Cultivating Every Day Intimacy In The Age of Distraction
Being present is the first step of the dance
It’s harder than ever to connect to human beings. Our attention is scattered out in all directions like dandelion seeds pulled away by constant gusts of interruption.
Connecting to someone is difficult, also, because in the era of instant communication, we don’t communicate. We really don’t. It is far more common to just leave messages for one another. Often, the intent is for a later connection, but these too, routinely slip away.
There is a distant tune playing in the back of our minds, a melodic lure to deeper connection and meaning, but it is so easy to ignore when there are texts — or almost anything else — waiting to grab your attention.
A friend of ours builds tiny homes. We have been on and off interested in buying one. I realized with a start the other day that I had told Boyd that we would stop by and see his latest creation on Sunday. I completely forgot, because Sunday was flooded out with other events, commitments, distractions, pig destruction on the farm, and just exhaustion.
This morning, I left a message conveying that I would like to try again. Perhaps leaving a message was the chickenshit way to approach it, I know that. But it’s a first step toward what I need to do. I need to effectively communicate.
Commune in order to communicate
It’s what you, too, need to do. To reach others we have to learn, or relearn in today’s environment to communicate to one another. Showing up in person, at the best opportunity is key to this.
Not showing up when Boyd was expecting us was pretty dreadful on our part. I think in the old days, we would have remembered to at least call, but half of the time these days, humans have learned you won’t speak to a live person, so why make the effort? We have distanced ourselves in everyday etiquette.
Once face to face with another person you have to engage. That means first to show up, then to listen. We need to listen not just with our ears but with our whole body. Your body language says a lot about whether you are truly engaged, or just ‘hanging out’ with someone.
There is a time and place to just hang out, but be advised, it is not what to do when you are cultivating connection — intimacy — with another.
You can’t be looking at your device, your phone, or grooving with the tunes. You have to face people, make eye contact, open up the physical aspect of you. You ideally, open your arms, body, and whole self. You nod your head, adjust shoulders, vocalize agreements. You must physically — and emotionally — be present.
Listening, in order to cultivate true intimacy, whether it be casual, with Boyd, or sexual with your life partner, is absolutely crucial and takes much more than just a half-cocked ear.
Communication comes, in other words, when we commune with others. We could be talking with an audience of 10,000, or a lover who is cuddling on a cold morning. But, be present. Commune with others and they will communicate a thousand levels of intimacy with us.
Be Vulnerable: It’s where you find a safe space in a safe place
When re-approaching Boyd, I took the less risky approach of leaving a message. But, to create a genuine friendship with him, I need to take the risk of eventually meeting face to face. I have to apologize for blowing him off on Sunday. I have to make excuses, and probably sound pretty lame, until I reach the safe space of my own confidence to make a heartfelt appeal for another chance.
Note that we face these kinds of situations every day. You don’t need to expose your whole desperate, bleeding and longing heart to the unrequited love of your life to “be vulnerable” (although that may come eventually), but you do have to take risks. We must all take baby steps toward grace.
If you wish to have real intimacy, at any level, you have to be vulnerable.
Leaving a simple message and asking for another meeting means, of course, that I risk rejection. But it’s the cost of gaining something of much greater value: an emotional safe space with another human being.
Think about all the times, even just this week alone, that you took the safe path of not laying anything on the line. Perhaps you didn’t say something at the sales meeting when you had the chance. Perhaps, you didn’t correct someone who mispronounced your name. Perhaps, you passed up a chance to say hello to that man or woman on the bus who was reading your favorite author. We lose intimacy every time we fail to take a tiny chance. We lose possible life connections that are proven to enrich human lives.
Facing the music requires being brave
With our lovers and partners, too, missed chances happen all too often as well. For them to feel vulnerable with us, we must be vulnerable with them. This means we can’t present the sugar-coated version of ourselves if we hope to meet the genuine, he, or she.
We have to display our full moods, our silly side, our nakedness, our kinks, our quirks and our mini-quakes — the things that trigger us to react unreasonably to seemingly minor seismic shifts that only we can feel.
Being vulnerable is hard. Courage does not come with bold, brass fanfares. It comes as an awkward dance between two people learning to be themselves. Learning to be ourselves is NOT taught in schools, church, or even in most families. It’s a dance we have to begin with baby steps that will sometimes feel as though we are waddling, lurching, or about to fall. But, you won’t topple, you will achieve the dance, so long as you are sincere, kind, supportive, and understanding that the other dance partner involved feels just as vulnerable.
Suddenly, I feel silly thinking of Boyd, the house builder, as a dance partner.
Even as I write this, I feel vulnerable. Going to see a tiny house seems like such a minor, and no-risk task. Shouldn’t I be writing about something grand and meaningful? Perhaps, like finding true love in the arms of the one who betrayed your trust, and traumatized you, but you now realize is your one true soul mate?
Maybe I should be. The truth is I don’t know, and not knowing how you will be received is the entire point. We have to try.
Finally, having reached intimacy is not an actual destination. This is a dance that must be choreographed each and every day of our lives. There will be mistakes. There may be some toes stepped upon from time to time.
But the dance is worth it, and to be fully human we all have to let the music of intimacy, human and all universal connection play in our heads to learn the tune.