O P I N I O N
To be touched is to be seen,
To be seen is to be known —
To be known is to be loved.
Intimacy. When we think of intimacy, we think of love — not just any love — romantic love. The problem with intimacy is how inherently it is associated with romance. In our culture, where patriarchy is bred and carried through generations, a grown man is rarely seen displaying affection to his own children. He often fails to form the emotional bond that a parent-child relationship should have, regardless of the gender of either — in his attempt to put up a tough demeanour as “the man of the house”.
The elderly in our society always denounce the promiscuity of the Western culture. However, growing up, you will see many of your friends getting into relationships before any of the girls you read about in those YA romance novels. Perhaps the reason why so many young girls and boys are veneered into romantic relationships before becoming mature enough for one, is not because they wish for love that is easily attainable through family and friends, albeit platonic; but because they wish to be held. This need is primal; human bodies are designed to be caressed. It is the way our fingers perfectly lock themselves with another’s when we hold their hand; the way our heads fit into the crook of another person’s shoulder.
Intimacy is a part of our very existence. Perhaps it is why we shake hands and hug as basic forms of greeting; there is an unspoken comfort in being held. In some cultures like German, French, and surprisingly, Arabic, they kiss the other person’s cheek for the same cause—though the Arabs only extend courtesy to people of the same gender. Not only cultures, but the act of touching is also extensively honoured in art. The Welcoming Hands by Louise Bourgeois at the Jardin des Tuileries is a testament to this fact. The sculpture consists of interlaced hands laid on five granite stones, bearing the sense of communality even when put up as a sacrifice.
As the art blog Sculpture Nature puts it,
“They reflect our every-day gestures and inspire all together the infinite tenderness of loving, sharing, giving, and exchanging, but also agony, anguish, separation, abandonment, and so much more.”
The practice of intimacy starts with self, and the closest relationships of self with other individuals. There is no intimacy without honesty. If you wish to be held like you are known, you have to let yourself be known first. This is where the dynamics of self-presenting and self-exposure come to play. In our daily lives, we are always required to present ourselves to the world, which we instinctively do in the most likeable way possible. However, intimacy begets raw exposure, not flimsy presentations. Self-exposure is a concise term to define the candid and purposeful interactions through which we bring out the vulnerable parts of ourselves, where we confront our less-liked traits. Such openness is crucial, as the majorly liked traits of a person do not require healing; intimacy is needed to tend to the wounds that are not exposed to most. When we are bare with our thoughts and feelings, to ourselves and the other person in a narrative; it provides a gateway to reconciliation even in the most flawed relationships.
Once we are intimate with ourselves, we learn to extend the courtesy to others. When we sit with our own thoughts; come in terms with them, and learn to address the difficult parts with the people who matter; when we get over the fear of confrontation and allow room for judgement, we also create space for growth, and more importantly, acceptance. This not only helps us as individuals to grapple with loneliness and self-hate, but also encourages the same practice to others. By being intimate with ourselves and our loved ones, we promote kindness and compassion to others.
The taboo surrounding intimacy only exists because the majority automatically associate it with romance. Many people feel aloof and sad not because they aren’t loved, but because they are deprived of touch — not particularly from their lovers, but rather family and friends. Intimacy needs not be inherently physical either; smiling at a stranger on the street, waving at a child — any tiny form of human interaction can be an intimate gesture.
When we promote such human contact beyond liability and compulsion of romance, we promote the spread of joy and understanding in people. So, if a friend is feeling a little low today, or your parents have had a rough day, go hug them or hold their hand, and tell them how badly they matter!
Nabiha Nuha is a 19-year-old female who only loves three C’s in her life: cats, cuddles, and chocolate chip cookies.