We live in a world of mass communication, yet those words are, in fact, grossly misleading. Communication rarely happens these days. What we have actually done is gotten really good at talking at each other.
We have become disingenuous with our friendships. Yet, we know the quality of our relationships is what gives life it’s primary meaning. So what happened?
Social media happened. The idea that intimacy equates to sex happened. The proposal that individuals of the opposite sex can’t foster platonic relationships happened. The extreme busyness of life happened. The fact we have commercialized every aspect of our lives happened. The fact we believe it is just easier “not to bother” happened.
The depth of the friendship is marked by the intimacy of the relationship. There are various categories of intimacy… intellectual, emotional, sexual, spiritual… I’m focusing here on the intellectual and emotional.
Intimacy is marked by emotional closeness, not sexual encounters. Obviously, it can be a part of that, but sex doesn’t drive intimacy, the opposite is true. Intimacy leads to a sense of comfort and safety while also allowing and respecting vulnerability.
It’s not about accumulating likes on Facebook. It’s not about the 1,287 “friends” listed on your social media pages. It’s those individuals who you can open up and talk to about anything. It’s people who give you undivided attention when you need to be heard without any hidden agenda. It’s people you share stories with, your hopes and your dreams. People who see your goofiness, and yet, still claim you as “their person.”
I find it ironic that in a time when words are spoken so freely, where words can be plastered on various social media sites and read by multitudes of people, I’ve never seen so many people starved just to be heard. Undivided attention. People needing the time, attention, and space to fully express who they are without advice and without judgment.
I seriously suck at friendship. I’ll raise my hand and be the first person to admit it. It is something I have to make a conscious effort to work on. Meeting the emotional needs of others can be exhausting. It takes a lot out of you. Without any reciprocity it can leave you feeling hurt, disappointed, and even used.
I find it similar to painting. I really enjoy painting. Painting, for me, is a type of emotional expression. I simply can’t paint every day, not even every month. Painting is exhausting. It gives me a lot but it takes a lot in return. Learning to maintain the balance is something I’m still working towards.
Sure, you know 1,287 people as friends on social media, but how many of those individuals can you call at 2:00 a.m., that isn’t related to you, and know beyond a shadow of a doubt they would come running to your side if you need them? How many of those people can call you at 2:00 a.m. and expect the exact same thing? We are good at talking, spewing words… “I’m praying for you.” “I understand.” “I’m sorry to hear that.” But, we are not so good at being there for people. Present and attentive.
We fully comprehend the notion that if infants are starved of human touch and emotional connection they “fail to thrive.” We’ve accepted this for infants but not for adults. But, the need for physical and emotional closeness with other individuals does not diminish as people age. It is a constant throughout life. Its absence can lead to anger, depression, addiction, and even illness. Every individual has an innate need for a nurturing environment. We are so connected, and yet, we are so utterly separated.
I read an article recently in Psychology Today that stated; “At the heart of intimacy, then, is empathy, understanding, and compassion; these are the humanizing feelings.” I’ll not argue that point. I believe it to be true.
I, however, would go one step further and say the cornerstones of intimacy are trust and reciprocity. It can’t be a one-way street. In order to build intimacy you have to be able to confide in another. You need the ability to reveal yourself fully and know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that what you think and feel is being heard and understood, without judgement, without advice and without fear of having your uttermost emotions trampled on by gossip.
The more we get drawn into social media or sham friendships, the more we let intimacy become commercialized and sexualized, the more we lose the tools in which to communicate, build trust, practice empathy and understanding. The more we pull away from relationships with others, or fail to develop mutualistic friendships, the more we rely on our spouse or partner to fill that role. Of course, without argument, that relationship should be intimate on multiple levels, but frankly, it’s too much to ask, demand, or expect for one person to ever meet alone.