Intimacy takes place as two people connect on a deep, emotional level, sharing their feelings and secrets. When that bond forms between members of the opposite sex, well, let's just say—other stuff also happens.
Well-known author John Gray describes what happens as a mixing of two distinct cultures, as if we're from totally different planets. An ancient author, the writer of Genesis, describes something similar: two unique reflections of God's image becoming one. However described, that synthesis provides a wonderfully confounding context for our attempts to achieve and sustain intimacy.
We can understand intimacy better by contrasting it to bonding. Bonding occurs when we share an important experience with another person. We study together to pass a class, we “rough it” camping for a week, we assist each selling t-shirts in a school booster club, we complete an accounting task together with a fellow employee. Such experiences bring about bonding via “project sharing.”
Men bond naturally. Since boyhood we've set goals and enlisted each other's help by joining together. In the process we connect and feel close. But that connection seldom includes the need to pour out our vulnerabilities and feelings. As a matter of fact, intimacy might actually get in our way, rather than help us complete our projects.
Intimacy comes more naturally to women. From the time they are little girls, women learn the value of relating to each other in depth, and those relationships become the center of what's important and solid in a woman's world.
So the friction between men and women comes when a man thinks he is into intimacy but is actually into bonding, and when a woman, knowing the difference, finds herself frustrated and unfulfilled with that level of connectedness. Now, just for grins, add to the mix the fact that men often find their way to emotional intimacy through physical intimacy— something incomprehensible to many women and what have we got? A real mess.
To try and sort this mess out I found a couple willing to talk about intimacy for an entire weekend. This couple represents the different perspectives that men and women often bring to such conversations. Beyond gender differences, we also find ourselves in various situations— happily married, unhappily married, just engaged, living together, girlfriend / boyfriend, single and glad of it, dating whomever comes along, separated and relieved, divorced and lonely, widowed and wondering “What now?”—to name a few. So any effort to create the all-inclusive couple would fail before the ink dried on page one.
Meet Matt and Sarah. This particular couple is married, happily at times and not so happily at other times. They certainly don't pretend to be the ideal couple. They're a typical couple struggling to figure out intimacy. Some women reading these conversations will see themselves more accurately portrayed by Matt, and some men will see themselves more in Sarah. But most women, I'm going to guess 75 percent or more, will identify with Sarah, and the same percentage is likely true for men identifying with Matt. If you do find yourself part of the sizable minority, though, flip the dialogue, and if you find yourself alternately identifying with each of them, then flip-flop!
Either way, you'll quickly find their conversations dispensing with the superficial fluff and getting down to the genuine stuff of how we find our way into intimacy and passion. At times you'll consider yourself in familiar territory, and then you'll be in deep water. It will be fun, and it will be frightening. If you're looking for straightforward honesty, however, you won't be disappointed.
Interspersed within their freewheeling conversations are highlighted boxes and periodic interludes that summarize their thoughts and point out practical “how-to's”—a kind of right-brain/left-brain approach. Also along the way you will find places to add your thoughts. So, feel free to evaluate, disagree, have an “aha” moment, and focus on what's relevant to you. The important thing is to enter their conversation as a participant in the dialogue instead of an observer who stands on the outside looking in.
None of us naturally knows how intimacy and passion works for the opposite sex—we have to get into their gender world to see their perspective. Even then, when we think we'we gotten it, something blows through our relationship that sets us back to square one, or close to it. Since we're all a mixture of feminine and masculine traits, relating to each other is both frustrating and fascinating!
Again, allow me to introduce you to Matt and Sarah. Actually, this couple is more special than first impressions might convey. They are, after all, willing to take a weekend out of their busy lives to explore what it takes to improve the intimacy and passion between them. By joining the dialogue, you've made a similar commitment. We're looking forward to seeing where it all leads.
Bonding vs. Intimacy
How would you describe the difference between bonding and intimacy?
Does this difference between bonding and intimacy affect your relationship? How so?
In what ways would you like to see your relationship grow in intimacy?
Periodic questions such as those above are meant to help you get into the conversation as a participant. If writing isn't of interest, use them for personal reflection. If, on the other hand, you want more space to write, consider starting a journal to record your thoughts.