To many people, intimacy means closeness. Actually, the two are somewhat different, and knowing this can be helpful to a couple locked in conflict over their relationship (“He doesn’t want intimacy,” for example, or “I need my space”).
When we are close to another person, we are aware of how connected we feel to them. Sometimes, especially at the beginning of a relationship, closeness is a heady experience. We may be delighted that we share so many things — a fondness for chocolate milk, Oriental rugs and jazz clubs. All those popular songs about “two being as one” seem to have been written just for us.
Sometimes, though, we may feel overwhelmed at or burdened by the prospect of closeness. It feels like a demand. Stifling.
A truly intimate relationship contains both closeness and distance. When we are intimate with another person, we are able to connect with them while maintaining our own sense of identity. We are not only sharing our thoughts and feelings with the other person or listening to their thoughts and feelings, but each of us is in touch with ourselves. We are separate people who have developed our own ways to both nurture and confront ourselves. When the focus is less on closeness and more on authentic being and relating, intimacy becomes a rich and very alive experience.
Few of us could sit in a closet with another person for any length of time without learning a great deal about that person….In the closet our own awareness is focused on the other while we are close. But in some rare moments, in that shared space of our closet and in the presence of the other, we may experience ourselves in some new, different, and more profound way. This is intimacy. When I am close, I know you; when I am intimate, I know myself. When I am close, I know you in your presence; when I am intimate I know myself in your presence. Intimacy is a remarkable experience. Usually I know myself only in my aloneness, my dreams, my personal space. But to feel and know myself in the presence of another is enlivening, enlightening, joyful, and most of all, freeing. I can be who I am freely and fully in the presence of another.
Thomas Patrick Malone and Patrick Thomas Malone, The Art of Intimacy, 1988