Intimacy is … nakedness. The kind of nakedness that comes from being emotionally open to another human being without barriers and self-imposed restraints, the willingness to reveal the full range and intensity of our thoughts and emotions and personalities. Intimacy is a full disclosure without masks, without dissimulation, without playing a role – and this is what separates it from the social face we adopt with many other people in many other contexts of daily life. In an intimate relationship we reveal ourselves with all our beauties, flaws, evasions, fears, weaknesses and shadows. We say to each other, you have shown me the best and the worst of yourself and I love you not despite but because of it.
Intimacy presupposes both trust and self-knowledge. It means feeling comfortable and secure enough around the other person to be able reveal our nakedness, which creates a reciprocal emotional openness in the other to do the same. Intimacy depends on having a deep sense of who we are are and on our capacity to see the complex and often contradictory nature of our personalities. It presupposes not being afraid to be open and honest, first of all, with ourselves. For some people this is an acquired skill that comes from introspection and “inner work,” while for others, who learned early on to be less guarded, more spontaneous and more fully in contact with their bodies, sensations and emotions, it occurs more naturally and without a lot of digging in the dark attic of the psyche.
Intimacy is common to romantic relationships as well as close friendships. The intimacy is often greater in long-term sexual love because there’s a deeper level of nakedness – both literally and figuratively. In romantic relationships we tend to mirror to each other more of our shadows, more of those aspects of our personalities that we hide from others and also, unconsciously, from ourselves. If romantic relationships endure past the initial highs and lows, they often mature into a deep knowledge of the full range of each other’s personalities, including our generous and self-less qualities and also the crazy, irrational, petty, selfish, insecure, dark sides of the mix. Intimacy can also be present in parent-child relationships, but to a much lesser extent because it’s in the classroom of the family that children are taught not to reveal themselves fully, but to adopt socially-acceptable masks in order to receive the love they crave. And parents, because they feel they have to be role models, teachers of social etiquette and protectors to their children, also shy away from disclosing their fullness, especially their vulnerabilities. They cover up their nakedness – both literally and figuratively. In later stages of life some child-parent relationships can transcend the dissimulation that was present in the growing-up phase, as both sides begin to open up to each other more authentically by letting the masks fall away. To the extent that children and parents learn to grow into intimacy and engage in a deep self-other-disclosure, their relationship transforms into friendship, and their identity as either child or parent becomes increasingly insignificant.