The path of navigating intimacy in relationships


Illustration by Andrea Nebhut

Intimacy: close familiarity or friendship; closeness.

Centuries-old Christendom provided us all with objectively one of the most demanding days of the year — Valentine’s Day. Regardless of one’s religious status, this tradition brings with it intense pressures of romance, sex and value that affect us all differently. Even beyond the boundaries of romance, the pressure we feel when giving and receiving intimacy from those we hold close is something not to be afraid of.

Intrinsically, humans have varying degrees of urges regarding the bonds with other people we may or may not desire. Yet, the attainment and sustainability of close relationships don’t come easy to many of us. Some psychologists have tried explaining this by positing that many people have a tendency to develop strict defenses against bonds that may seem natural to others. We try to reduce the possible harm from the disapproval or rejection we may face from the people or things we seek out. In order to deflect having to re-experience past trauma, we can end up locking away the urges for things we all inevitably yearn for.

That is why certain actions like providing the right amounts of intimacy to those you find close, establishing boundaries and keeping yourself grounded are incredibly hard things to balance perfectly. As such, it’s OK not to have these things secured all the time. There will be moments where the elements of your relationships seem to align perfectly as well as times where they couldn’t feel more apart, and that’s OK. We all want to feel a sense of love and belonging. When this need isn’t met, we can fall apart. That is why it’s so important to recognize that intimacy, to varying degrees, is invaluable to our relationships and our own well-being. By treasuring your own core individuality to a point where you can heal from any past trauma, the reformed connections you can then foster will re-blend. Just as puzzle pieces fit together without altering their shape, our connections with others should allow room for each individual to harbor their own values and desires first.

The reason I that advocate for taking such a process into your own hands is due to the fact that there are innumerable factors that reside out of our control contributing to the ways we react to receiving intimacy. Beginning as children, the relationships we grow up around — specifically, any parental figures that exist in our lives — tend to impact the ways we attach to others we meet along the way. The imagined bonds we internalize will inevitably create positive or negative attitudes towards ourselves and what we deserve.

In addition, it’s crucial to discern that regardless of the experiences we had during this formative period, we still have the potential to self-craft the ways we grow and show love to others. As I’ve alluded to previously, the boundaries and restrictions we self-regulate with are predominantly out of safety. We may not commit, provide intimacy to, or simply want to bond with the individuals we encounter every day.

We have more power over ourselves than any other. We have the jurisdiction to own our feelings, actions and boundaries that deserve to be respected. The sooner this is truly realized, the more we can allow ourselves to sustainably produce and receive healthy intimacy from the relationships we carry out later in life. Overcoming the hurdles we establish within ourselves is a transcendent process through which we overcome the imaginary forces blocking us from the desires we are allowed to have. Such a process means that we must form boundaries around the intimacy that we receive from others and that those boundaries are respected. Many things can go into this process like having conversations, cutting harmful ties, taking more alone time and in many situations, accepting help. Only after many, many repetitions of this process do we feel closer to ourselves and all those who we seek to connect with.

So though this day may be incredibly overwhelming, take it as an opportunity to treasure yourself and the people you hold close. Because, as I could not emphasize enough, we all deserve to feel safe, loved and held; all the time.