As a sex and intimacy coach, one would think that I know everything about what it’s like to experience intimacy. But intimacy, unlike golf or tennis, has no clear rules. While there are skills that we can learn along the way (presence, communication, knowing your needs and desires), each intimate relationship has its own unique twists and turns. Unlike your tennis game, your intimacy game has to be recreated each time.
At a recent Tantra workshop, I had the privilege and honor to share a journey of intimacy with a fellow participant who we will call QM. Given QM’s background as a marriage and family therapist, his wit, acuity and presence of mind, we decided to become “intimacy scientists” and dissect our relationship as it was developing in real time.
Even though our whole workshop relationship lasted for only five days, it was remarkable how it followed what I consider to be a normal relationship flow. Attraction, building dating trust and intimacy, becoming a couple, noticing our fears around intimacy, contracting, and then rebuilding at a different level. There was profound learning in the exercise and we also faced plenty of challenges.
Here’s what I learned about creating intimacy:
Communication keeps intimacy going.
QM and I both had outstanding communication skills and we made it a point to ensure that we were constantly in communication. Since part of our Tantra practice was stating our desires, fears, and boundaries before each exercise, the communication continued to flow, even when things got a bit rough. Having rituals that create a platform for full communication make it much easier to say the difficult things that are so hard to bring up…yet are so essential to keep intimacy humming.
Intimacy can occur on many different levels–emotional, intellectual, and physical.
There was an interesting interplay among these three and sometimes they were mutually exclusive. We noticed that when we were really connecting on an intellectual level, particularly during physical experiences, we were both being pulled out of our bodies and into our heads. And while this juiced us both up, it did detract from our physical intimacy. Building desire that may lead to physical intimacy happens in our bodies, not in our heads. We were most physically connected and felt the sexual energy surge when we were doing group exercises such as tantric massage where we could not break out into intellectual chatter. That is not to say that one shouldn’t talk during sex, but it’s helpful to notice whether the talk is helping or hurting intimacy.
Sharing common experiences builds trust and intimacy quickly and deeply.
Not only were we together practically 24/7 for five days but we also had similar interests and backgrounds that intensified our relationship as our comfort level with each other increased exponentially.
Intimacy continually tests our boundaries.
As we began to feel and act more like a couple, we came up against our own fears and past experiences with intimacy. Am I moving too fast? Am I being touched too much or not in the right way? How much of my physical space can I share with him and when do I need to be in my own bubble? What is the line between “me” and “us”?
In a growing relationship, boundaries are constantly shifting. Yesterday’s rules are yesterday’s rules. We can’t know where they are today without asking. Often times we don’t know where the line is until we cross it. Bringing our compassionate self to the relationship is critical.
When we come up against true intimacy with someone whose heart is open and is available, we face two choices. We can move forward or we can move backwards but we can’t just stay in one place. The decision we chose is a reflection of our past behaviors and patterns and how willing and ready we are to face our fear of intimacy
Outside experiences can influence intimacy.
In a newly forming intimate relationship, there is a delicate balance between letting things flow organically and having them being pushed along. For me, hearing comments from others about us starting to act like a couple made me take stock of where we were. At one point, QM was stroking my hand for a long period of time very much in public. I began to feel self conscious as it triggered some uncomfortable memories and I removed my hand feeling like I needed a “time out”. This triggered a rejection reaction in QM, also from past memories, that started us both down the road of contraction.
Contraction, while painful, is an integral part of any journey into greater intimacy.
If both partners can lean into contraction, rather than ignore it or run away, we build trust with our partner because we know that they can show up and be present while we are in contraction, without going into blame. Keeping the communication open during periods of contraction, allows us to maintain connection and deepen intimacy.
A key lesion that QM and I learned is how important it is to accept contraction as an inevitable part of intimacy. An Intimacy Jedi looks forward to its arrival as an opportunity to prove one’s mettle and build an even deeper level of intimacy.
QM and I left the workshop with a growing friendship, a commitment to keep communication flowing, and to continue to wear our intimacy research hats.