Real Sex & Emotional Intimacy – These Stories Are Not My Secrets.
I’m able to put words to it now, I think – what I’ve been learning is that the healthy and whole sexual expression I crave is both physical and emotional. It should be clear by now. Therefore, my definition of sexuality has become much bigger. My sexuality is the expression of physical, emotional and spiritual intimacy.
If we want to have good, great sex (and great relationships, I suppose) then we need to learn to have true emotional intimacy with each other. Well, crap. Here’s the truth of it. I’m terrible at emotional intimacy. I think many of us are, but I’ll share with you my perspective.
*This article is part of a series; I recommend reading Part One: A Modern Virgin, Part Two: What I Learned About Sex From An Older Man, Part Three: Trying To Lose My Virginity first. I’m welcoming feedback and contributions so please email me here.
My primary love languages are physical touch and quality time. So it’s no wonder that much of my desire for love is about the physical connection. Still, that shouldn’t mean I ignore the need to share my whole emotional self and find a partner who will receive and accept me well, someone who can and will encourage me in emotional intimacy, not just physical.
I share some pretty personal thoughts on the internet most days so you might find it hard to believe that I’m not good at emotional honesty. But those are just my stories. They are things I’ve processed, thought about, discussed and then finessed ready for publishing. They are not my secrets or my truest self.
Somewhere in my youth and young adult years, I learned to filter. I learned to filter because my thoughts and feelings could push people away. If I said or asked for the wrong thing, expressed the wrong feeling – rejection came swiftly. Sometimes a little rejection or humiliation, sometimes total abandonment. I learned that my feelings weren’t to be trusted and should rarely be expressed. I think we all learn this filtering, to some degree or another.
Don’t think for a minute that you see all of me here on the Internet. I’ve got a collection of stories I’m comfortable enough to share and that no longer pose a risk in sharing. My bravery is in continuing to think through what I’m learning offline, in hopes one day I can share it.
Beyond the amusing anecdotes, the generous dinner parties and the many people who cross my threshold, I hide my deepest parts away. My heart is frequently hidden behind a thick concrete wall. It’s not easy to get in there. My fear is exposing my truest self to the ones I care about most. Emotional intimacy, the one thing I’m looking for is something I’m terrible at it because it actually requires more than one person.
Emotional intimacy isn’t just sharing part of yourself, it’s also having that part of you accepted and acknowledged by another person. Immediately, the connection between the emotional and physical acts of intimacy should be obvious. However, if I’ve been living behind a concrete wall, I don’t necessarily have great skills for learning to trust or making good choices around trust.
On one hand, we’re told to guard our hearts and only let the trustworthy ones in. On the other hand, we’re told to be bold and go after what we want. But the earliest lessons we learn in love can be the most dangerous. If I learn that men aren’t interested in my thoughts or feelings, or that I must be all about meeting his needs rather than my own, everything else becomes coloured.
So these days, when I bravely reveal parts of myself, I immediately start waiting for the rejection to come. Or, if a small part of who I am is accepted and not rejected, I can’t help but want to share more and more (or even all of myself), because the feeling is so rare. Neither of those places is particularly healthy. So I live with a lot of people close to me, like a party at the gates of the secret garden. Few have the key to the garden and even fewer still step inside.
It’s easy to know that I like whisky, for example. Or even how I like to drink it. A few might even share whisky with me under the stars or in a favourite alcove. But there is so much more under my skin and inside my mind than what translates to Facebook or Instagram. The fleeting, silly stupid thoughts and the beautiful, sacred ones; most of these thoughts never leave my lips. Most people have never seen the true extent of my generosity, my warmth or my kindness. The things I do are nothing in comparison to what I think of doing – but these secrets, I keep for myself for now, in a secret place.
Emotional intimacy in the future will require that at some point, I’ll have to risk letting someone inside the garden wall. I might even have to risk asking someone to come inside the garden wall.
I’ve heard too many people talk about the loneliness of the marriage bed, where physical intimacy and emotional intimacy are rarely connected. And I can see how this becomes true – after all, touch is such an easy way of expressing pleasure and approval, but without words or supporting actions it’s not always enough.
My friend Karl has some great thoughts here, largely from the perspective of a man trying to raise 4 sons, 1 daughter and with a long-standing commitment to youth work.
“Intimacy (In- to -me -see..) is an internal desire expressed so often externally. The modern expression of relationships misses the point of intimacy and encourages sexual expression as a means to an end. As I teach my sons…intimacy is often better expressed with clothes on. Our young men need to be coached on intimacy within the context of male relationship too, so sex doesn’t interfere in the early development of knowing how to be strong while laid bare. If we breed shallow men afraid of openness and transparency, they’re unable to meet emotional needs as a lover.
Unfortunately most men are lazy relational lovers. Preferring to love by touch with their hands. It’s learned behaviour from following childlike lust fuelled by curiosity and infatuation. It’s easy, like a takeaway diet. To love and be loved (intimacy) is to go to the farmers market having written a menu formed on knowing the dinner guest, not defined by the produce available at the time, but a meal crafted on tangible knowledge of the invited. (Their needs, desires etc – Ed.) Learning to be lovers, friends, companions, partners is a dance worth learning before the uncomplicated-complicated dance of sex.
To know the chef within, to add the knowledge of produce then the skill, talent of cooking is to form Michelin chefs. Society has formed men great at BBQ but poor in the kitchen. I’d love the focus to shift for our youth to becoming great lovers.. first with clothes on.. to develop a knowledge of themselves. Once the clothes come off, the heart beats too fast for the heart to listen and a language of love is dulled and hard to define. The focus of intimacy then becomes now how I feel at a muddled physical level. “
I think there’s a lot of merit in what Karl is talking about, not just for young men but young women as well. The key is learning to express love through more than just physical touch and connection. So how do we overcome the hurdle of learning to share our real selves and welcome another whole self?
I long to hear somebody ask for a key to the garden. Tell me more, show me more of yourself, is what I long to hear. Intimacy is an unending mystery, you can never fully know another person. There is always another discovery, another question, another thought or feeling to explore. I believe intimacy is both learning how to enjoy and unravel the endless mystery and then habitually engaging in the mystery.
My desire to share all of my secret self the moment I connect with someone who feels trustworthy is pretty flawed. The point is to discover those things, not to lay them out all at once. It’s helpful to observe those who are willing to do the work of discovery. Those who want to unpack the hidden woman behind the Facebook feed. Previously, I’ve thought that intimacy was to be known, but now I see that true intimacy is to be in the knowing. An ongoing process – where two people choose to continue to discover each other. Upon entering the gated, secret garden they discover it is in fact, endless. Over time, some flowers, trees and ponds might become familiar, much-loved features but there is always something new to see or discover.