No matter what topic I cover in any of my lectures, there are always questions about relationships. Humans need to feel connected. We all desire to be seen, heard, and known, but how do we form intimate relationships when we avoid them at the same time? After Kerry Cronin, Associate Director of the Lonergan Center at Boston College, wrote an article on relationships, it got me thinking about what intimacy really is.
Intimacy is an action. It’s like a muscle. If it’s not exercised we won’t know how to use it. It’s allowing another person to see and know us for exactly who we are right in this moment. Not who we want to be, but who we are right now. There’s a choice in intimacy. We choose who we let see us, who doesn’t see us, and we can decide to do it differently. If intimacy is the meaningful connection we’re looking for, then what are we doing hooking up?
Hooking up is like eating a bag of chips. It tastes good going down, but leaves us wanting more. Hooking up is the empty calories of relationships and it’s a backwards approach to intimacy. We get physically intimate hoping it turns into something meaningful, but the reality is that it just makes us feel farther apart from whomever we wanted to feel connected to. The real risk of hooking up is big, and it’s not rejection or breaking social norms, it’s feeling like you don’t matter.
When we label physical intimacy —from a DFMO (Dance Floor Make Out) to sex— with “this doesn’t matter,” “it’s casual,” “we’re just hanging out,” we can suddenly make the shift from what I’m doing physically doesn’t matter to I, as a human being, don’t matter. To avoid this, we need to reveal ourselves to another person over time. It’s a process. It’s why we’re supposed to date; to figure out who we want to share our story with and who we feel like we could fully be ourselves around. Far more frightening than rejection or feeling awkward is never being seen or mattering to anyone. When we opt out of intimacy, we opt out of all the warmth, growth, care, and compassion that comes from letting someone see us.
I want to know that I matter. I want to be able to express love to those who matter to me. Most of all when I meet someone new, I want to know that the possibility for me to matter to them exists. When so many of my students ask, “How do I find someone who wants more than a hook up?” Here’s my answer:
In the months following a big break up, I was driving in the car with my dad when a terrible thought crossed my mind. “Dad, am I catch?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied, “but it doesn’t matter until you believe it for yourself.”
The lesson I learned that day was simple, but huge: if you want someone to see you as a catch you have to see yourself as a catch. Intimacy starts with you. Allowing yourself to be seen by another person begins with you deciding to get to know yourself. You can’t look for other people to make you feel good because our selfworth isn’t anything on the outside. Your value comes from you valuing yourself. You have to dig yourself first before anyone else can.
Putting yourself out can be scary! We worry about someone not liking us or not being good enough. Yet, not ever being seen is way more terrifying. It takes courage to be intimate, but you don’t have to do it all at once. Let someone get to know you slowly. Set your bar high. Ask someone out. Any sort of change you want to see in your romantic life starts with you, so be brave!
Get out a piece of paper and
list 5 things you love to do. Now go do them. The goal is to have more fun! We can get taken down by focusing on things we don’t have instead of what we do have. When you’re happy, you attract more joy, but most of all, you become attractive to the people around you. Bonus: if you’re doing the things you like to do, you’re going to meet someone who likes to do those things as well.
When I think about the most significant relationships in my life, it all comes back to knowing that I matter to them. Everyone wants connection. Intimacy is a choice and we have to choose to take the risk, because knowing that we matter and being able to share that with someone else is what it’s all about.