Intimacy, anxiety and touch
True intimacy can be a challenge to achieve and many people are wary of risking it. A lot of guys we meet are up for sex and many interpret the slightest touch or confidence as a sexual come-on, which can be a real bore, but sex is not merely quite different from intimacy; it can actually get in the way.
An intimate relationship may be described as one in which each person, in the presence of the other, is fully able to be and to reveal himself, without mask or pretence, and understand he is known and loved as such. This takes courage, not merely to trust in the other’s perception, but also to see and love oneself for the person one really is.
Why is this a challenge? You might find the answers to this question are obvious. Because we live such harried lives, wrenched from event to dislocated event through the course of each day. Because this is an age of anxiety. Also, indirectly, it is for reasons of sexuality, which may have led to emotionally damaging experience and limited success in developing full confidence in ourselves, important if we are to be intimate with others.
Trust builds gradually between people, yet there are times when we do feel able to open up to others immediately. There is something about them. We feel they’ll understand. Significantly, we also feel able to be ourselves (at last!) with this other person. Such can be the beginnings of love.
It is when this does not seem to be happening that we might have problems. Of course, it might be that we’re just hanging round with the wrong people – who might be on such different wavelengths that we’ll never feel able to get through. It could also be that the place is wrong. The scene does not necessarily allow for free and open communication between people. This is partly because it is a commercial space, where the imperative is to consume and have a high old time, not to relax and reflect. It may also be because of problematic associations a given locale has for us, of previous experiences, perhaps, which we do not want to repeat. Many is the man who has declared time out from the local hot spots, silence the only response to those of his friends who ask why.
Yet such difficulties are often also the result of an attitude to ourselves. We may feel at risk when other people get close to us. We might have had bad experiences of relationships, when we did let people get close and formed attachments to them, only to feel let down and hurt. It might also be that we don’t realise we aren’t letting people in, that we are so wound up by the busy day or week that there is nothing for others to see but force, energy, bluster and the like.
It might be we do too little to be with ourselves, quietly and calmly to let our thoughts wander and gather ourselves to ourselves. Easily solved.
Consider, then, the people, the place – and you. If you imagine yourself being intimate with another person, where do you picture yourself and with whom? And what is your mood, your way of being yourself, in that imagined scene?
Casual sex – and emotional risk
We have mentioned that the resistance to intimacy can come about because prior experience teaches us that, when we open ourselves up to other people and express interest in them, a lot of guys think sex must be on the agenda – and soon.
Casual sex, even more or less anonymous sex, can be fun. A quick fuck can be all that a dreary, run-of-the-mill afternoon requires to turn it around. There is, though, potentially the risk of a subsequent feeling of being cheapened, soiled or (self-)abused. It is all too easy to suffer the ‘expense of spirit in a waste of shame’ anomie as the lust, desires and fantasies dissipate in the minutes following orgasm and we pull ourselves together to face the world again.
If casual sex isn’t really for you, if it is only, say, a temporary palliative to a more fundamental and unanswered need, or even if it just isn’t what you really want most of all, then in the relatively short term it can add up to inhibitions and fears which hinder the attainment of your most desired goals – indeed, can lead to the forgetting and cancellation of those goals.
To illustrate this potential area of conflict with a grim situation: we meet someone who seems pretty hot, pretty cool; get chatting; find ourselves alert to the murmurings of possible desire and connection; and then hit reverse when sex is available, frequently clumsily offered, too soon – and we replay all those hundreds of casual sex partners we’ve ‘had’, whom we didn’t particularly want and whose love technique wasn’t that good.
It should be added that, when we are happy, those hundreds of casual fucks can be remembered with pleasure.
One solution to this is to recognise when a defensive reaction is setting in and to play for time. Fake a phone call. Spot another friend across the bar. Open the conversation to another stranger. Change the subject – or just fall quiet. Give yourself time to form a more accurate assessment of whether this prospect really is the outright bore you’re currently remodelling him as, or whether that’s just you looking for reasons to reject him because, at this point, you’re not ready to accept anyone, even as possible.
People do muck it up in those first few urgent minutes of meeting; however, it needn’t take long for things to level out and the true personalities be revealed.
Intimacy and touch
Intimate touch is not necessarily, or even primarily, sexual, yet it is when we are in sexually charged situations (e.g. you’ve gone back to his and in a very little time will no doubt be more or less naked and erect) that we might, if we have problems with intimacy, start to bridle at the thought of touch.
The most obvious point to make, first off, is that this might be because we’re forcing ourselves to go through with it, sex, because we feel obliged to do so, for whatever reason. Well, go figure.
But this need not be the case. It might be that we do want this other person. We’ve dated a bit. We’ve talked and got on. We like him. The head’s saying yes. If our fantasies are anything to go by, so is our body – at least when we last masturbated over the thought of having sex with him. But then it’s time to get naked – and everything we’d feared about our mind-body’s reaction to this-close proximity starts to come true. The skin seems to flinch and reject. We switch off from what’s happening and just do it, do what’s expected and to which we feel we have committed ourselves. Chances are, we won’t want to see him again – no matter how good a person or how right for us he is.
If we step back a bit from this situation, we can start to find a way around.
First off, if you do fear that you are not properly prepared for sex, and you think you’ll want it, build up towards that possibility slowly. Don’t feel you have to brave it out. It might be that you haven’t been fully intimate or so physically close to another person for a long time. If that’s the case, of course you’ll have policed your sense of your personal space and your body – as a survival strategy to let you get through life without feeling alone or desperate. Now that policing, that rejection of the need for intimacy, needs to be unlearned.
Be honest to your possible partner. Explain why you don’t want to hurry things. Say you need to keep your clothes on awhile – and kiss and touch clothed, so you feel safer than you would if naked and can gradually let your body readmit the joy of intimacy, so as not to register touch as threat.
Of course, if loving sex isn’t on the other person’s agenda, then he make take this chance to bugger off. Horses for courses. Good riddance.
If, though, he could really become a lover, as opposed to a fuck, then you stand a pretty good chance of finding him amenable to what actually won’t be a very long process of emotional readjustment.
Learn to love. Learn to be touched. Spend a lot of time kissing and studying his face close up. Touch those intimate, warm body areas – not his ass or his cock. Let yourself shiver and feel pent-up emotion released as he touches you. Be aware that this feeling of release can be extreme.
Finally, when it truly is time to make love, don’t strip urgently, all at once – and turn the lights out. (You can turn them back on at some future point when you do feel fully confident with this lover.)
It can take a lot of work on the self if you find your capacity for intimate contact with others has diminished. In the end, though, you’ll need to move forward, for it is only with others, or an other, that we can complete this process of emotional re-education – and so become complete ourselves.