What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word ‘intimacy’? Your first ever kiss, your first boyfriend, your partner or maybe just some moments you remember being intimate. Usually we think of intimacy as something sexual. We also tend to think that being intimate means giving a part of yourself away. Scary, right? I don’t know what it is exactly, but for me, this word has something genuinely beautiful and extremely scary to it. As I was trying to understand what intimacy or being intimate with someone really means, I tried looking for equivalents in other languages (no, lost in translation isn’t just a movie reference).
There is a word for intimacy in German that made much sense to me – ‘Vertrautheit’. It comes from ‘Vertrauen’ – ‘trust’ and it means something like profound closeness. But how do you know you’re close to someone? And how do you know you trust someone? Easy: When you tell someone everything about you, that’s who you trust and that’s the closeness i.e. that’s the intimacy… Right? As someone, who doesn’t like to share private matters with everyone, I know how hard and important it is to be able to talk to someone and share private information, without being scared of losing something yourself or without expecting an inadequate reaction. So, I decided that must be a part of intimacy. But, since I also know people, who are not overly protective with their privacy and feel free to talk to anyone about their deepest concerns, I figure that can’t mean they’re intimate with each and every one of them. And isn’t it possible to be intimate with someone, who doesn’t really know much about you? And at this point, I should make clear (again) that I don’t see intimacy as a (solely) sexual term. To be intimate with someone in a cognitive way should require giving up some information about yourself to make a certain connection with someone, build trust, feel close to them etc.
But, haven’t you felt profoundly close to someone, you’ve only known for five minutes? Let’s call that intimacy on an emotional level. It’s the kind of intimacy you feel with someone, you’ve only shared your emotions with, not your biography. It’s the kind of intimacy that makes you feel understood, without the need to say anything, because they don’t need to know the facts, just the feelings. And instead of giving you an advice or telling you, what’s best for you, they also react with feelings, surprisingly adequate feelings. It’s a silent exchange of familiar feelings. It’s not just that they understand what you’re experiencing in that very moment and react to it, but they also know your feelings, just like your best friend knows about your first kiss. The profound closeness of emotional intimacy is looking into someones eyes or hearing them breath in a certain way, and seeing and understanding the unsaid. Earlier, I mentioned familiar, because even though you might not know, where this person went to school or what’s their favorite book, what you hear in long pauses and nervous glances, is something you’ve felt before. That’s why you understand them, and that’s what makes you feel close to them.
It’s the most magnetic kind of intimacy, if you ask me. You might say, it’s easy: You don’t have to be scared you’re giving up an important information about yourself. And you’re right. But let’s be honest, you’re most definitely giving up a part of yourself by exchanging the most private feelings – the most intimate feelings. And it’s everything but easy: it’s a wordless meta-communication of feelings. And finally, it’s risky: either you get completely disappointed, or you dive into the most unexpected, exciting silent conversation and maybe even find that profound closeness.