A Note on Intimacy

The quality of our closest relationships is often what gives life its primary meaning.
— Lori H. Gordon 1969
It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.
— Genesis 2:18

I am writing an e-book on Intimacy that will be published later in the year.

This is a subject that has produced internal panic moments indiscriminate of age, gender or spiritual leanings, no matter who I seem to talk to.

"Of Course I Get Lonely" (see below) was inspired by my recent 28th birthday, especially realising I was the last single friend out of my decade-long friendship circle. Admitting to myself that singleness requires more concerted effort to upkeep close relationships faced me with a conscious choice: embrace the uncertainty and trust the Lord, or slip into feelings of despair.

So it got me thinking - why am I so obsessed with finding that right someone? Am I not content being single? 

So here are my musings around what truly makes life sweetest - enjoying our closest human relationships. So to fend off any smug Christians or cynical secular people, I'm jotting down a few starting thoughts as to why we shouldn't be ashamed of getting a little lonesome sometimes.

(Spoiler alert: We were created for intimate relationships!)

THE PROBLEM WITH OUR CULTURE

Independence is overrated. (Follow @FreshlyBakedPoetry on Instagram)

Independence is overrated. (Follow @FreshlyBakedPoetry on Instagram)

There are wonderful things about being self-made and independent.

I bought into the myth that being an autonomous lone ranger was better than tagging along to social events I was only half-interested in.

Enjoying solitude with God is a great thing, as our soul-to-soul connection with Him is where our life-energy springs from. But He desires us to build the church, because that's where people gather, where misfits find belonging, where mistake-makers find grace, and where the lost can be found.

We meet God in solitude as well as with each other. 

In my loneliest times I wish to have company. However when I have company but not a high degree of connection I would prefer to be alone.

Someone offends me with an off-hand comment, or the person I'm dating doesn't comfort me when I'm upset. We all have specific ways we need to feel loved, and if our most significant people aren't meeting our needs, and we're not comfortable communicating exactly what those needs are, we erect emotional walls. 

I'm convinced that people who lone-wolf it throughout life would actually prefer connection. They're just yet to find their tribe. Maybe it's a matter of adapting to different personalities and contexts, and realising unhealthy internal attitudes, or maybe they just need to keep searching until they find likeminded kinsmen.

The 21st Century "self-actualised" individual.

The 21st Century "self-actualised" individual.

The 21st Century loves the "self-actualised" individual. Extended periods of isolation are common; where we don't know our neighbour's names, and occasionally we might worry about whether we might find them dead and rotting in their apartment, their body found 2 weeks after their passing. 

It terrifies me to think this could happen to anybody.

Here at the close of the 20th century we have the luxury of living in splendid isolation.

Unlike in more "primitive" cultures, most Americans no longer live as part of a large family or community where we develop a sense of comfort and safety, a network of people to confide in, to feel at home with.

This, I have come to believe, is what has drawn many people into cults--the need to feel part of a bonded community.
There is a sense of being at home emotionally as well as physically. Our culture provides for meeting all other needs, especially the need for autonomy, but not for intimacy. Within this framework, couples today must provide for each other more of the emotional needs that a larger community used to furnish.

Lori H. Gordon, 1969

This brings me to my next point:

LOSS OF COMMUNITY = MORE PRESSURE ON ROMANTIC LOVE

A whole network of people might have been God's plan to satisfy our need for intimacy.

A happily married woman once said to me, "Jess I love my husband, but I need my girlfriends. It's a different sort of need."

In my post "Figuring Out Why We Want To Be In A Relationship" I touched on the heavy weight expectations we might put on a romantic partner. Stepping back and shifting the perspective into macro view, I'm placing blame on modern society for why we do this as individuals.

Where has community fled to? The 'bonded communities' into which sketchy cults take shape prey on vulnerable people for a reason.  

Modern culture's emphasis on individualism has led to us starving for attention, significance, recognition and fame, because we wrongly think those things will lead us to the love and intimacy we crave. 

Social media has perpetuated a flawless image of the individual self, confusing the young person in their formative years on how they should practice healthy interpersonal relationships.

The pursuit of the self-made man or woman has devalued family and community gatherings, seeing it as low-priority to share a meal with their wife and children when those hours could be spent generating more revenue and profits for a bigger house.

Modern culture's emphasis on individualism has led to us starving for attention, significance, recognition and fame, because we wrongly think those things will lead us to the love and intimacy we crave. 

Modern culture's emphasis on individualism has led to us starving for attention, significance, recognition and fame, because we wrongly think those things will lead us to the love and intimacy we crave. 

Maybe it could have been worse. Maybe radio stations could be dominated with more independent woman songs glorifying singleness, and there'd be more men chorus-worshipping the eternal bachelor lifestyle.

I'm convinced that any assertion of aloneness as a perpetually wonderful thing is either a preaching to oneself to be content in the season they're in, or they have no idea how to manage or cope with expectations that they'd want another person to fulfil. Or, maybe they're still figuring out who the heck they are.

Shifts in our general views about what makes life worth living have
also contributed to a new demand for intimacy. For many generations the answer lay in a productive life of work and service in which the reward of happiness would be ours, in Heaven. That belief has broken down. 

People want happiness here and now. And they want it most in their intimate relationships.

Intimacy, I have come to believe, is not just a psychological fad,
a rallying cry of contemporary couples. It is based on a deep biological need.

Lori H. Gordon, 1969

Even if a person were to truly enjoy singleness, the duration of the season becomes difficult when everyone around you is getting hitched.

When you're young, all your friends are single. Some have boyfriends, maybe one girl gets married at a scandalously young age; ten years later, you reach your late 20s and early 30s. You're an accomplished, self-actualised, content human being now, but your hang-out community is dwindling.

Fellow single ladies and gentlemen, you are not alone.

The struggle is real.

WHAT'S [4 TYPES OF] LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?

Borrowing from Greek philosophy, I'm going to briefly touch on agape, storge, phileo and eros love and their contribution in completing our human experience of intimacy.

Agape:

God's love is like the power generating electricity through an entire city, fuelling all the other types of love.

God's love is like the power generating electricity through an entire city, fuelling all the other types of love.

Sacrificial love, God's love

Need this because: God is the Life Source. He is our hope, and without His love our entire network of intimacy finds no fuel.

He is like the power generating electricity through an entire city. He is purely a Gift-lover, expecting nothing in return from us but our complete life devotion.

Personal testimony: My choice to attach to Jesus 11 years ago has pumped my life with more loopy adventures, purpose, excitement and focus than I could have ever mustered on my own; leading me to relationships that have helped me maximise my life up until this point.

This will sound either crazy or romantic/over-religious, but Jesus truly is my Anchor. I have no regrets. Without agape love I don't see how the other loves in my life could continue loving me.

As C.S. Lewis says, "I believe Christianity as I believe the sun has risen; not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."

Storge:

Parent's love for children, children's love for parents, family love.

Need this because: We were once infants, brought into the world by 2 people responsible for fulfilling our physiological needs. Our parents could arguably represent God's gift-love, for their love and care could never seriously be repaid.

This is why parenting is a completely life changing responsibility, the most important job in society. 

How well our parents loved and raised us forms the blueprint of expectation for future loves into our adulthood. The beautiful thing about storge love is that everyone has access to this, for children may be fostered, friends can become family, and restoration of broken homes (while it takes tremendous amounts of emotional labour) is totally possible.

Personal testimony: My parents were far from perfect, but their love has formed the bedrock of my security, even as an adult. For example, to not have a family gathering at Easter makes me feel lost and off-centre. I find belonging and my 'true-north' when I spend quality time with my family.

Phileo:

Friendship love

Need this because: Our friends scaffold our lives, reflecting our own character, identity and dreams for the future. They are the reason we look forward to the weekend. 

They say like attracts like - you are drawn towards the people who are already similar to you or who you want to be like

There are some people in your life whom your heart simply delights in. As I write these words I'm reminded of the people I adore, and whom reciprocate their adoration of me; but also of the friends I've let down and am grateful for their forgiveness. 

Phileo love is warmth and affection towards another person. As each seeks to make the other happy, more feelings of affection ensue. (More on this in another post).

Personal testimony: As a spontaneous, extroverted and energetic personality, I'm addicted to making new connections constantly. I genuinely love meeting people.

Edging towards my 30th birthday, and recently celebrating a 10 year reunion with my Mac Uni friends, phileo love is more the need to build trust in people whom will sharpen, strengthen and walk the journey with me. We have witnessed each other's transformation from young person to adult.

I would not trade these friends for anything. They have become like family.

Eros:

Too cute: Eros love.

Too cute: Eros love.

Romantic and sexual love.

Need this because: well, it's obvious. Sex is the most intense way you could bond with someone, the logical next step for strong emotional closeness with another person you are attracted to. 

Marriage and babies are important phases that tend to happen around this type of love. 

Erwin McManus says that a shortcut to sexual and romantic intimacy has been caused by a distortion of intimacy in the other 'loves', and we are trying to overcompensate by feeling something extreme. 

He even goes so far as to say:

"Ladies, if a guy is in a hurry to make love to you, and skip conversation, what he's really saying is that he finds you boring."

Eros is done complete justice when both parties are intricately connected emotionally and spiritually, where a strong friendship and choice to commit forever (ie. marriage) has been first established.

Personal testimony: I'm 28 and still a virgin. This is the other part of the struggle - the fact that I'm in a body that was made to enjoy certain things, but with the knowledge that I am "between angel and animal". Ok, now it's getting weird.

Let's just say I agree with Erwin. I believe sex with my husband is worth the incredible struggle of waiting for the right timing [insert sexually frustrated emoji here - THERE, I said it].

THE WAY FORWARD

So what do we do in the mean time?

I'm hopeful that we are not doomed as a modern society to live in isolated nuclear family structures. Neither, that single people are destined for splendid lone-ranger days that will never conclude.

Even if we found the love of our lives tomorrow, sustaining the relationship won't be immune from hard work. This is why psychologists say the reason marriages decline is because couples have never learned reliably how to sustain pleasure in an intimate relationship.

It starts by being honest with each other, but first we must practice being honest with ourselves.

A checklist of thoughts on how we can do this:

  • Not shame ourselves for being single, lonely, or needy for affection. (Married people get easy access to this, and maybe some of them are unhappy, but still, they've got free lover hugs on demand, and the chance to do 'intimacy school' with a ready-to-go partner).
  • Find people we can trust to be vulnerable with, who won't care to judge us.
  • Pursue our best selves in the relationships already in our lives: be the greatest daughter, son, friend, sister, brother and/or employee the people in our world could ever dream of. 
  • Get counselling to self-examine, ensuring our blindspots are not causing people to distance themselves from us.

 

You're ready, but the start date is a surprise.

You're ready, but the start date is a surprise.

  • Pack out your schedule with new and old friends! Cuddle your kitty and watch a movie. If you don't have a kitty, go to your mate's house and ambush their animals instead.
  • Ask God to bring people into your life that will build, encourage and walk with you for the purpose He has set in this particular season; the type your heart can delight in. 
  • Realise that even with meeting someone, no matter how besotted you might be with another person, the lustre will fade, and only the unglamorous friendship remains.
  • Surrender ourselves to the uncertainty of life; trusting that God is conspiring with Heaven and Earth to give us the Kingdom.

Many of you reading this are ready to fall in love and marry. The process awaits, but the start date is a surprise

Do me a favour don't settle. I know you're struggling, but the Father places higher value on your worth than you realise. The community will meet your needs for intimacy, and so will He.

Intimacy: The Art of Relationships - How relationships are sabotaged by hidden expectations.

CS Lewis’s The Four Loves – A humble summary.

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