Emotional Intimacy. It’s something we all crave, right? That feeling of being known for who you are completely and fully. And being loved, cherished and adored for it. I know it’s something that I often crave. I know that God is my father and that He loves me and created me and looks upon me and smiles. And when I think upon this I do receive peace and a real sense of freedom. But I also know that intimacy, closeness and love shared between two people is something truly special in its own right… And a longing that can wreak havoc on your heartstrings in the lonely midnight hour! (Or just a mild tug, depending on who you are, we’re all different!)
Thing is, recently I’ve realised that this longing in myself is somewhat messed up. I’ve realised that, in my head, sexually attractive me = loved, valued, accepted, desired me. Obviously then this is not good… In fact I think I can blame this thought pattern for many things. One of which is my lack of assertiveness when it comes to boundaries in relationships. I’m usually pretty good at judging right from wrong, yes from no, black from white, but this is where I have come a bit unstuck in the past. And I think it’s because I am connecting physical attraction and intimacy with emotional intimacy – being deeply loved and cared for. Anyone else do this?
I didn’t realise this was particularly different until recently when I realised that actually, for many people, the physical act of being intimate with someone, doesn’t mean there is a desire to create an emotional bond with that person at all. It’s detached, emotional intimacy / physical intimacy. Unfortunately I guess this is even more common and encouraged through one night stands, watching porn etc. But this is something that I have been thinking about a lot, and I am now really trying to get my head around…
I did a little research. When talking about the highest level of physical intimacy (sex) many propose that men are more likely to find it easier to separate emotion from the physical act, given their evolutionary role as the ‘seed spreader’ (cringe!). Their goal, in this sense, is to find as many attractive mates as possible. Women on the other hand, are the ‘home-makers’ and so tend to seek out men who are going to stick around, therefore making the connection between emotional intimacy and physical intimacy more tightly tied. Makes sense I guess!
BUT I can’t help but think that physical and emotional intimacy should go together. Surely that’s why on a night out a one night stand is rarely a follow up to a sober night. Would people sleep around so much if there wasn’t alcohol to help bypass the fact that you barely know each other? Surely that’s why after watching porn or being part of a one night stand so many people will tell of ‘feeling empty’ or ‘used’. Or even, taken down a notch, why many people get hurt after being physically intimate with someone whose motivations were entirely detached from any pursuit of emotional intimacy.
Undoubtedly, the need for emotional intimacy with another person can be very strong. Often it can be so strong that it can pull people towards being physically intimate with people who may not actually care for them that deeply at all! I’m also aware that this relationship could work the opposite way, with people craving physical intimacy so much that they are willing to compromise on how much they care for the other person. I would argue that in both cases the outcome lacks wholeness and fulfillment and falls short of what God designed for us to have and enjoy. In the Bible, the committed relationship between two people is upheld as the best grounding for sex – epitomizing how the highest level of physical intimacy is matched perfectly by the highest level of emotional intimacy and commitment. Far from an out-dated concept, I’d say it was a pretty timeless and perfect concept…
The challenge, then, for each of us, is perhaps to determine in our own hearts, how we can best care for and protect ourselves, and the hearts of others, through understanding, and placing physical and emotional intimacy in their rightful places.
Proverbs 4:23 ‘Guard your heart carefully, for it determines the course of your life’