(and touched up a bit)
Intimacy between people is communication, possibly of the closest, most personal kind, sometimes without words.
Quite a number of people are authorised by their jobs to be mildly intimate. Medical staff of all kinds and carers, if their work is done with sensitivity and respect, are genuinely intimate, although if they are just doing a job, then however intimate their tasks, intimacy will be lacking.
Amongst other activities, I’ve painted many portraits. Studying a head and face so closely, reading its history and origins, observing the intelligence and emotions, is deeply intimate and my subjects can find it uncomfortable at first. But I match this intimacy with respect, and they regain confidence.
Every normal person has a deep need for intimacy. Where does it begin? What is its essence? Surely in the complete acceptance of a happy young childhood; parent of child and then children of the adults who care for them. As an adult myself, this is part of the attraction of children. They normally accept me as I am, as I do them, respecting them. Children who lack this fundamental gift, will often struggle to achieve their potential.
As we each grow out of childhood, we establish our own strong identity, of necessity growing apart towards individual adulthood. We cautiously seek acceptance of who we are from new sources, carefully revealing more where there is mutual attraction, feeling safe.
However, this is very rarely a smooth and easy process. A myriad of circumstances and personal traits build fears, insecurities, compulsions, and underneath there may be aching voids of need and loneliness, feeling unaccepted.
Probably each one of us has painful and embarrassing memories of experimental attempts at relationships which failed. Sometimes inappropriate exposure results. Some girls become very vulnerable, seeking acceptance of their new femininity but only knowing sexual activity as the way to find it and lacking the confidence to control the situation. With a few men, this need for physical and sexual acceptance becomes pathological, needing to expose themselves.
We need acceptance of both mind and body. Knowing and accepting ourselves is a good and essential way to start to become intimate with other people. It is a back and forth process, discovering oneself a little and then, more confident, seeking to discover someone else, different or similar, accepting them, liking them or not, as they accept us. Everyone, becoming self-aware, usually becomes aware of other people having related feelings to themselves. In the right circumstances, we develop empathy and friendships.
A mirror is a great device. Your face is a window on your mind. Study it. Understand whatever you find there and, in understanding, love yourself. You’ll learn to ‘read’ the faces of friends and relations likewise.
Study yourself naked in private also, and any partner if they let you.. There’s no need for embarrassment or fear. If genitals, breasts or anything else such as a disfigurement, make you uncomfortable, have a good, honest, look until they and their function, even a dysfunction, become part of the whole amazing animal which we each are.
Your body is your tool with which to live, the details fascinating, the whole thing splendid as it moves and flexes. I’m disabled and getting old so I’m twisted and wrinkled. It makes no difference to how I feel about myself. Catching glimpses of myself hurrying to bed is a gentle reminder to take care of myself. This body is all I have.
As well as portraits, (and landscapes) I also love drawing and painting people naked. Mostly I’ve done this in art classes using professional models, but also one or two friends have felt safe and confident enough to pose for me. I’m deeply privileged by this trust and mutual respect. Some people just seem to see and paint shapes but what fascinates me are the bones, muscles, flesh and fat; the movement, weight, and life in that person, expressed in that body. Be it strength, pose, eagerness, or vulnerability; sometimes I catch a trace of it in my work. It can never be a patch on reality but it is an intimate blend of them and me on paper.
Recently there’s been a TV series ‘How to Look Good Naked’. This seemed to exploit the painfully conflicting feelings some women in particular have about being naked. It’s a sad situation. Everyone will look good if they feel good but even feeling and looking dreadful is a valid aspect of how they are and nothing to be ashamed or shy about in a situation of real intimacy and trust.
Then there’s the mock intimacy of ‘strippergrams’ and girls’ nights out with male strippers. Sexual display is met with a barrier of laughter and embarrassment but as soon as anyone takes the situation seriously and the barrier is broken, the fun is over, the situation out of hand. The reality is immensely complex.
For a long time I’ve been happy to be open with people I trust. Many years ago I shared my bungalow with a friend for a year. Small, dynamic and lesbian, she walked with two sticks, drove a tiny ‘invalid car’ and taught in an FE college. Living together, sharing laughter, little intimacies, we grew close.
One night she asked to sleep with me. I found her curled up, motionless, safely wrapped in pyjamas, so I tucked myself closely around her for a little while before going to sleep. Nothing else was done and nothing was said so I will never know for sure what she was seeking. It was for her to reveal, not for me to probe.
Maybe we found something of whatever it was later together. By the Summer term I would wake her on mornings when she had an early class, crawling naked into her room, lifting her duvet, sitting her up on the edge of the bed and silently cuddling skin to skin for a minute or so before crawling out again.
That was an exceptionally uncomplicated physical intimacy; no compulsions, no expectations, no performance, just briefly sharing our physical humanity. I am glad I felt honest enough to be so unconventional and get so close. It did not happen out of the blue, of course, so although slightly startled the first time I did it, and then amazed and loving it, she already knew she was safe with me and that I respected her. When she died years later of MS, part of her funeral was dedicated to my girlfriend and me.
Such a simple closeness is a long way from the complexity of sexual intimacy. The mutual and conflicting passions, needs and urges need caring and instinctive negotiation, balancing and forgiving, enjoying. It is a pity that mankind can procreate violently without intimacy. There is such poverty of character and of experience; such a lack of real friendship.
There is much horror and disgust at the violence in society and various media, and concern over how it is affecting the behaviour of children and young people. Rules are invented to try to limit exposure to damaging material but they are futile. The only real safeguard is experience of the healthy alternative; a mature and respectful intimacy which is appropriate and safe; an environment where each can discover their own individuality and how to relate to others, safely and in depth.
The same principles of honesty and respect apply across the full range of intimacy from the complexity of physical sex to the simple touch of my hand on your hand, the safe sharing of deep feelings between friends by whatever means.
What richness we can share together, if only ……! And what pain and grief follows a broken or lost trust.
Blessings on us all!