PS: this is my first attempt audio recording a post, though I strongly think it reads better on paper than vocally. Let me know what you think!
January is monsoon season. I like the smell of rain and listening to The Mariás indoors. A few good things: I’m healing and finishing medical treatment soon. I’ve reconnected with a few old friends. Simple is all I can ask for nowadays. The simpler it gets, the more fundamentally beautiful I find it — the vivid greenness emerging from a fresh rain, a warm meal, devotion to the tiniest moments that fill our lives.
Winter is the season I go to museums. Chicago last year, New York the year before that. I went with Z to an old warehouse converted into a museum this year. It reminded me of that Chuck Klosterman line, art and love are the same thing: it's the process of seeing yourself in things that are not you.
Maybe this sentiment applies to all relationships. Our bonds with objects, places, and most of all with people. I think most of us both fear and crave intimacy with other people because it also means closeness to self, proximity to the center. It’s why we hide, run, or cling on too tight. Every deep relationship you have with anyone else is also a portal into the relationship you have with yourself.
I’ve been thinking about how the spectrum for what intimacy is looks different for every person. I call it the intimacy threshold. For one person, communicating very little information could already feel very intimate (low threshold) while for another person their threshold is much higher — they can share a lot about their life and still not venture into the depths of feeling vulnerable. For some, intimacy is merely physicality and proximity. For others, it’s about the fullness of understanding, resonance, seeing, holding, creating, together.
A lot of anguish comes from the misalignment of intimacy thresholds. Problems of togetherness come up when people don’t want the version or scale of closeness that you want. Either they want more (yearning) or they want less (distant).
I think a good relationship is where you fundamentally understand the other person’s intimacy threshold. How much space do you need? How intertwined do you get? Do you share everything on your mind, do you curate it subconsciously before you hit send? Do you share pain or suffering, just as easily as gladness?
Anyone I’ve ever dated will tell you I am hyperindependent and a little stubborn. Last year, I prided myself on being so good at being alone. Armored myself with solitude. I’ve changed my mind on that recently — there’s something really tender and important about being deeply intertwined with the people in your life. This year, instead of my impulse to control, to hide, to put on a mask, I’ve been experiencing and rewiring: Maybe softness is better. Presence is better. Maybe I’ll try again.
Earlier today J and I talked about how everyone is entangled. No one is built in isolation. Our worlds become brighter, more whole, more coherent when we accept that we are both anchor and ship. We depend, and are depended on. I see you in me. You see me in you.
What exactly do I see? Your presence has fundamental lightness to it, but something within you is always striving, gearing up for a challenge. This duality is charming. I think talking to you nonstop is never boring. It’s wildly generative, actually. But I still live with the terror: when you see me fully, will you still like what you see?
Intimacy sounds like fable until you feel it. Then it comes into our lives, tears our expectations to shreds, creates space for surprise. Resisting the need to always know, reaching beyond the discomfort of uncertainty. When everything forges forward, I’m comforted knowing we can stay still. Listening to the soft rain outside.
Closeness is both harder and easier to bear than you think. Maria Popova once wrote:
The richest relationships are lifeboats, but they are also submarines that descend to the darkest and most disquieting places, to the unfathomed trenches of the soul where our deepest shames and foibles and vulnerabilities live, where we are less than we would like to be.
I have this reoccurring thought: I am fully responsible for the intimacy I allow myself to have. I am responsible for the partner I choose, the conversations I initiate, the places I inhabit. Etc etc. It’s also up to me how much of myself to give. And it’s up to me to have the courage to be honest with myself. Posturing intimacy is different from actually experiencing it, and only I can know what my threshold is. The threshold where the nerve endings start to bite. When I want to stand guard over my heart, even while knowing I should open it up.
The pursuit of intimacy is why I dedicate my time to writing that predicates itself on exposure. It’s the only way I can release my thoughts, ungoverned, into the world. I believe beautiful ideas are uncontainable. I strive in all ways, whether through deep stillness or obsession or intensity, to be a good messenger: to bring them to the surface.
This week I’m reading Eve Babitz and Annie Ernaux, who both write about how love consumes and the irresistible gravity of desire. In their books they talk about losing themselves in infatuation or passion. Being impaled with wanting. But I don’t believe this has to be the only way to live with love. I’d like to think you can share yourself with someone without losing yourself. And you can share yourself with the world without abandoning yourself. Intactness can co-exist with intimacy. I think I’ll spend my life living out this idea. I write it down in the hope you live it too.
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PPS: you might like other posts I wrote about close relationships: dear friend or perfect stranger and finding the right people
BTW this is my conceptual idea of intimacy threshold:
Quote of the Week
Tension and tenderness may appear to be opposing forces, but they both find root in the Latin tendere, meaning "to stretch." In French, "to stretch" and "tender" are the same word: "tendre," which can also mean to hold one's hand out.
Also, sharing this wonderful image about intimacy Annabelle sent me — I really liked this visual, tangentially related to this piece:
>Every deep relationship you have with anyone else is also a portal into the relationship you have with yourself.
Love this bit. Also, that graph for the threshold is very on point. I feel like I'm only starting to grasp what intimacy looks like in platonic friendships, and I think I've had the tendency to try to apply the same threshold to everyone. If it didn't work, it was something I wasn't doing right, or just something I needed to try to expand myself.
I don't think this was out of malice, but more trying to fill a vessel which was empty for a long time. One person didn't feel like enough, so I was trying to get the same amount from every relationship, rather than having a variety. When you're emerging from an intense loneliness, it feels like a lot of *work* to try to build that variety (especially when you feel meeting people in general is difficult, in order to HAVE that variety).
This kind of realigned me a bit, mostly because I've seen what happens when you try to force that. I think it's okay to be a bit disappointed that someone's threshold is lower when you'd want it to be higher (because well, you want to know them deeper!), but it's similar to someone not wanting to be in a romantic relationship with you: you know that if you forced them, it wouldn't be authentic.
And it wheels back to the "relationship you have with yourself" in that way. I'm looking for other people to perhaps fill a gap I need to fill myself.
Sorry for the ramble, but I'm going to share this with a few people I think would appreciate it. Cheers!
Also, some feedback for the voiceover: there's some audio popping here and there (not sure why). It also kind of sounds like you're "reading this in front of the class", which kind of comes off a bit colder than what the tone of the piece is. I'm not sure how actionable this is, but I think the tone should be closer to "reading this to a friend across the table at a cafe", which comes with less vulnerability, but less ridigity.
this piece was so relaxing to listen to!!