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Polyamory readiness question #2: How do you define 'intimacy'?

What does intimacy mean?

As I mentioned, intimacy involves the sharing of yourself.  The verb "to intimate" means to make known. We are talking about opening up and sharing parts of you that you may not normally feel comfortable sharing with strangers, your co-workers, or acquaintances.  

Just as there are various levels of disclosure, there's different degrees of intimacy. The more of yourself that you share and disclose, the deeper a connection you feel towards the other individual. You are also making yourself more vulnerable in the process.  Because of this risk of being hurt, most people only achieve the deeper levels of intimacy with close friends, lovers, and life partners.

If the idea of different degrees of intimacy isn't making your head spin, there's also different types of intimacy to consider:


Intellectual intimacy

In my search for information on intellectual intimacy, I stumbled upon a forum post that requires a bit of an explanation.  A woman wrote about how her husband was close friends with a male co-worker, with whom he exchanged books frequently. The woman then reflected upon how she would've reacted if the co-worker was female:

I would feel threatened. I would be far more disturbed and jealous if my husband were sharing books with another woman than I would if he had a one night stand with her... I would be much more threatened by my husband connecting with another woman on an intellectual/creative level than I would by him connecting with one sexually. Intellectual intimacy is far more disturbing than sexual intimacy, when it comes to personal dynamics and the sense of competition that such relationships can create.

I understand how someone could feel insecure or threatened by their partner's interactions with others (jealousy).  The idea that someone could be threatened more by their husband sharing books with another woman than they would feel if there was sexual tension - that shocks and worries me. The forum post was made back in 2004 - I am hoping that the couple (or at least the post writer) has gone through some growth since then, and that these insecurities have been overcome.  Okay, end-tangent.

In the early stages of intellectual intimacy, couples relate to each other through sharing common interests. As the relationship deepens, the focus shifts from outward topics inward - discussing hopes, dreams, fears, opinions, and beliefs. 

My relationship with my non-dating guy friend (I so need a better label than that) was founded on the development of intellectual intimacy. Corey didn't want to see non-action flicks with me, so I would go see them with the other person. The common interest sparked conversation, which later delved into more personal conversations about beliefs and interests.


Emotional intimacy

Emotional intimacy is a sense of closeness and affection that develops over time in a relationship. It is something that is greater and more substantial than the attraction and infatuation that you may feel early in a relationship.  Feelings of love, desire, and passion are linked to emotional intimacy.

Let me state this again - emotional intimacy is different from NRE (New Relationship Energy).  It is a lot more substantial and takes more time to develop.

Part of emotional intimacy is that each partner is aware of and concerned about the emotional well being of the other.  In a healthy relationship, if one partner is upset, they are comfortable with making the other partner aware of this.  That way, the other person can help to fix the problem, or be there as emotional support if they are not meant to get rid of the problem.  In an unhealthy relationship, the upset partner does not feel comfortable with expressing their feelings, which can lead to one partner being resentful, and the other partner being blissfully unaware of the /drama that is about to explode.

In my next article in this series, we will delve a bit deeper into how to foster emotional intimacy.


Physical intimacy

Have you ever had a feeling of satisfaction or contentment from being in the same room as your partner? How about from holding their hands, or putting your arm around them as you watch a movie together?  Have you ever spooned with someone while napping? These are examples of physical intimacy. 

I am going to differentiate physical intimacy from sexual intimacy.  While sex can include touch (see below), physical intimacy deals purely with gaining closeness on a physical level.  If you are looking for an example of how to explore physical intimacy sans sexuality, see if there is a cuddle party available in your area.


Sexual intimacy

This may be more difficult to define than you think. Different people have different interpretations of what sex means to them. Part of developing sexual intimacy with your partner is getting an understanding of their definitions (whether it's vanilla or involves different types of fetish/kink), and learning how to relate to them on their terms.


A word on boundaries

Early on in your relationship, I recommend that you spend some time with your new partners to establish what boundaries you will have in your relationship. If you do not do this, then your partner may do this for you by mentally establishing unspoken boundaries for the relationship.  Depending on how you relate to other people, this may lead to you accidentally crossing these unspoken boundaries, and /drama ensuing.


Related Articles and Resources

Young Metro Poly » Blog Archive » Polyamory readiness questi (not verified) wrote:

Tue, 02/03/2009 - 09:44 Comment #: 1

[...] yesterday’s post, I wrote about the different types of intimacy that can occur in a relationship (friendship, fwb, [...]

Young Metro Poly » Blog Archive » Polyamory readiness questi (not verified) wrote:

Sat, 02/07/2009 - 16:21 Comment #: 2

[...] Have your own definition of “intimacy” [...]

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