“Real intimacy is a sacred experience. It never exposes its secret trust and belonging to the voyeuristic eye of a neon culture. Real intimacy is of the soul, and the soul is reserved.”
― John O'Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
IN-TO-ME-YOU-SEE. Intimacy. Connectedness. That quality of being present with a partner, friend or other loved one, in which you can let yourself be seen as you are--and your partner does the same. And in those moments, you and your partner are engaged in a dance of connection, mutual acceptance, vulnerability and openness. Intimacy does not have to involve sex: it's about emotional availability and being present. When partners share intimacy, it relaxes and reassures us: yes, this. We have a place to rest in connectivity and it is those moments that make life feel so good and satisfy our deep attachment needs.
In my work with clients, most tell me that they want intimacy every bit as much as hot, passionate, losing oneself, mind-blowing sex. And for people who share intimacy, good sex is often part of their intimate practices. In fact, working on intimacy can lead partners who are experiencing distance back to both connectivity and mutually satisfying sex.
In February, we're presented with a cultural distraction, Valentine's Day, that certainly can be an opportunity to connect with our partners, but is more often a "Hallmark Holiday" cheap substitute for intimacy and genuine romance. People feel obligated to participate, buying chocolate, negligees and jewelry to assuage the cultural mandate that this is the day (and the way) to show your partner how much you love him/her/them. But what if you chose to do it differently this year, to really reach for your partner, to offer intimacy instead of superficial homage to Mother Culture? What kind of experience could you design where you and your partner could both show up, to see one another, to be seen, to melt in sweet connection? Consider the following as mix and match options:
Agree with your partner to spend time together connecting. No technology allowed: set aside phones, iPads, Netflix, etc. Start by sitting together facing one another, hold hands, and gaze into one another's eyes. Then take turns (up to two minutes each) telling your partner what you appreciate about him/her/them. After, take a few minutes and stroke your sweetie's face. Try it with eyes closed and open and in different combinations. Be present with your partner and the sensations of touch.
Agree ahead of time to talk about your sexual relationship. If you haven't done this in a while or ever, it could be terrifying--and doing so could really help your relationship! This Ester Perel handout is a great template to get the discussion going.
Instead of going out to a crowded restaurant, make a meal together, sharing in the preparation. Wine is lovely, but limit your intake so you remain present and open to your sweetie!
If sex is on the menu, agree to go slowly. Women's arousal takes more time than a man's especially if she is post-menopausal: consider offering her a long, slow, erotic massage. If you haven't exchanged that kind of touch in awhile, try sensate focus. The trick here: stay present, keep your mind focused on the sensation you feel in the moment: your partner's skin texture and temperature, the pressure of the touch (try soft and tender).
Make a long-term investment in your intimacy. Sign up for a Level 1 Workshop through the Human Awareness Institute.
Instead of going out and buying your partner a new sex toy, head over to As You Like It; the Pleasure Shop (if you're in Eugene) and buy a new toy together. If you're in Portland, visit SheBop; in Seattle, Babeland. All three stores are sex-positive, women-friendly and packed with pleasure items. Sharing in the selection process together deepens intimacy and a commitment to sharing pleasure together.
Developing enduring intimacy in a relationship is well worth the time and effort and it is deep intimacy that keeps a relationship strong when things get tough. What will it be for you this year? A Hallmark Holiday or true intimacy?