I longed to feel close to him but I didn’t know how.
It was unsettling and painful. We were dating, we said “I love you,” but there was something missing. I hated not being around him because it greatly emphasized this lack of something. It haunted me throughout the course of our relationship and filled me with anxiety. I became clingy (something that has always repulsed me) and relied solely on physical touch to soothe this mysterious ache, which didn’t work—causing me to then feel more anxious. We both knew something was off, and the worst part of all was that I couldn’t put a finger on what was wrong.
Unfortunately, this experience seems more common than I realized.
This could be due to the focus on sex that has become so prevalent. While we bask in the glamor of casual, no-strings-attached, habitual one night stands that Hollywood has so cleverly made the golden standard, we find ourselves craving, yearning, desperate for something more.
As relational beings, we want and need intimacy. Unbeknownst to the rom-com writers and much of the population, sex does not equal intimacy.
Sex stopped being intimate the second we decided to make it a casual thing. We boldly declared that it is purely a physical act and does not require commitment on behalf of either party—only consent.
Intimacy is seeing and being seen for who you are.
And so began the age of the hookup culture which no longer needs to be referred to as such since it now goes without saying.
What quickly followed was the numbing loneliness that still persists. We keep quiet about it, try not to think about it, all the while seeking its antidote in one person or another the only way we know how, through the only thing that remains socially acceptable: meaningless sex. Or relationships in which the parties are committed but, like mine, lack real intimacy: the knowing, the understanding, the seeing.
We can’t become intimate because we don’t know how. Instead we aimlessly wander (as I did) and hope this emptiness goes away eventually.
Well, guess what: it won’t.
It’s simply not in our nature. We are made for authentic love, love which requires us to be known first, love which necessitates intimacy.
Empathy is the antidote to that and a surefire way to grow closer to your beloved.
Intimacy is seeing and being seen for who you are. It is an intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and physical understanding that requires time and effort to achieve.
If you’re like me and have felt an intangible absence in your relationships, here are a few ways you can start to heal that deficiency and work toward the love you are made for.
We rarely listen as well as we think we do. How often do you find yourself coming up with your counterargument when your loved one is speaking during a discussion? If you’re like me, pretty darn often.
Empathy is the antidote to that and a surefire way to grow closer to your beloved. Empathy is stepping fully into the shoes of the other person. When we empathize we let go of what we want, hope, and fear, and attempt to fully immerse ourselves in the perspective of our beloved. Empathy is not sympathy. It is not feeling sorry for the other. It is truly feeling what they are feeling.
Practice: Next time you are listening to your significant other, don’t think about how hungry or tired you are or what you’re going to say next; just listen and try to imagine what they are feeling in that moment.
2. Carefree timelessness
Matthew Kelly talks about this in The Rhythm of Life and it is one of my favorite ways to love another. The idea is that we should aim to spend time with our loved one doing nothing (or at least nothing important). Time that is ample and not set aside for some specific reason other than to be together.
Just be with each other. I know it may seem daunting to set aside a chunk of time, but intimacy necessitates this quality, carefree time together. We need to get outside of our routine and adventure together, enjoying each other’s company.
Practice: Set aside a couple of hours in your schedule to just be with each other. Maybe grab a picnic blanket and head to the park, or go for a long walk, or explore a new town.
One of my favorite books, A Severe Mercy, is a true story about a couple with an incredible love (and conversion) story. Toward the beginning of their relationship, Sheldon and Davy make a few “laws” to follow throughout the rest of their time together. One of these tenets they make is to “share everything.” By that they mean books, music, places, food, people . . . if someone likes something, that person is to share it with the other—and the other has to try to see the good in it. Their theory is that if one of them liked it, there has to be something of value to appreciate about that thing.
We are made to be known. Sex can’t possibly achieve this on its own.
Practice: Whether it’s the song you’re obsessed with, the book you can’t put down, the show that makes you laugh hysterically, a prayer that particularly resonated with you, the latest app you’ve found super helpful . . . make it a point to share it this week. If they don’t like it, that’s okay. The point isn’t shared interests, the point is letting the person see a bit of your heart—and the things you love make up a great place to start.
Ultimately what unites people is a common goal or vision. What do you want to achieve? It could be running a marathon (definitely not on my list), or writing a book, or starting a small group. It doesn’t have to be monumental to be important. You also don’t have to share the same goal with your significant other, spouse, or friend. However, you should relate your hopes and dreams with each other so you can encourage, support and assist each other in your ambitions and becoming the person you want to be.
This is the final point of relationships: to become the-best-version-of-ourselves. To grow and love and help the other person grow and love.
Practice: Ask your significant other a goal they hope to achieve and why. Then, share something you hope to accomplish, too.
That painful yearning I felt was trying to tell me something, we are made to be known. Sex can’t possibly achieve this on its own—especially if we have made sex a casual gesture. If you’ve felt something similar, I hope these ideas will help you begin to create authentic intimacy with your loved one and have the relationship that helps you become the-best-version-of-yourself.