Sigmund Freud once noted that our need for closeness with another is
a source of great ambivalence. True, it's wonderful to be loved and cared for by parents in our childhood and by lovers when adults. But
to need another and depend on him or her so greatly also makes us unrealistic, resentful and angry. If intimacy issues really are
based in the unconscious, we can't hope to "reason" with them ("I will stop feeling jealous."). But we can begin to understand the
roots of our responses (as described below) to intimate moments and use this understanding to inform and begin to change our
less-than-useful reactions. The more we understand both the joys and pains of intimacy behavior, the better we might act with care and
intention in our own close relationships.
There are at least two good reasons not to risk intimacy with another person. One is rejection: It's pleasant to
feel attracted to someone but frightening to anticipate that he or she won't feel the same -- or might even react with displeasure at an
overture. The other risk is betrayal: Once you think you are safe, together or committed, how do you know you won't be betrayed by some
deceit, a small fib, a big lie, even your partner's unfaithfulness? "It could never happen," you might protest, "I know my partner too
well!" But others have said and felt that -- and many have been painfully wrong. Why would we be immune to such injury?
Sex and Intimacy
There are, of course, so many good reasons to seek intimacy! We seek others in order to have needs gratified, wishes granted. As the
first vignette relates, even for basically happy people, happiness can be enhanced by sharing with others. Obviously, of course,
romantic or sexual passion offers sexual intimacy. Human beings are sexual creatures, our species depends on our being
physically drawn to mate and reproduce. Unlike other animals, however, humans are not individually driven toward sex partners the
way a hungry person needs food: As attested by the stories of many saints and solitary souls, humans can survive without
sex, even if most of us would complain about it!
Sexual interaction involves all the senses but particularly that of touch. Some researchers liken sexual contact not to other bodily
functions but to other forms of communication, only in the case of sex, touch is essential. "Phone sex," these researchers say, is
really long-distance titillation: pleasure and stimulation may be involved but real connection is not necessary, and the very
"interaction" may be composed of lies and pretense.
If sex is a form of communication, it is not the only form offered in intimacy. Intimacy is closeness and closeness is a quality of
communication between individuals. Close communication offers deeper and deeper sharing, sensitivity and fairness, as we explore in the
Other forms of communication besides sexual touch are talk and conversation (including listening!); nonverbal
communication, including body language, eye contact, tone of voice and interpersonal distance; even activities and routines that send
messages to a close other about what we want, care about and feel from moment to moment. When the person you care about returns your
gaze, touches your hand, or laughs at your dumb jokes, you are validated: your existence and meaning are taken seriously, even confirmed.