As most of y’all know, the youngest of my five children are a set of identical twin girls, and biologically this means that they are a single egg that split to become two completely different people.
As you might imagine, I’m fascinated as I watch their interactions, for they represent a unique opportunity to study how we as a people come to share a certain intimacy with one another, as well as how this periodically devolves into conflict.
Of course there are all different kinds of “intimacy,” although within our culture we tend to assume that when we use the word it exclusively pertains to physical intimacy, more generally referred to as “sex.”
But, for example, what distinguishes our current culture from the past is how we have deprecated the importance of deep intimacy between friends, what I suppose could be described as platonic intimacy.
Generally, platonic intimacy is deprecated in favor of an idealized expression of physical intimacy with just one other person who might come to represent the solution to all of our life’s needs and challenges.
We have this idea that if we can find and secure a “good partner,“ to whom we may or may not marry, that one person is going to be there for us as we navigate life’s many indignities, no matter what.
But it doesn’t work that way, does it?
I’ve shared various thoughts on what I call the spirit of reciprocity, but it might be beneficial to explicitly mention that we might need to consider investing in other forms of intimacy if we are to curate something which resembles a safety net.
Because relying upon a romantic partner to stick with you “for better and for worse, ’til death do us part“ has proven to be a fool’s errand within a society that encourages us to conduct our affairs from a place of entitlement, and without any consideration for reciprocity.
Watching my twins, this is one of the most consistent reasons for conflict: a broken perception of equitability within the context of a relationship of reciprocity.
So: friends. That’s basically what I’m talking about.
I have this friend who provides mentoring and counseling within the context of intimacy, and frequently she discusses various expressions of physical intimacy that are inclusive to monogamy, but there are other forms, inclusive to plutonic intimacy with friends, and even intimacy with ourselves.
Intimacy with ourselves — that in itself is worth thinking about, because I additionally feel like maybe we don’t do enough to ensure that we are cool spending time with ourselves.
I’ve only been separated a little over two years, divorced just over one, and have not been physically intimate with another for three, and even then I’m STILL not convinced I’m ready to even consider being physically intimate with another, because I am not convinced I am exactly “there“ regarding spending time by myself.
It’s not that I am uncomfortable in solitude.
It’s that I have not yet achieved diminishing returns on how much MORE I enjoy myself, the more time I spend alone, and I am disinterested in messing with that dynamic if it comes with dating somebody else.
From time to time I bump into someone that might resemble a potential romantic partner, but I realize in a hurry that they have an expectation that I prune and tailor my life to meet their demands, and frankly I’m just not feeling it.
I’ve actually done that, and this is one of the first things I think we do to short-circuit a spirit of shared reciprocity. The same issue exists within the relationship between my twin daughters.
Most frequently, the youngest twin positions herself from a place of selflessness relative to her older sister, and then sometimes Nina forgets, becomes distracted, begins to focus upon her relationship with her 12-year-old sister, Amelia, leaving Juliet feeling left out, let down.
She can perceive that a spirit of equitability and reciprocity has not been honored, leaving her feeling isolated and alone.
Likewise, we let ourselves down in service of others, and sometimes we encounter people who assess selflessness and a spirit of service to others from a place of entitlement, believing that it’s only proper that someone else might limit their world to that which is defined by another person.
It’s common to describe these people as narcissists, but I cringe just a little bit because I wonder how much of this is pathological, and how much of this is simply condition?
If you can nail a person down, and get them to describe why they tend to demand more from others than they are willing to reciprocate, they frequently describe a wound, a perceived injustice which informs a decision to never allow themselves to be victimized again.
Our society is filthy with this particular filter.
People victimize others because they perceive themselves to be a victim, and through a pall of rationalization they erect an echo chamber that ensures that they never feel accountable or responsible for how they are only perpetuating cycles of victimization.
We’ve got to break the spell, and when I wade into conflict between my twins, one of the most effective methodologies is simply changing context.
I lost interest in dating in, what? 2006? Maybe 2007?
Only recently divorced at the time from the boy’s mom, I quickly realized that I disliked what I would describe as a culture of recreational sex, transactional forms of intimacy.
“If you do this one thing, then maybe I’ll do this other thing, but within these precise parameters, and only if the exchange represents profit to me.”
It’s from this soil of transactional intimacy, (with a bias towards physical sexuality), that most of us believe we might come to find that one partner that will be with us for better or for worse, till death us to do part.
Or as I tell people: “you’re probably not going to find your spouse on an app that helps people find “Mr/Ms/Mrs. right now.“
So by 2007, when I turned 40, I realized that I just didn’t have the chops to participate in a culture of transactional intimacy, and it was at that point that I met the girl’s mother.
We agreed (probably too impetuously) that we had shared values, and we launched into the creation of a family, version 2.0, now with five children.
Concurrent to this, I was at the point where I realized I needed to take a break from activism, and in retrospect I now realize that by pressing pause on this endeavor, I sowed the seeds of my own problems just a few years later
I had made activism my primary hobby since I was a teenager, in the mid-1980s, so by 2007 or so, I was thinking maybe it was time to just step back for a little while and reconsider what I wanted to do with my life, but absolutely not because I intended to simply stop doing activism. I wanted to consider how I might become more effective.
Come to think of it, it was in that same year that the Oregonian featured me and a few others in a brief profile of local people, and I remember discussing with the journalist some ideas I had for what I would tackle next.
Healthcare? I remember thinking about something more holistically relating to community, but at the time I just didn’t know what it was, only that I had felt that the hobby of activism had always been something that was preparing me for what’s next.
At the time, I just didn’t know what “next” was.
What happened was this: I met a person and I realized that maybe what I wanted to do was be a dad again, and in the wake of my disastrous first marriage, I wanted to try it again, and this time do it properly.
So I did. I reversed my vasectomy, got married, put activism on pause, and committed entirely to my professional career and the creation of a larger family, and … it proved a disaster.
Of course it’s not that simple.
For a few years it was great, and then for an equal number of years it got progressively worse, and then it ended. As I like to say, if it takes you seven years to walk into the forest, it’s probably gonna take you seven years to walk right back out.
There’s nothing about my story that’s unique in that regard.
So I’m coming up on 55 years old. Separated two years, divorced one, and frankly cannot summon the interest to engage in physical intimacy, and I’ve felt that way for three years.
But I am exceedingly interested in intimacy in general, just in its various forms not exclusive to physical intimacy. I am apparently wired for community.
When I was a child I was part of a family that no longer exists. This was a tightknit community of people who had cut their teeth during the Great Depression, and they never forgot it.
They embraced one another and their children as if they were their own, and they were prone to adopt strays that stumbled upon their path, creating countless nights where the houses were filled and echoed with the voices of people laughing, people crying, a shared communion of joy, frequently over food.
As I wrote in an essay about a year ago: “I was raised at the feet of Giants in my grandmother‘s kitchen.”
But things change, and that family no longer exists, and yet the echo of that communal intimacy reverberates within my heart, and I can’t stop trying to figure out how to replicate it for others.
And so while you and I might both use the word “intimacy” to describe a certain thoughts or feelings, it’s possible that we are actually talking about two frequently different things.
For many people, the word intimacy means giving someone a blowjob, whereas for me it’s letting my guard down around people because I think they might have earned my trust, if tenuously.
I don’t like taking my shoes off.
One of the things that makes me feel extremely vulnerable is being trapped in my stocking feet within the confines of someone else’s home.
The reason? I have been held down and tortured with burning cigarettes within a family that even 50 years later tells me and others that I’m making it up, that the scars were either imagined, or I gave them to myself.
Because that makes sense, right? Right?
When I was a toddler I used cigarettes to place burns upon my body, so that 50 years later I might bring to light a revelation designed to destroy the reputations of my family, and although the burn scars were recognized by medical professionals throughout my childhood, I was able to remain disciplined enough to keep my mouth shut until I turned 50.
Of course. A huge gambit. The long con.
I come from a family that holds their hands to their ears and dismisses what I say as hateful and angry, even when I’m no longer capable of being angry with them, when what’s really happening is that their fictional narrative is so fragile that it cannot receive truth as anything but hostility.
A family that has scapegoated me as the black sheep, even though I have spent my entire life endeavoring to be the good one, in a family that purses their lips and folds their arms from a place of suspicion and doubt each time I tick off another hard-earned accomplishment. “That can’t be right.”
And so while I can’t speak for others, I know from experience that there are many people like me, what I need a lot more than the transactional satisfaction that comes from physical intimacy is the ability to feel safe around other people.
In light of what I have just shared, is that not completely obvious?
Of course this kind of trust takes time to earn, and that time has to come from many experiences of social interaction that tell me that I am not at risk of experiencing an existential threat, and then having this threat denied by the very people I had been led to believe I could trust for my safety.
And before that happens — before I can be cool with others — I have to be cool with simply experiencing intimacy by and with myself.
I only share this to disclose that there are indeed lots of different forms of intimacy, inclusive to the intimacy we might come to discover when we give ourselves room to bloom while in moments of solitude.
I use the metaphor of a flower blooming on purpose, for as my friend Ruth likes to say: you might think it’s pretty, but the flower is not blooming for your benefit. It just *is*, and you just happen to be there to witness it.
One of the very first things that comes out of this deepening quality of time with myself is how much easier it is to stare in the eyes of my children and truly listen to what they have to say, realizing that that’s really all they want; at least one parent that listens to them as if their requests are not some sort of imposition.
All of my girls do it during what we call the detox days.
They approach me, ask for my time, and then they check to see if I’m watching and listening.
Am I looking at my phone, am I looking at the computer, am I trying to find other things to watch and listen, or am I giving them the benefit of eye contact, and fully committed attention?
Once they realize they have it, they just melt.
I really do think that one of the most effective ways to address an emotional crisis is to just invest energy and attention so they feel heard and listened to.
But to what extent can we do this with ourselves?
I really do meditate all the time, but it isn’t very complicated. I don’t really have patience for some bullshit new age rigmarole.
My methodology: remain consciously aware and cognizant of every thought, emotion, and idea that comes to mind, and consciously decompose where they came from.
It’s really simple, but in our society we are conditioned to constantly, constantly seek the distraction of notifications, updates to the social feed, the newest news, etc. etc. etc.
I’ve got this new friend that’s teaching me how to do construction, and I love it because there really isn’t anything else to do but physical work which requires very little in the way of intellectual challenges.
So while I get some exercise, I am left to do nothing else but to stay present in the moment, and consider how and why I come to think and feel about certain things.
The first thing I notice? Six hours vanishes without even realizing it. This is called a flow state, and most people avoid its catharsis like it’s a cancer.
They constantly check the social feed, they switch from one app to the next, looking for the latest update, sometimes they retreat into the arms of escapism, imagining how they might navigate scenarios that will probably never manifest into reality.
I think it makes sense that it’s in this context that somebelieve they need physical intimacy, something like a shot of Novacaine to make the tooth ache marginally tolerable, if for a single night.
I’m not saying that doesn’t work. Clearly it’s working for most people, but it absolutely does not work for me, because something I realized years ago is that the only way this works is if you are able to render yourself callous, and I would rather protect my heart to be honest.
However, here’s what I realize:
As soon as I figured out how to stay present with myself, it became clear how much the people in my life inclusive to my family relied upon their provocation to keep me angry, enabling them to keep the truth at bay.
And as soon as I figured out how to extricate myself from that bizarrely manipulative social contract, they turned up the volume, because the trick was no longer working, and they couldn’t figure out why.
And as I got better at diffusing the reasons why I was being provoked into anger, they found ways to leave, because it was no longer working, and it’s in this manner that I am physically separated from a family that no longer exists, and I’m divorced.
Which is cool: oil and water.
But the very next thing that happened was the quality of my relationships with my children dramatically improved, because I could just sit and be present with them, investing in an opportunity to win their trust so they might open up just a little bit more.
And right after that, the quality of my platonic intimacy began to improve among people I hope to earn as friends, within a subculture where the spirit of reciprocity is assessed as a virtue, and not as an opportunity to con others out of everything they’ve got.
And by my reckoning, the more I invest more authentically into who and what I am, the more likely it is I will find myself among those who share those values, in a place where deeds come to eclipse the power of words alone.
Do you know why I share these things? These intimate details about myself? These dreams I wish for myself and for those I love?
I imbue every thought and action with a very mindful intention, which I hope manifest into “magical” reality.
What’s magic? Just science we don’t yet understand, and maybe this will work, maybe it won’t, who cares?
The most immediate benefit I get from “over-sharing“ my experience, strength, and hope is that it creates an invitation for others to meet me in a place of shared vulnerability, enabling us to explore whether or not we have what it takes to evolve into a shared expression of intimacy that is frequently described as friendship.
“What if they use this information against you?”
My response: how? I’m the one who shared it, but the question is revealing, isn’t it?
Also, bear in mind that this info been used against me my entire life as a way to keep me in control, by my own family. It’s why people do these things, right?
But think about why the question “what if they use it against you?” comes to mind, and consider this opportunity to look into a mirror, so to speak.
The weapon a person chooses in their attack of another tends to reveal that person‘s greatest fear, and therefore their own greatest risk of becoming friends with someone else within a shared circle of trust.
In other words:
Those who immediately consider how this information might be used against me are ironically those most in need of the healing catharsis that comes from being able to trust other people, mostly specifically: myself.
And those who use physical torture of another are probably able to do so because someone did it to them, ergo: the perfect basis of curating a spirit of compassion and non-judgement for others, even if we’re talking about the person/persons who might have abused you (reminder: someone probably did it to them).
And so, this is how it starts: a bid, an invitation, from a place of vulnerability, and a leap of faith, if you will.
People say “why is Kent such close friends with so many Internet trolls?“
Despite their prickly exterior, these people are the deepest lovers, the people I have come to trust the most, because we are of the same tribe: the wounded healers, so to speak, although many don’t yet realize it.
These people are not superficial, and once you have earned their trust, you’ll see they are of a rare and divine beauty, something like encountering the deepest, most iridescent purple flower as it blooms within the depths of the deepest, darkest cave.
And if this divine expression of shared and communal intimacy can be accomplished with Internet trolls — considered by many to be the worst humanity has to offer — could this same thing not be accomplished among those who have embraced superficiality as a form of armor, designed to ensure that they are able to secure transactional forms of intimacy, exclusively on their terms?
Think that through just a little bit.
It means that relative to how badly you or someone you know might have betrayed the confidence and trust of another, and relative to their creative capacity for cruelty, is how much they (you?) are ironically capable of loving someone else.
What keeps you sundered from this place?
A single thing:
The fear that you/they will not be embraced from a place of compassion and non-judgment, and a willingness to forgive.
That’s it. That’s all that’s missing: faith (derived from the Greek pistis), meaning the personification of good faith, trust and reliability.
It’s just that simple, and just that profound.