“They slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they never recovered.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald
She reached out to touch my arm one day and I flinched.
Without even knowing why, I flinched. After so many months of opening, unfolding, discovering and unraveling in our romance, my ridiculous instinct for self-preservation was kicking in. She looked at me for a moment, confused and a little bruised, but then cracked a small smile with the right corner of her mouth and went back to reading.
The next time she reached out to touch my arm, she didn’t know if I flinched or not, because she pricked her finger on a barbed wire fence.
I had no idea when I’d put it up (maybe I was a sleepwalking handyman) but there it was. I suppose the fervor of intimacy was getting too warm and I needed the cold security of barbed wire. She tried for a few days to find a way over, around or under that damn fence but gave up when she figured out I hadn’t even taken out a pair of pliers on my side. She was not the first to be defeated by the fence.
The trouble with intimacy is that it scares some of us to distance and retreat. My heart is a forest, full of shadow and debris, life, light and death all existing in chaotic harmony. I led someone into that forest once and she did a clear cut. She did not like the shade, the decay or the unidentifiable noises in the dark. When she was done with her slashing and burning, there was no forest left, only ruins. It took years of replanting and erosion control to get the forest to grow back.
In the process, I had posted “No Trespassing” signs and sturdy fencing all around the perimeter.
Intimacy goes far beyond the physical and the sexual, though we often get snagged on that superficial level. True intimacy is the ability to open up to another being, in body, mind and spirit. It is the act of allowing someone to look so deeply into your eyes that they can see every branch, leaf, fear and dream. For some of us, that is terrifying, particularly when that profound level of trust has been used like a chainsaw.
“I loved you so much once. I did. More than anything in the whole wide world. Imagine that. What a laugh that is now. Can you believe it? We were so intimate once upon a time I can’t believe it now. The memory of being that intimate with somebody. We were so intimate I could puke. I can’t imagine ever being that intimate with somebody else. I haven’t been.” ~ Raymond Carver
The fear of intimacy may be rooted in childhood experiences, previous relationships or some other mysterious incident that causes us to let people in until they can smell the pine needles and hear the invisible songs of a hundred birds—and then we shut the gate again.
For someone trying to get close to a person who suffers from a fear of intimacy, this can be monumentally frustrating. Our pulling and pushing patterns may seem cruel and punishing, but they are not intentional.
Those of us who have learned to put up fences and barriers—to avoid people getting too close and learning our deepest silence—must also learn how to take them down. We are only depriving ourselves of the most intense human experience. There will always be risks; that is the very nature of our humanity. Our semi-voluntary seclusion also causes pain and disappointment to others who sincerely want to discover the innermost wonders of the forest.
Overcoming this obstacle is no easy task for either person determined to develop an intimate relationship. Like any fear, the only way to overcome it is to look it straight in the eyes, smile coyly and knock it on its ass.
We have to first identify the roots of this fear in order to understand why it continues to ambush our relationships. It might be a person, an event or a situation that can be defeated through careful analysis. The reaction to reject intimacy is often automatic, so we also need to be on the lookout for signs of our own, reflexive behavior in order to keep it in check. It all comes down to our consciousness of this obstacle and our willingness to make decisions that will allow intimacy to flourish.
We have to make the decision to remain vulnerable, to let love in through the cracks, to be open to the infinite possibilities of connection. It is crucial that we talk about this fear openly with our partners. Silence creates confusion and mistrust. We never know when we might be shutting out the person who has come to start an affectionate revolution in our lives.
Let us work together, shining the light of unconditional love, picking up broken branches, grafting the branches that can be saved, throwing the others into a raging bonfire, working slowly without thinking about the future.
Author: Peter Schaller
Editor: Caroline Beaton
Photo: Wikipedia commons