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My fifteen-year-old self had a much narrower definition of “intimacy” than my present self does now. She believed that intimacy always includes an implied “sexual” in front of it. Intimacy was found only in a private language spoken between sexual bodies.

My understanding has since expanded to a definition that is no longer limited to sexual experiences. It now encompasses fleeting yet genuine smiles shared between strangers, momentary portals into people’s lives as they express vulnerability or humility, the unexpected entanglement of greeting someone you hardly know, or the development of loving relationships with people you’ve known for years, and so on. In addition, there are sexual experiences that I no longer consider intimate in this same way.
I have found myself stripped in front of people I barely knew, disrobing without a second thought. People read me like braille, blindly searching flesh to fill the emptiness left in place of their sight. And I let them. I allowed them to enter the stories of my body, twisting and turning, then giving them the romantic ending they were hoping for. I was hoping for it too.

I believed these experiences were intimate, tender moments. Even as the memories would scratch as sandpaper, sanding me down to nothing but a thread, I wanted to believe the sexual vulnerability I experienced could be special in some way if I willed hard enough.

I desired the romanticized intimacy between people despite all the red flags in the actual events.

These people cared little for me, yet I continued to seek intimacy in the most treacherous places. I didn’t realize that I was giving my power away like a map to treasure that these people did not deserve to find. I wish to reclaim some of the gold I gave away, polishing it with new value. And part of this personal reclamation includes an evolved understanding of intimacy.

While most of my encounters have been negative, others may have a different experience full of mutual, connected respect. As long as each person is dedicated to a healthy mindset, I believe these moments can still hold the warmth of intimacy.

I have since encountered intimacy in moments I never would have expected to find them. They happen like a spark, which is felt when a connection is made. And those small connections happen in all types of situations. A stone-faced stranger cracking away their mask for one second to return your smile. The gentle way skin sighs as your boyfriend glides a finger across the back of your hand. Your best friend confessing a weight that has been bundled on her back for months, finally working up the courage to say something. A classmate opening a window to the home inside his chest. Two cats bundled in each other’s warmth. Your sexual partner asking you if it is okay to hold your worth in their hands before carefully doing so.

Intimacy is the quilt woven between thousands of moments. It is connection, not the illusion of it. And it lives around many corners to come, instances that my fifteen-year-old self never could have dreamed of.