I was exchanging some emails on this blustery winter day with a friend of mine. She made an innocent observation that “the Internet gives the illusion of connecting, without really actually having to connect.” I should mention that there’s a history to this comment, that stems back to an ongoing discussion we’ve been having about the lack of connection among people in general – particularly among gay men and women.
So I started thinking some more about connecting, which led me to thoughts about intimacy and why it’s so difficult, and this newsletter is the outcome of where my mind went. (Please note: If you are skim-reader, be sure to catch the note at the bottom of this email about our new massage therapist, Molly – and her introductory special!)
Intimacy requires risk. Big risks! Intimacy requires that we literally undress ourselves (emotionally, intellectually, socially, spiritually, and sometimes even physically) with another who is willing to do the same. And once undressed, we must be willing to:
- Be Seen
- Be Accepted
- Be Known
- Be Loved
It’s much easier to do the seeing, the accepting, the knowing, and the loving. In fact, I propose that gay men and women are probably above-average on this side of intimacy for all of the practice we have diverting attention from questions about us! It’s the other side of intimacy that we tend to neglect. The other side requires that we allow ourselves to be real. To keep up our end of intimacy we must reveal ourselves, our truest selves, without apology, and open ourselves to the acceptance of those we love. Without both sides of intimacy – the knowing, and the being known, intimacy can’t exist. Intimacy is reciprocal. Intimacy is mutual.
Gay men and women have a long history of censoring their self-disclosures, monitoring (and sometimes reshaping) behaviors to fit in, withholding feelings and thoughts out of a fear of being “inappropriate,” or “socially unacceptable.” What heterosexuals take for granted, gay men and lesbians consider a risk, or being brave. How many same-sex couples do you see kissing hello and goodbye at the airport? How about pictures of same-sex partners on the office desk? (Clarification, that is, the pictures on the desk, not the partners on the desk). Or how many stories do you hear about romantic getaways from gay men or women in the break room at work. And for those who do share, how well are they received? How then, are we really supposed to learn to truly be intimate, to let down our guards and believe that who we are – just as we are – is actually loveable?
What’s the opposite of intimacy? “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” says it all. We live in a society that institutionalizes our silence, that prohibits our legal expression of love, and leaves us fearing our safety if we hold our partner’s hand in public. Hmm… Do you think any of this could have to do with why some of us struggle with intimacy?
The same walls that keep us feeling safe, end up keeping intimacy out. We float through our life feeling disconnected because in many ways we are. We are a generation of gay men and women who are increasingly visible, and marginally accepted, though we are not yet embraced, because we are not yet embracing ourselves.
So how do we change this? We must get intimate with ourselves. (No, not that kind of intimate). I’m talking about learning to see ourselves, accept ourselves, know ourselves, and love ourselves. How can we be taken seriously otherwise? To achieve this, we must start to take risks. Remember, intimacy requires risk. What is a risk for you (coming out to someone you care about), may not be a risk for the next person (who is a gay rights activist). There is no judgment about the type of risk you take – you’ll know if it’s a risk because your heart rate will increase, your stomach may flip-flop, you may even break a sweat. When you feel like you can’t do it because you fear rejection, you fear ridicule, you fear loss, think about what you’d rather lose, your true self, or ___________. (You fill in the blank) The key is to do it anyway.
See yourself for who you truly are. Accept yourself by acknowledging one thing about yourself every day that you are absolutely grateful for. Know yourself by stepping into your opinions, feelings and beliefs – don’t hide them – they define you, and if you don’t define yourself, others will define who you are for you! Lastly love yourself. When you see yourself, know yourself, and accept yourself, you are loving yourself!