The fear of intimacy is neither rare nor new. Every person has this fear, though we experience it to different degrees.
Its root of course is a fear of rejection. As we raise our children, it is our constant challenge to love them unconditionally, so that they never feel rejected and don’t leave our home with so much emotional baggage that they cannot develop or sustain meaningful relationships as adults.
Thus it is beyond worrisome that so many of our young people today seem to be disproportionately afraid. While self-preservation is a natural instinct, taken to the extreme it can be debilitating and drastically affect our quality of life.
The fear manifests itself in myriad ways, and contribute to the crisis of humanity that’s our society today.
We equate intimacy with sex, then compartmentalize and micromanage it to death. We depend on birth control and claim that we can divorce the act from the psyche, “no strings attached”. We resort to pornography and masturbation to get our physical “fix”. Anytime we need an emotional high we turn to one of our many virtual relationships. We delude ourselves into thinking we’ve unlocked the mystery of the other, but we often encourage falsehood and discourage authenticity.
We take shortcuts, choose efficiency via the swipe of a finger, except that efficiency and human relationships aren’t exactly a good mix. We insist on consent, as if consent frees us from being objectified and commodified. We use the terms power and winning in relation to sex, and ignore what we know in our hearts: that sex is anything BUT a game.
We get preoccupied with image, embrace worldly “perfection” and allow fantasy to grip us. We buy into the notion that we have unlimited time, unlimited health, unlimited number of people to have “relationships” with. We get sucked in by the illusion of control: hands on the keyboard, hands off reality. We convince ourselves that digital, ambient intimacy is good enough. Whereas there has always been a communication gap between the sexes where intimacy is concerned, technology has allowed us to widen that gap even further. In this age of Photoshop manipulation and Instagram filters, we wonder if we can ever truly bridge it. Still we shrug our shoulders and refuse to rock the boat, settling instead for status quo.
We go for superficial solutions, get comfortable with playing mind games, and wonder why the end result is still dissatisfaction. We feel used, abused, objectified, but we’ve distorted the language to describe what we’re going through, and the closest label we can find to summarize our experience is “rape culture”, so we go with that.
We welcome the attraction to distraction. Like birds that forget to fly south for the winter, we flit from tree to tree, seeking warmth where we can and failing that, comfort ourseves with the thought that there are billions of other birds just like us.
We end up desensitized, plagued with an inability to read each other’s cues. We get frustrated at being clueless about each other’s intentions and expectations, and yet exposing our authentic selves is just too emotionally taxing — who can afford to do that? So we decide we can’t talk about real needs and wants, and we either make hasty decisions, sweep problems under the rug, or we give up on dating/courtship/marriage altogether. (Or we marry a warehouse or a bridge or a robot, since real love and intimacy seem impossibly out of reach anyway.)
We hear the oft-spoken platitudes: love is not feeling, love is not emotion… but those ring hollow, because if it’s not those then what is it supposed to look like, sound like, feel like? We are told that love is a choice, love is a verb, love is self-sacrifice, and yet none of those ring true to us either, because we’ve made choices, we’ve done deeds, we’ve sacrificed our very bodies, yet we’ve come no closer to the truth.
We mistake intimacy as knowing what the other looks like underneath his or her clothes, when real intimacy is knowing what the other looks like underneath his or her fears. And we’re not sure we really want to know.
We look at married people around us, and see that they’re just as confused if not more so. If marriage is just more of the same, then why even bother? It’s scary enough now just breaking down these walls one brick at a time; how can marriage possibly be better?
More next time.