I've spent a good deal of time and energy searching for what I consider to be the relationship holy grail: intimacy. Ironically, I've also spent at least as much time and energy running away from it as fast as I possibly could. For every relationship milestone I reached over the years, I found myself pushing away from the person so that I could save my heart from being hurt once again. I could never figure out how to rationalize my intense desire for closeness with a man and my unbearable fear of being really 'seen.' Obviously, this makes for an interesting dynamic when good relationships are based almost solely on a healthy sense of intimacy between the two people.
I'm not 100 percent positive as to when or where I developed this fear of intimacy, but my best guess is that it happened during my formative teenage years. I was teased mercilessly throughout elementary and high school and because of those experiences, I learned about the importance of self-protecting (emotionally). Fifteen-plus years later, I'm a pro. I can rationalize my way out of a paper bag (or a relationship) in minutes if I'm feeling emotionally vulnerable.
While self-protecting did serve a purpose in high school, I know that it is no longer beneficial to me as an adult -- especially in a long-term relationship. It's become such a long-standing habit that today, after years and years of self-protecting, I can no longer distinguish between the persona that I've created to protect my heart and the real me, who is cowering in a corner, afraid of being exposed.
But then a funny thing happened. It was a classic "boy meets girl" scenario, but with a unique twist: the boy in this scenario was moving to London, England in just over two weeks.
In the past few years, I've developed quite a few issues related to commitment, with one divorce and a string of failed relationships under my belt by the tender age of 30. I've become more cynical as time passed, always wondering if it is possible for any relationship to last forever. So, for me, this short-term relationship with a built-in expiration date seemed like an ideal situation.
The boy, on the other hand, was the epitome of a romantic (thankfully, without the clichéd Casanova arrogance or smarminess). When we met, he told me: "I'm not trying to change your life; I just want to make you smile." (An aside: I'm convinced that even Meg Ryan hasn't been on the receiving end of such a romantic sentence.)
Two days after we met, the boy and I went on our first date... and that's when everything changed.
Because I knew that this relationship had an expiration date, I had no problem opening up to the boy in a way that I never had before. It was the first time that I was completely honest about myself and about my past -- the good, the bad and the really bad. I let my guard down. I put aside the rules that have regulated every moment of my single life and abandoned the 'games' that have become second nature for me (and for most other singles today, I would guess). I acted honestly -- according to how I felt, rather than worrying about what he thought of me. It was the closest that I've ever come to true intimacy. Because of the deeper intimacy that we shared, I developed much stronger feelings for him than I would think was possible in such a short time. We joked that we had crammed three months worth of dates into two weeks; in reality, we had crammed all the dates, emotions and comfort level of a three-month relationship into two weeks.
All of these realizations helped me to discover some very important insights about true intimacy in relationships:
- If you are willing to be open and share your true self with someone; if you trust the person that you are with to love (and like) you no matter what; and if the person that you are with is able to accept you (without passing judgement), then you can -- and hopefully, will -- experience true intimacy.
- True love -- the forever kind that outlasts the trials and tribulations of day-to-day life, the physicality of the early relationship and the struggles of old age -- is only possible with the presence of true intimacy.
- You can have true intimacy with someone that you've known for 15 years or 15 days.
- Intimacy makes even the simplest day-to-day experiences better. When you are truly intimate with another person, you are not just going out for dinner, drinking at a bar (filled with suits) or watching a baseball game; you are creating memories.
- I can trust another person with my heart. It will be scary and I will feel vulnerable at times, but in the end, there is no better feeling in the world.
This last lesson was the most life-changing for me. I now know that I need to strive for this level of intimacy in all of my romantic relationships, as it is the only way that they will have any chance of lasting a lifetime.
So, back to my real-life, whirlwind romance... 18 days after he came into my life, the boy left on a jet plane. As quickly as it had started, our relationship was over. Though he didn't intend to, the boy did end up changing my life -- for the better -- and I will always remember our days and nights filled with scotch, sightseeing and even, a little bit of romance.