August 28, 2020

When Intimacy Gets Real: What I’m Learning while Living on a Sailboat with my Partner.

Living on a sailboat is a wonderful expression of life and freedom.

Doing it with someone you love makes it that much sweeter of an experience.

But this life is not all sunsets and piña coladas.

I have often joked that people pay good money for these kinds of “relationship boot camps.”

Living on a 40-foot boat and traveling with my significant other has really made me look at intimacy through a new lens.

When you are sailing with another person, you spend most of your time together. You work together, live together, and play together. You learn a lot about a person when you live so closely with them.

You also learn a lot about yourself.

All human beings are a combination of mystery and accessibility. And it’s intimacy that dictates the ratios at which we share ourselves with others. And when you live the way I do, mystery feels like it is hard to come by some days.

I never really thought about intimacy in my younger years. I was familiar with the word but it didn’t really mean much to me, or at least I didn’t recognize the role it played in my life.

As an adult, I find it’s something I think about often. And living on a sailboat, or in any small space, with a partner makes intimacy a very real thing.

And real intimacy is kind of terrifying. Allowing another human being to see you—to really see you—is not an easy undertaking. In fact, some of us will put up one hell of a fight trying to avoid it. While others would prefer to avoid it all together.

That resistance seems antithetical to our nature. All human beings want to be loved; it’s in our DNA. But what does it mean to be truly loved? And why do so many of us hide from it?

Here’s what I think. I think human beings want more than to be loved—I think what we really want is for someone to see us and then love us. Validation that we, warts and all, are worthy and deserving of love.

That’s where details come into play. Do you ever think about what people will say at your eulogy? I do. In fact, I think about it a lot. (I know, I know. It’s morbid.)

When I listen to people talk about their loved ones, it’s the details that I find most interesting. That’s the stuff we want to remember. After all, it’s our details that allow us to live on in the hearts of the people who love us.

I specifically think about this as it exists in the paradigm of romantic love.

How well do we pay attention to our partners? Are we noticing what makes them so special? If intimacy is being seen and loved, then it’s these details that make intimacy possible. It’s the small stuff, the things that we miss the most when our partners are not around—the smell of their head or the freckle patterns on their thighs, the way they laugh when they think something is funny, and the way they laugh when they think something is really funny.

However, these details aren’t always endearing. Sometimes, these things might drive us downright crazy. The sounds your partner makes when they eat. The way they click their pen when they are thinking really hard about something. How they are always exactly seven minutes late for everything.

But were your partner to get abducted by aliens one day and never to return to Earth, the absence of these once-annoying traits would be deafening.

This is the gift and the challenge of life in tiny spaces.

When your bathroom is just mere feet from your bed, you learn to accept that very few moments in your life are private anymore. When you have to climb over each other to get a drink of water, or you are squeezing by one another to get from one space to another, you become acutely aware of your personal space—or lack thereof.

Every sound you make, every odor that wafts off your body in the heat of the day, or whether or not you got around to brushing your teeth that day—it is all on display.

And it’s not just the physical or biological realities that are parading around; it is every emotional reaction, every wave of feelings, the ebbs and flows, the good and the ugly, everything you like and don’t like about your partner.

You are tested and challenged every day. I feel so fortunate to be able to explore all these juicy bits of life with the lifestyle that I have chosen, but it’s not always easy. In fact, this experience is often difficult and uncomfortable. But oh, is it an opportunity to grow!

I used to be afraid of intimacy. I built walls and pushed away anyone who tried to look deeper than the version of myself that I served them. I, like many of us, was afraid to be seen. This fear is a common one—we are afraid that if someone actually sees us, they couldn’t love us. It’s a cruel story we tell ourselves.

We may even draw to us partners who reinforce that cruel narrative. Having been, for many years, a victim of what felt like an invisibility cloak whose zipper got stuck and refused to come off, I can say from experience that being seen starts to become less scary and more desirable than the alternative.

I don’t want to live my life unseen, so luckily for me, I moved onto this 40-foot sailboat with my partner. No chance of being unseen here.

I don’t want a boilerplate eulogy talking about how “nice” I was and how much I loved dogs. I want someone to talk about how delightfully weird I was—I want someone to celebrate my details. So here I am, sun-kissed warts and all, being seen. And deep down, I think that’s what we all want.

One of the most enchanting aspects of the intimacy of our details is that by our very natures we are ever-changing. We grow and evolve and alter our patterns. We are dynamic creatures.

In our romantic relationships, our partners are an endless source of information—if we are paying attention. Different from day to day, year to year. What an honor it is to have front row seats to another human being’s evolution. To be chosen to bear witness to their lives.

And to choose another human to behold all the wonderful ways in which we are weird? That’s nothing short of Herculean.

I read once that the difference between something good and something great is the attention we pay to the details. So the next time you are looking at your partner (and if you live on a boat or are quarantining together then that is probably often), notice something you’ve never noticed before.

Like, do they make up their own nautical knots? Or do they have the most creative ways of applying profanity to everyday life frustration? Do they hum while they cook, or fold the fitted sheet differently every single time?

Note theses details. Because that’s where their magic lies.

And it’s our magic that makes us immortal.


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