Guest blog: by Chris Makepeace
As I am writing this, I am feeling a little lonely. Loneliness has been a familiar part of my life, as has been a feeling of connection to people. These two feelings are a contrast that defines much of who I am. It is a common need that we want to feel connected, something that is basic and shared by most of us. Sometimes we call this feeling of connectedness ‘intimacy’, but I don’t believe that the feeling of intimacy is the same as the reality of it, by which I mean that some things can feel very intimate without actually being so.
The point I want to make here is that to me intimacy is not a feeling of being close, or of emotional connection, or even a feeling of love. Intimacy is a conversation. It is an exchange of ideas, of information, of feeling. It is a conversation that builds up over time becoming more overarching and deep. It is gentle and progressive, touching our surfaces, peeling back gradually the layers of who we are. We are onions and sometimes opening ourselves up can cause tears. We have lots of words that describe intimate feelings, those feelings of closeness. Words like ‘love’, ‘friendship’ and ‘belonging’, but I don’t regard intimacy itself as a feeling: Intimacy is a conversation and that conversation is everything.
Sometimes I hear a lecture, very deep, intense and alluring, casting a bright light on what I know about the world and what I seem to know about a person. Such lectures can seem to tell me everything about a subject and I can even fall in love with it, but a lecture it isn’t a conversation. Such a ’love’ acts in a single direction, just like a song lyric or a great poem or a novel written by the famous: I can love the writer but they know nothing about me in return even though their words can make it seem like they do. My intimacy can’t be one way, it must be able to ask questions, interact, quiz, and allow us to learn from each other – anything else is a false intimacy.
Intimacy is a conversation, between two people, that can lead to knowledge, to friendship, to romance, to love.
When I start a conversation, I don’t really know where it is going to lead. I want it to be open ended, and I want the other person to contribute. I want us to share pieces of each other, our experiences, our knowledge and our enthusiasms. I want us to share those things that are core to the people we are. In my world, conversation is a keystone of authenticity and such a sharing makes us become more ourselves as it validates each of us to the other.
Intimacy is a conversation I start slowly more often than not, because I want to hear what the other person has to say in response. Crucially it’s important that they want to be in that conversation with me, and want to open up about what they wish to only when they are ready to do so. Such conversations can make me fall in love easily and I sometimes do – I like to let myself go like that – but I never ever want to push either love or intimacy onto another person. Intimacy must come naturally as it will. As much as we can get carried away with emotions, in the end it is intimacy that lasts the longer and such longevity of intimacy is the key to my relationships: Feelings can become just a memory of the emotions, but knowing someone lasts.
Intimacy is a conversation of many parts; it can be funny, heart-warming, ironic, joyful, sexy, abstract, deeply theoretical, revealing and even superficial (from which you can still tell a lot about someone’s personality). When we stop talking, intimacy fades, but can be picked up at the same place months or years later, with just the intervening time to fill in.
Flirting is a form of intimacy conversation. Flirting doesn’t have to be sexual or romantic, though people often mistake it to always be so. If it helps let’s call it teasing, or banter, or any of those other terms we have of exploring people’s reactions in a playful way. It’s all still a conversation of intimacy. Perhaps if some people thought of romantic flirting in this way it would seem less difficult for them, and become less problematic to practice. These are apparently meaningless conversations that seem directionless, except they do have a point: Getting to know someone. Flirt, everyone for connections sake, flirt!
Intimacy is intimacy, even during difficult conversations: As the saying goes, ‘love is in the storm’. It’s at the point where communication is really hard that we can get most out of it. It is best not avoided, because doing so loses intimacy and the opportunity to continue it. The point of hard conversations isn’t to come to conclusions, to ‘work things out’ in a temporal sense – it’s to share where I am and to share who I am in the context of that conversation. The point is to better understand one another. That understanding is intimacy, even when it does not change the outcome of communication.
Hard communication is about being authentic and trying to understand the other, not persuading us to be something else other than we are, even on those occasions that our minds are actually changed. One of the easiest communication traps I can fall into is to avoid difficult conversations because I think I already know what the other person is going to say, and what the outcome will be. That’s usually not true anyway, but even if it was it’s the whole process of conversation that creates and maintains intimacy, not the outcome. In the end, friends remain friends through having difficult conversations because that is what intimacy thrives on. Resist the temptation to shut those hard conversations down.
Conventions within conversations work against intimacy. The scripts which we follow constrain us, and lead us away from truth and connection. A conversation of intimacy can reveal those scripts by drawing our attention towards what we are resisting, and breaking through can help form genuine connections where none would have appeared if we followed those rules. Social structures of all types constrain who we are meant to talk to and about and what subject, according to social status, gender, romantic connection and many other areas. For example, I am not supposed to talk about sex to people who aren’t my sexual partners, about my feelings if you are a man, or anything that breaches the unwritten rules of who is supposed to give emotional support to someone. In this context, crying in the arms of another man can be a revolutionary act. Whatever side of a communication I am on, breaking down conventions is a positive thing, and it helps me meet people on their own terms. Intimacy is a conversation that works best when it doesn’t follow any guidelines.
Queer people know about breaking free of convention. If I ignore those ideas whose aim is assimilation, to make being LGBTQ+ appear just like being straight, the ideas that are important to my queerness are the ones that connect us in revolutionary ways. I can fall in love with another man or have sex with someone who is non-binary, cuddle with an asexual, adopt any conversational style, cry when I want to, live with whom I choose and not worry whether what I wear is appropriate to my gender. Queerness has the possibility to join us together like extended family, defying the rules by enabling and allowing all of the conversations we have around being ourselves. The way we consequentially connect is unconventional and much more fluid. Queer intimacy is an example for the whole world towards how to let intimacy into your life without constraints.
When we refuse to play the game of conventionality it’s precisely at that point of breaking those chains that we reveal ourselves in the most detail to others. It is an opening of ourselves to the world. Coming out is authenticity, it’s an affirmation of agency for anyone to see and be inspired by. In this way intimacy is a conversation that maximises our personal agency in the world – intimacy is a conversation in which we become freer. We live in a world where consent and consent culture have become more important. That focus on consent is ultimately a focus on personal agency and such a focus on everyone’s personal agency is where we are all truly free.
Intimacy is a conversation that leads down an important path towards a single word, perhaps the only word that really matters. It doesn’t have to be about sex, but it is about letting someone inside of you, opening yourself up, a basic affirmation of life:
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