way, they miss out on the depth, magic, and beauty that comes from moving at a slower pace and focusing on that one special person.
Movies and TV shows give people a false sense of how much time is needed to actually get to know someone and fall in love with them. In a two-hour movie, all we see are snippets of courtship before the onscreen couple comes together in blissful union. What we don’t see is the hard work of revealing themselves to the other, and learning to accept the good, bad, and the ugly. Intimacy is a process. Once the seed of attraction is planted, it needs to be nurtured and cared for. However, our capacity to love and connect with another is incumbent on how much we love ourselves.
In her book, “Daring Greatly,” Brené Brown notes that courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen. According to Brown, we can only experience true belonging when we are open to showing our authentic and imperfect selves, and it must begin with self-acceptance as the foundation of all healthy relationships. When we accept ourselves, the pathway for intimacy clears and we become open to sharing ourselves with another—the perfect condition for emotional intimacy to grow.
Brown captures that essence of emotional intimacy perfectly in her definition of connection:
“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
Getting to know someone does not occur in a single sweep of events. It unfolds in stages over a long period of time. According to writer David Brooks, all couples experience seven stages of intimacy. During these seven stages, both individuals get acquainted with the various complex layers of the other’s personality until they reach the core of their heart and soul.
Here are the stages of emotional intimacy that couples generally experience on their way to a full union, as outlined by David Brooks in the “Second Mountain: The Quest For A Moral Life”:
1. The glance: Love begins with the eyes. You see someone who sparks your interest and who arouses your curiosity. Out of the hundreds of people that you look at every day, this one person lights a flame within you and gets your attention. Your intuition tells you that this is someone who could potentially be significant you don’t yet know the reason.
2. Curiosity: At this stage, you develop a desire to get to know the person better. You hope that their deeper qualities are as great as what you see on the surface. There are three facets to curiosity: joyous exploration (desire to know more about the person), absorption (being totally focused on this one person), and stretching (willingness to do whatever it takes to be with them). You might experience “deprivation sensitivity”, a feeling of emptiness when you’re without them.
3. Dialogue/Pushing open the gates.: This is the ’getting to know you’ phase which takes place in the preliminary stages of dating. During this phase, you share things about yourselves. Initially, you stick with ’safe’ topics like your favorite color, TV shows, and what you do for a living. As time goes by the dialogue gets deeper, and you share your goals, fears, and vulnerabilities. Alain de Botton writes that we are all crazy in some way. If love is to bloom, we need to reveal to our partner the ways in which we’re crazy and how we self-destruct.
4. The leap: This stage is considered the crossroads of a relationship because it’s at this point that you decide whether or not you’re ready to take a leap and be in union with this person. You look at the person in front of you and you ask, “Can I live without that person?” If it’s a definite no, then you declare your love and have the relationship-defining talk. You become an official couple.
5. Crises: Eventually, the fairytale must evolve into the story of a couple living in the real world. Our first projections fade away, and we begin to show our natural selves, warts and all. The time is ripe for the first fight and disagreement to happen – someone commits an act of selfishness, fails to meet your expectations, or you face a power struggle. How well you navigate the crises determines whether or not you’ll be able to stick together for the long haul.
6. Forgiveness: If you were able to survive the bumps during your first ’crises‘ as a couple, you’ll reach the forgiveness phase. More than just an emotional exchange, forgiveness should bring accountability into the picture. Compassionate yet assertive dialogue is what constitutes real forgiveness. It establishes an ongoing healthy relationship dynamic between both partners.
7. Fusion: This is the climactic final stage of intimacy. According to Brooks, you can’t know a person down to the core of their soul unless you love them. Love wakes us up and ploughs through the hard crust of our persona, revealing the softer and gentler side. Passionate love overthrows our egos and makes us want to unite and fully devote ourselves to that one person. Fusion is the longing of the soul to be one with another and love them unconditionally.
The time that people take to go through the stages vary. To quote Marianne Dashwood from Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility”:
“It is not time or opportunity that is to determine intimacy;–it is disposition alone. Seven years would be insufficient to make some people acquainted with each other, and seven days are more than enough for others.”
When we’re intimately connected to the longings of our heart, we can easily develop an intimate connection with another person’s heart.
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: Do you find it easy to form emotionally intimate bonds with another person? If not, what are the blocks that are preventing it from happening?
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