love. week twenty two.
city. new york city
What’s the relationship between love and intimacy?
At first glance, it seems obvious. What could be more related than love and intimacy? They almost seem identical.
But taking a closer look, it’s kind of confusing. Intimacy implies some sort of proximity. Is love conscious of distance?
On the contrary, to be ‘close’ to something, you need to set yourself in opposition to it. I am close to that. I can distinguish it from myself, and then assess the distance between it and me. I can’t be intimate with myself (unless of course I feel some distance from myself). I can only be intimate with others.
To be in ‘love’ with something, on the other hand, I need to tear down the (real or imaginary) boundaries between myself and the object of my love. I love things that I identify with. To love something is to incorporate it into my sense of self.
I love you, because I am you. I am intimate with you, because I am not you.
But maybe I’ve got it all wrong.
Already for several years now, I’ve had the impression that intimacy (rather than happiness or pleasure) is the goal of life. I seek intimacy in my work (I hate spreadsheets, but love to write), in my relationships (I want to be appreciated and cared about, not overlooked and misunderstood), with myself (know thyself), etc.
But even as I felt that intimacy was very important, I could never quite grasp what that word refers to. What exactly am I looking for when I search for intimacy? More problematic, though, was the lurking feeling that intimacy itself (and therefore my search for it), was simply a myth.
The question is double: firstly, what does intimacy really mean? And secondly, does it even exist?
Today I happened to go to a café to read and write. I was sitting at a table outside, gazing out onto the sunlit intersection. (I’m actually at Sunday's, on the corner of Broome and Orchard.) It’s a familiar and pleasant scene. I’m around the corner from my apartment, so I know this corner well. I got a coffee here yesterday as well. The sun is shining, the mood is happy.
There was a moment when, as I looked up from my book, a switch in my mind flipped, and I suddenly felt, not attracted to, but taken in by the scene. The scene consumed me.
I felt touched.
I googled the word intimacy and found this:
From Latin intimus “inmost, innermost, deepest.” Intimate (adj.) used euphemistically in reference to women’s underwear from 1904.
Turns out that I’ve been misusing the word ‘intimate’ my entire life. It doesn’t mean ‘closest’, it means deepest. I am intimate with my work when it flows from my inner depths, I am intimate with my friends when we understand each other and care for each other deeply, I am intimate with myself when I replace a superficial understanding with a deeper appreciation.
Intimacy is not about proximity; it’s about depth.
And here’s the kicker. Superficially, everything seems absolutely unique, individual, and separate. How strange would it have been to tell a pre-scientific person that, on a molecular level, an apple and a bird are actually very similar. “But look at them! There are hardly two things less alike.” And tell a liberal that they’re essentially identical to a conservative, and you risk being punched in the face. And they aren’t wrong. On the surface, an apple is as different from a bird as a Bernie Bro is from a Proud Boy.
But once you get past the surface, the differences begin to blur and wash away. Dig still deeper, and the similarities come into sharp focus. Dig all the way to the bottom, and you might notice that the differences are merely a matter of appearance, without any real existence.
(When I was 7 or 8 years old, someone told me that China was directly underneath America, and if I dug all the way down, I’d come out in Beijing. I think I made it 3 or 4 feet before giving up.)
Returning to the relationship between love and intimacy, it seems that here is at least one way in which they’re related. In becoming intimate with something or someone, I interact with that thing or person on a deeper level. I uncover myself to it. It uncovers itself to me. We meet each other from our depths. We are vulnerable to each other.
I think that I’m now starting to touch on a central problem / tension of love. How can I be both an individual and a lover? Does love require me to give up my self?
I know that the lovers of the world will tell me that love doesn’t ask you to give up your self, it invites you to expandddd your self. And I agree with that. Love is certainly expansive, and in that sense liberating. But liberating from what? From me? I feel liberated from myself. Idk, that sounds suspiciously unhealthy. Why would I need to be liberated from myself? Well, the Buddha would tell me that having a self always leads to suffering. But is suffering really all that bad?
I have this impression that just like being a member of something big can be meaningful, enjoyable, fulfilling, so too being a member of something minuscule can be equally meaningful, enjoyable, and fulfilling. I want this and that.
I want everything :/
Well then, like most of my actual problems, it ends up boiling down to a matter of balance. I want to embrace the world, but I also want to sink deeply into myself.
Is that possible?
“From the depths, I call to you. Listen to my cry.”
- Psalm 130
“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
- Whitman, Song of Myself