Intimacy Beyond Boundaries
Back to the dictionary this morning…
Intimacy: 1. the state of being intimate. 2. a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group. 3. a close association with or detailed knowledge or deep understanding of a place, subject, period of history, etc.: an intimacy with Japan. 4. an act or expression serving as a token of familiarity, affection, or the like: to allow the intimacy of using first names. 5. an amorously familiar act; liberty. 6. sexual intercourse. 7. the quality of being comfortable, warm, or familiar: the intimacy of the room. 8. privacy, esp. as suitable to the telling of a secret: in the intimacy of his studio.
Did you notice that “sexual intercourse” doesn’t come up until item six? While it is one form of intimacy, it is not the only definition of this state of relating to another person. There are many ways of being intimate that don’t necessarily include, or exclude sexual intercourse. And if you’ve seen any pornography… ever… you may have noticed that it appears to be limited to a very graphic physical manifestation of item six – sexual intercourse – with few of the other forms of “closeness” or “familiarity” shining through. Because of this and other forms of abuse and exploitation of the human body, the pervasive attitude in our society is that to leave oneself open and vulnerable to intimacy in our contacts with others is to foolishly place oneself in danger.
While I used to think I constantly craved sex, I have learned, over time, that I mostly craved intimacy. For women, and probably for many men too, sex without emotional or spiritual closeness leaves us wanting more. It’s like exercise without the inner benefits. Or the sad, lonely scenario that is played out night after night in front of countless computer screens around the world; the search for titillating images, the excitement, the release, and alas, the let-down, the disappointment, or worse, the guilt. This wouldn’t be necessary if we were more present and ”in-time” with everyone around us during our day-to-day contacts. I’ve noticed that the more I learn to open myself and dare to be authentic and honest with people in every aspect of my life, the more satisfaction I’ve found in the relationships that go can deeper; whether it be on a physical or non-physical level.
You’ve probably noticed from my series of sexual self-portraits that my long-time partner, Darren, is bald; and in this drawing, I am holding a man to my breast who is not only not bald, he’s not Darren! I haven’t always played by the rules. I’ve struggled against the labels of monogamy, polyamory, fidelity and exclusivity until I’ve finally gotten closer to, and am able to find my way back to, a place of peace inside myself when confronted with a decision of how close to get to others; how far to go and where to draw a line. I’ve had to learn, sometimes painfully, when to draw my line, to honour that and the other person’s limits at the same time. It’s messy stuff; no wonder so many choose not to play the game! But relationships with others, on any level, are always rewarding and educational. Like a series of mirrors reflecting from different angles, people come into our lives to help us get to know ourselves better and to move deeper into our shining uniqueness.
The man in this drawing with me is also a writer, whose views on sexuality are revolutionizing the confused ideals of our generation by opening the doors to self-discovery and freedom of expression with complete respect for ourselves and others. I was so inspired by his writing that I asked to meet him; I needed to reach out beyond the virtual world of the Web and attach a person to this inspiring voice. Being from different parts of the world, our meeting was brief, very temporary, and intense, but I learned alot and came away much stronger and braver, empowered by a shared vision. Thanks to him, I started to move beyond my fears of exposure to finally begin sharing my artwork, my writing, and my vision of sexuality as a practice filled with love and light instead of the guilty act of compulsive human need I’d learned to judge it to be.
I dove into this experience at a time when I was walking away from repetitive difficulties in my most important love relationship; and so allowed myself the freedom to explore further and deeper than I normally would have. Consequently, Darren was devastated. Was this a mistake? An accident? A deliberate act of defiant infidelity? No. I choose not to judge so harshly; I see it as a gift of providence. Sometimes the storms in our lives make us appreciate the calm more than ever. And sometimes the detours are necessary to keep us, or to bind us, to our paths. And sometimes, intimacy is an element that is needed to push our boundaries and open our eyes and our hearts to others’ realities, others’ suffering, others’ triumphs. I am grateful for the much deeper, loving bond this moment opened up for me with someone who will remain a partner, a very distant and different kind of partner than Darren is to me in my daily life, but an important catalyst in learning and in daring to be who I am.