Intimacy Crisis

Intimacy Crisis

I think we can all agree that in our world today, in the free world certainly, there is an intimacy crisis. We have a problem with intimacy. We’re afraid of intimacy, yet we agonize over the lack of it. What better indication of this than our use of euphemisms to describe what should be very intimate relationships.

It used to be that "dating" described intimate relationships. But we don’t call it "dating" anymore. That sounds too much like something out of a geology class. "I am dating Lucy."

So then it became "going out." Remember when people used to go out? Again, that was often used to describe an intimate relationship. Everybody was "going out."

The ultimate euphemism is the one in vogue today. Today, intimate relationships are "seeing someone." It’s part of casual conversation: "Are you seeing anyone?" "I’m seeing someone…" One of these days, somebody’s going to say to me, "I’m seeing a very, very nice woman," and I’m going to say, "Can I see her too?"

Why the euphemisms? Probably because if you identify the relationship as an attachment, if you consider this a commitment, if you think of this as an investment of yourself in a relationship and then the relationship ends, it will hurt too much. You will have to say to yourself, "This relationship fell apart." And that’s too painful, so instead, what you say is, "Oh, I’m seeing someone." Should this not work out – "Okay, so I’m not seeing him." It sounds a lot less painful. So we put this buffer, this safety coating around our relationship to keep a distance, to prevent it from becoming too painfully intimate.

Now obviously, intimacy implies vulnerability. If you’re going to be intimate, you’re going to allow people to see parts of yourself that you’d rather not have people see. You’re going to allow someone into that part of your existence, into that part of your mind and heart that you yourself are not exactly comfortable with. And you don’t know how the other person is going to treat it. And you don’t know how it’s going to feel to have someone else scrutinize that part of you that you’re a bit ashamed of. But that is the whole meaning of a relationship.

The whole idea of a relationship is that we stop being alone. And the only way you stop being alone is if all of you, particularly that part of your self that you’re sensitive about, is no longer alone. If you can share that with another person, you have ended your loneliness. As long as that part of you is still alone, then you’re alone. Intimacy is supposed to be the antidote to loneliness, and I think it would be safe to say that with all of our social skills and with all of our partying, we are basically a lonely people.

Intimacy means that you become attached. You become joined. You belong together. There are difficulties. There is embarrassment. But it’s a shared embarrassment. Whatever happens after that connection takes place, it’s shared. It brings you closer together, not further apart. Intimacy means loyalty. Loyalty to an identity. If we run away from the identity, then we’re ruining the relationship. We’re undoing what is most precious to us.

If we abandon that sense of identification, the next thing that begins to suffer is our sexuality. For most human beings, at some stage in life, sexuality cannot and will not exist without intimacy. Rarely do you find a human being who prefers to separate the two. Certainly a sensitive human being cannot separate them.

Sexuality, properly understood, is connected to intimacy. Intimacy means that you put aside this fear of exposure, that you overcome this resistance to being known, and you allow a person into that part of your life that is maybe not so comfortable. Then maybe you have entered into an intimacy. When a man and woman are together in a room, and the door closes, that is a sexual event. Not because of what’s going to happen, but what already happened. When a man and woman are together, alone in room, in privacy, that is a sexual event. It may not be something to make novels out of, but it is a sexual occurrence, because male and female is what sexuality used to be all about. What happened is that in putting up these defenses, in getting steeled, inured, against the constant exposure and stimulation of men and women constantly sharing all sorts of activities – co-educational school, camps, gyms – that we have to start blocking out groups of people. We can’t be as naturally sexual as G-d created us to be. When a man says, "I have a woman friend, but we’re just friends, nothing more, I’m not attracted to her in any sexual way, she’s just not my type," you’ve got to ask yourself what is wrong here. Is this guy really together? Is this a disciplined person? Or is this a person who has died a little bit? A little death.

What does he mean, "she’s not my type?" When did all this typing come into existence? It’s all artificial. It is not true to human sexuality. And it really isn’t even true in this particular context because given a slight change of circumstance, you could very easily be attracted. After all, you are a male, she’s a female. How many times does a relationship begin that is casual, neighborly, and then suddenly becomes intimate? The great awakening of this boy and girl who are running around, doing all sorts of things, sharing all sorts of activities, and lo and behold, they realize – what drama, what drama – that they are attracted to each other. These are grown-ups, intelligent human beings, and it caught them by surprise. It’s kind of silly.

So closing a door should be recognized as a sexual event. And you need to ask yourself: Are you prepared for this? Is it permissible? Is it proper? If not, leave the door open. Should men and women shake hands? Should it be seen as an intimate gesture? Should any physical contact that is friendly be considered intimate? Hopefully, it should.

Now modesty is not meant to prevent sin. It never has prevented sin. There are people who dress very modestly. They cover everything. They sin. It’s a little more cumbersome but they manage. Modesty is not meant to prevent sin. It preserves sexuality – because human sexuality is what G-d wants. So He gives us laws of modesty to preserve it, to enhance it, not to stifle. And if we are callous about it – even in marriage, a kiss on the run cheapens it, makes it callous – then we run to the therapist for advice. And do you know what the therapist who charges $200 an hour for his advice says? He tells the couple not to touch each other for two weeks. Judaism tells you that free of charge. Yes, there are two weeks each month during which a husband and wife don’t touch. This therapy has been around for 3000 years. And it still works. It’s a wonderful idea. When you don’t close the door, you are recognizing your own sexuality. You are acknowledging the sexuality of the other person.

Being modest, recognizing our borders, knowing where intimacy begins and not waiting until it is so intimate that we’re too far gone, is a very healthy way of living. So treat yourself with modesty. It enhances your life. It doesn’t change your lifestyle dramatically, but enhances it dramatically, and we come away more capable of relaxing, better able to be spontaneous, because we know that we can trust ourselves. We’ve defined our borders. Now you can be free. It’s taken a load off your conscience and it makes you a much more lovable person.

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