A Look At Intimacy
J. Bruce Evans
to those I've been close to...
some of whom never knew
and those I've wanted to meet
but was afraid to
and those who've been close to me
inviting when I dared not
And others who care
Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse--
Beside me singing in the wilderness--
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.
Most things change in time; one seems to remain the same: the Paradise of I and Thou. The place with the Bough, the Bread, and the Wine, symbols of communion, the Book of Verse for sharing--these are but the stage and props for the oldest drama since Adam and Eve, that wondrous event which changes any wilderness into the kingdom of God now: two persons being close.
This book is about such human intimacy, the principles and practice of being close to each other not just in body or mind only, but in spirit. It is about that kind of nearness which transforms people into persons, transcends the isolation which is our common lot, erases loneliness, and allows us who are apart to, for a time, be at-one-with each other.
I find moments of human intimacy, when persons take down the walls between them, daring to meet heart-to-heart instead of defense-to-defense, to be extremely rare. There may be months or years between these profound seconds of nearness. Some, it seems, have never truly been close to anyone, even for the briefest of instants.
It seems that most of us are more able to reach this state of intimate communion with nature, the non-human world, than with a fellow human being. Somehow the world of plants, animals, things, and space seem less threatening than the intimate presence of another person. Alone on a walk in the woods, playing with a favorite pet, working with a hobby, or sitting with a sunset one may feel safer in opening himself, as intimacy always requires. Perhaps it is because the woods don't talk back, pets and things don't judge us, and the sun is benevolently tolerant of even our worst selves. Whatever the reasons, communion with nature and things is apparently more common than communion with another mortal.
Being close to a person is of the same nature as being close to a pet or project. Walking in harmony with trees is much the same as walking closely with people. Sitting in communion with a sunset is not unlike sitting quietly, heart to heart, with a friend.
In each such event one loves and knows God.
And yet, being close to humans is a far more demanding challenge for most of us than is being close to nature. Plants and pets are easier to love than people. Humans respond with greater demands, offering more promise, but often seeking to take more than they give or to hurt in return.
In the following chapters I try to amplify certain of the challenges of being close to other humans, lovingly. Love is, of course, what its all about. "The greatest of these is love" (I Corinthians 13:13). But this profound apex of human experience is based on spiritual intimacy--being close. One cannot love without first opening himself to the other. Who cannot be close cannot be loving. To be sure, closeness and loving are not necessarily synonymous; yet there can be no love without this essential foundation. Being close is the beginning of love. And the end.
Being human allows many forms and degrees of satisfaction and pleasure: being in the womb, physically or emotionally--being held, taken care of, loved for what we are; fame--being liked, admired, respected, lifted in the esteem of others; success--winning, achieving, accomplishing, reaching goals; creating--making something new--a poem, painting, house, garment, an original anything; wealth--having money, possessions, the security of owned things; these and many others. But no human possibility surpasses, I think, the wonder of being close to our fellow human beings. I believe that existential intimacy, standing near of heart, is the most essential and humanizing of our higher capacities. For sheer excitement, satisfaction, fulfillment, and promise, no event surpasses the mystery and wonder of being close.
For practicality I have grouped the essentially miscellaneous essays into principles and practice. The divisions are not distinct, nor are the separate chapters in each group tied together. Each is intended to stand alone. A reader may prefer to begin with the second half on practice, returning later to consider the principles. I have not tried to present a systematic study of intimacy, but rather a number of diverse glimpses at this extremely complex human possibility. My wish is that a reader may be stimulated in clarifying his or her own experience. My personal values and directives are included for the same purpose.
How can we grasp the elusive mystery of being close? What sense can we make of the profound event? Being close is standing openhearted with another, existing in spiritual intimacy. When I am close to you, I am being myself in your presence; I am responsive to you. I sense what you present; I see and hear you; I feel in reaction to you; I think about you. You matter to me.
The alternative is being closed to you, shutting you out--not seeing or hearing, not responding emotionally, not thinking of you. Not to be close is to be distant, to have my heart hardened to you. When I am closed I do not care; I see through you. My curtain is drawn; you do not matter to me. Though I am around you physically, you have no spiritual meaning to me; you do not exist as a wondrous other in the temple of my being.
Being close is an event, a happening--in contrast to a mere feeling or attitude. When we are close, something is going on. Certainly the event may include emotions and ideas; yet it is more. This significant experience is beyond the realm of mind. It is a practice.
Furthermore, it is a spiritual event rather than simply a physical happening. Only when spirit is at work can persons be close. Physical realities such as space and time though present do not constitute or qualify this occurrence. We can, for instance, be physically near without being spiritually close, or be far apart and yet near of heart. Most commonly, being close does include physical proximity. We can more easily be open to those near at hand. But not always. Because of certain risks (to be considered later), we may in practice be more safely open to those at a distance than to those near by. A faraway friend may be nearer my heart than is my next-door neighbor. Proximity in space has no inherent correlation with closeness of spirit.
Nor does time as measured by clock and calendar have any bearing on these events. Meeting is eternal rather than temporal in nature. When persons are close, it is as though time ceases to exist. It flies by or stands still. When spiritually close persons are separated physically for some period of calendar time--even years--that chronological gulf is dissolved once they are together again. Though the years have actually passed, it is as though they have not. Such friends-of-heart can pick up where they left off, untouched by the temporal gap.
Clocks may continue to tick and calendars flip their pages, but intimacy transcends time. Chronology is experienced as eternity. Now is forever when people are close. Or perhaps more accurately, forever is now; the everlasting becomes present tense.
The eternal nature of intimacy is a fact, not a mere forgetting of time. Absent-minded people may forget time; present-minded persons, as required for intimacy, transcend time. In the event of being close one slips from the secular world which is properly measured by chronological devices into the sacred world which submits to no such human inventions. The holiness of intimacy is beyond the divisions of minutes, days, and years.
In such loving, one knows God who, as John said, "is love." And "with God" Peter added, "a thousand years is as a day, and a day as a thousand years." Closeness is the business of eternity.
These spiritual occurrences are intensely personal--that is, they involve me as a person, but do not necessarily involve you. I can be close to you without you being close to me. My openness to you may or may not be reciprocated. When two are mutually close the mystery is compounded yet the nearness of the other is essentially irrelevant. I can be close to you whether you want me to or not. I can, with practice, even learn to be close to my enemies.
Even though your openness may encourage my own, it is not required. Indeed, it may inhibit me. Teen-agers are often closer in heart to movie or TV idols who are oblivious to their existence than they are to the boy or girl next door. In religion many persons are closer in spirit to images of Jesus or the Virgin Mary than to any human being. Although such individuals presume the openness to be mutual, it can exist without any reciprocation. Should Jesus, in fact, be a myth, the spiritual intimacy some feel would be unaffected. Being close is a personal, spiritual event, unrelated in the final analysis to the other person.
To define closeness as an event is also to place it in the happening rather than in either party. Although there are personal requirements for any one who would be close, still the closeness is in the event. That is to say, the locus of the experience is between the persons. No personal matters, such as, age, education, wealth, or station in life have any essential bearing on the happening. Closeness often occurs between the most apparently unlikely prospects--an old man and a young child, a college professor and an uneducated workman, a young wife and an old priest. Strangely, all the social facts which seem so important in other regards lose their significance in the miraculous encounters of persons being close.
How do the events of closeness occur? Often they occur under cover of a friendship. While acting friendly two persons may discover themselves getting close to each other. Or closeness may occur in a romance. Lovers inevitably experience a heightened sense of nearness. Or the event may happen in a family relationship. A husband may open himself to his wife, a wife to her husband; a sister may get near her brother. But often strangers, nameless persons in a crowd--on a plane, at a bus station, in a store--find themselves more spiritually open to each other than even to members of their own families. Persons who pass in the night often come closer of heart than do relatives or friends in the day.
Emergencies, hardships, and tragedies may become the occasions of human closeness. Battlefield buddies, forced by war to depend on each other, often cross over the barriers of human separation. Shared poverty, hunger, or social deprivation can become avenues for closeness. Peace-marchers, political allies, and fighters for justice often find themselves spiritually open to one another before they know it. Just fixing a flat tire together can bring nearness when hours or years of proximity have provided no occasion for stepping over the walls which divide us. Once, on the autobahn in Germany, a busload of tourists divided by seemingly impenetrable social and geographical barriers, found themselves overcoming their self-constructed walls after visiting a brewery and facing their common need for a restroom.
Closeness occurs under many covers; yet none can contain it. Any relationship or circumstance may be the occasion for human intimacy, but none can require it. This spiritual event can never be identified with any physical occurrence. Nothing guarantees it. It can happen with a glance, yet be absent in a stare. A wink from a stranger can be more intimate than an extended examination by a doctor. Spouses can live together for decades and never be close to one another. Then encounter with a neighbor may evoke more nearness of heart than all their years together as husband and wife. Even sexual intercourse, commonly referred to as "being intimate," does not guarantee spiritual closeness. One may have sex without being intimate or be intimate and never touch the other. Many parishioners are more intimate with their priests and clients with their psychiatrists than with their own spouses.
Any type of encounter or communication can be the vehicle for closeness--a smile, a wink, a touch, a sound--but none can hold it. For this mysterious spiritual event knows no such boundaries. Any of these can occur without it; and it can happen without any of them.
Though closeness can never be captured or made synonymous with any physical transaction--or absence of same--it can be described in terms of what commonly happens. First one opens himself to the other in some manner. He may open his eyes to see the other, his ears to hear the other, his emotions to feel for the other, or his mind to consider the other. This opening process will usually come in response to some revelation of the other. Perhaps the presence of his body will evoke my looking, or some word he says may call for my hearing. Even in his absence, my memory of some previous revelation can be sufficient to prompt my opening to him.
Next, if the closeness is expanded into a present event, I will reveal or express myself in some way. Perhaps I will show my heart in a smile or reveal my mind in a sentence. I may declare myself in a handshake or touch.
If the event becomes mutual, the other person will then reveal himself in some further way, perhaps by smiling back, speaking his own mind, or rewarding my handshake with a special touch.
From then on the pattern is repeated in any extended relationship of mutual closeness. The kinds and qualities of the sharing may be expanded in an almost infinite variety of ways, Yet the building blocks remain the same: openness, revealing, and responding. The forms may include words, activities, gifts, and physical contact--tangible happenings. The event, however, is spiritual.
Perhaps what it is can be clarified by understanding what it is not. Being close is not depending on, leaning on, helping, saving or supporting the other. Each of these experiences may occur temporarily in an extended relationship of closeness, yet none provides the fabric of the event.
Nor is possessing, manipulating, or using another person being close. Though these activities constitute the major endeavors of many relationships, they are enemies of intimacy. The appearance of closeness between master and slave, or one who uses and the one used, is always deceptive. The primary difference in stances, added to the continually present hidden agenda, prevents real nearness of heart, except in those moments when each drops his role.
In practice, intimacy seems to be more common under cover of social roles. While acting as a patient a woman may venture closer to a man who is wearing the role of doctor. A man in the stance of parishioner may get nearer to a man in the role of priest than to a neighbor next door. A boss may take the chance of greater intimacy with an employee than with a relative.
The emotional roles often assumed in marriage may provide the cover for increased personal intimacy. While acting as a mother to her husband as he wears the role of child, a wife may move nearer at heart than at any other time. A husband will sometimes be more intimate with a wife while he is playing daddy and she is acting like a little girl.
Although these and other roles may provide the cloaks for personal intimacy, they are never the fabric of the event. They may be a way of getting close but are not the experience itself. Often roles provide a way of keeping distance. A spouse may play the part of mother or father to avoid intimacy.
The point is, roles can be used in closeness but can never be identified with it. When intimacy does occur between those in various social stances, the roles are only an excuse. Always the closeness is between the persons wearing the roles, not between the roles themselves. Literally, a patient cannot get close to a doctor except as a person in the garb of patient. She can just as easily, in fact more easily, use her role to keep personal distance. When those wearing roles do get close, the material of the roles becomes see-through. They may continue to display the social stance yet the other clearly sees the person through his then invisible cloak.
Persons may be close through the roles of man and woman, including sexual activity--either heterosexual or homosexual--but the experience always transcends mere sexuality. Heart-to-heart is deeper than body-to-body. Even while acting sexy, for those being close, the sex act is precisely that--an act, an activity allowing intimacy. But it is not the closeness itself.
As popularly used, the term friend is more descriptive than lover. Those who are close are friends whether or not they make love. Except as a potential means of expressing or experiencing closeness, maleness and femaleness are relatively incidental in this event. It is as though these anatomical differences as well as the social roles arising from them, are laid aside. With friends, anatomy and appearance take a back seat to the event of intimacy. Indeed, as we shall consider later, loving and being "lovers" are often contradictory. Nevertheless, some only dare being friends under cover of the role of lovers.
As it is with man and woman, so too it is with same sex relationships, whether the homosexuality be latent or manifest. Still sex is secondary. The issue, insofar as intimacy is concerned, is the friendship, the nearness of heart, whatever the sexual orientation or activity of those involved. Persons, not "lovers," meet intimately, even if they make love.
Being close, whatever form it takes, is standing heart-to-heart with another.
Values are, of course, personal. Each person has and operates from his own private value system. I cannot define or dictate yours, nor you mine. And yet the value one places on closeness becomes crucially important in dealing with the event. Before proceeding to further analyze the nature of human intimacy or explore its practice, I want to clarify its place in my own value system and tell why I think it is so important.
For me, personal salvation comes first. My private relationship with God is my deepest conscious value. By this I mean my involvement with the ultimate, my becoming and being my fullest self with being itself. When sacrifices must be made, I will risk anything else which interferes with or threatens this primary value, at least when I am at my best.
Living out this value in the world involves my relationships with other people. My salvation, though a personal matter between me and the infinite, is to be achieved and experienced in this world, which includes community with you, my fellow human beings. You cannot save me, yet while I live in your midst I will know God--if I do at all--through my relationships with you. How?--through being close and loving you. Personal salvation, when other people are involved, is experienced through being loving with them.
My highest value then is to know God both privately and in community, to become myself and to loving with you. I seek to love (know) God, both alone and with. In terms of priority, I must stand first; then I can stand with you. My most important business is being myself; then comes being loving with you. The challenge of closeness falls between these two primary values. I cannot love you until I have learned to be close to you. Closeness comes before caring; intimacy precedes and is the basis for loving. Being close is not synonymous with loving, but love cannot occur without closeness. Until I can both be myself and tolerate intimacy with you, love remains impossible.
Being close is, therefore, a primary value in my own system of beliefs. I believe that the good life, my salvation with you, is dependent on my embraced ability to be spiritually close to you. I cannot know God in your presence until I can stand being openly myself with you. To pretend to love without taking the chance of spiritual intimacy is to make mockery of this profound human possibility. To risk being close, existing honestly in your presence, is to open the door to love, the apex of personal salvation. As John noted, to love is to know God and "he that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love" (I John 4:7-8).
The significance of closeness lies then in its necessity as a basis for love. Its glory is the mystery of love experienced during the event of being close. But how can the bliss be worded and understood? I grasp at the mystery in this way: the edge of the glory is God's forgiveness of me mediated through the presence of another human being. My brother, whether he knows it or not, becomes an instrument of God when I stand close to him. I may yield to God's grace when I am alone, testing the first fruits of personal forgiveness; yet my redemption is partial, incomplete, until I know God in the crowd also. I must be forgiven with them too. Until I know by experience that I am okay with others, that I have no need to hide from or impress them, my fuller redemption is yet before me.
Enter the other.
Tentatively I bring the degree of my forgiveness embraced alone, my right to be myself, into the presence of the other. Suppose, for example, he accepts me. He does not laugh, shame, or put me down. He says, in effect, "It's okay to be yourself with me." Then perhaps with fear and a show of bravery, I let go of another fig leaf. I chance revealing even more of myself. Will he hurt me? Reject me? Confirm my fear of unworthiness? Shame my sin? My eternity hangs precariously in the balance.
Then, wonder of wonders, he smiles as if to say, "So what? So what's so bad about that?" Or maybe he even pats me on the shoulder and confirms me by agreement. We walk on, as though no fallen Adam had risen a bit. "And what else is new?," he asks in the face of my disbelief and awe. I venture yet another fig leaf. And another.
Accordingly God accepts me through the presence of this one. My partial forgiveness, embraced in solitude, is confirmed and enhanced in the wider world of my fellow man. My brother, with or without knowing, has been an instrument of God, my priest of the moment. I have learned firsthand that I can be me with another. My theoretical redemption has become experiential; the biblical story is born-out in practice.
Even if my brother does not understand, agree, or accept me, still if I dare, I may experience God's forgiveness through his presence. If my faith allows me to remain myself with my brother's rejection, I have learned an even greater measure of God's grace than had he accepted me. If I discover I can be me even when not welcomed, I have certainly moved further down the road of salvation.
So, whether he accepts or rejects, my closeness to my brother can lead me nearer to the kingdom. I may discover God more completely in the heart of another, and consequently in my own. This personal closeness is the first potential glory in being close.
Which leads us closer to the central mystery: forgiveness precedes resurrection. If I have the faith to accept being accepted or to accept being rejected and yet remain myself--to embrace being forgiven--then Easter is here for me. To my tomb Christ comes, cloaked in my brother, issuing again His ageless call: "Lazarus, come forth!" Dawning Sunday. Stone rolled back. I come forth. Adam/ Lazarus, this time called Bruce, breaks out of his grave clothes. Into the sun comes new man.
Resurrection is the second potential glory in being close.
Then the third. In this new Sunday-morning world, fresh-showered with forgiveness, facing the light, I explore the strange garden in which I have arisen. Sans fig leaves, I laugh, romp, and try my wings. I cry; I grieve; I shout. I create, synthesize, name, and make sense; I discover myself in the presence of the other. I learn to tolerate excitement, to leave the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil hanging in its own place. I makeup with the serpent; I face not-knowing. In awe, yet playfully, I embrace mystery. I love.
Then I notice the angels, with flaming swords laid aside and smiles on their faces. I ask where I am. "Eden," they reply.
So of course the glory.
To meet another and hold your ground is one of the most difficult tasks in the world, and most of us alternate between various forms of non-meeting.
If the potential glory of spiritual intimacy is great, the apparent threat is an equal rival. Though many fears plague the hearts of we Adams and Eves outside of Eden, none seem so vast and deep as those evoked by the prospect of being close to another human being. Many a brave soul in the world of things becomes a sniveling coward in the realm of spirit. Dragons of the heart seem far more dangerous than those of the land.
Why, one may reasonably wonder, would an event with such promise be perceived with such threat? One would think that we would rush to this glory, indeed that we would make it a primary quest. It would seem so, but experience does not bear out that logic. Even those who say they want to be close, who appear to search for intimate others, may be noted to avoid their desires, or once close, to act destructively in the relationship. Illogically, we work to prevent the thing we most want to acheive. Why?
Before approaching an answer directly, two common half-truths need attention. The first is the idea: "If you don't get close, you won't get hurt." Spiritual injury in intimate relationships has led many to close their hearts to further closeness, justifying their withdrawal with this promise of protection. The truth-half of this notion is that living at a distance from others does insulate one from some of the dangers inherent in intimacy. The error, however, is identifying the pain with the closeness. There may in fact be even greater pain in the loneliness of isolation. That those who get close do at times get hurt does not necessarily mean that distance is without its own pain.
Secondly, there is the notion that closeness and vulnerability are synonymous. "If you open yourself to another, you are automatically subject to being taken advantage of." In truth, persons who are close do often make themselves vulnerable to the other. Sometimes, however, the more open one becomes, the less vulnerable he is; or, the more closed one is, the more subject he may be to the one he would avoid. The boxer in the center of the ring may feel more exposed than one crouched in the corner; even so, his greater openness may be his best protection. The security of the ropes may only increase the vulnerability of the hiding one.
The point is: identifying closeness with vulnerability and assuming that distance is painless can both be dangerous errors. The truth-half of each idea can easily be lost in the untrue implication.
Yet there are legitimate threats in the event of closeness. Perhaps the greatest is the fear of the unknown. Like landing on the moon, spiritual intimacy is new territory for many. The natural anxiety inherent in facing any unfamiliar terrain is predictably present here also. What will it be like? What will happen? Will I be hurt? What will we do?
I am schooled in acting; I graduated with honors. Yet I am a babe in the woods when it comes to off-stage productions. Give me a script and I will learn it; give me freedom and I am apt to run. Since being with another is the ultimate in no-script productions, its threat is massive. The vast unknown looms at every corner of its unplanned, unscheduled, spontaneous and unpredictable path. Predictably I fear so great a void in pre-knowledge.
And then there is the fear of rejection. "If you knew me behind the image I present, you wouldn't like me." The fig-leaf propensity seems to be universal, and for all the wrong reasons. We learn to hide, not because of our actual sin, but out of fear of being known as we are. I dare not tell you who I am, lest you ban me from your presence. If I were truly me with you as a person rather than the persona I show you, I would surely be banished from your kingdom.
Fearing rejection, I logically try harder to be what I imagine you want instead of who I am. The harder I work to please you, the more dishonest--fake--I become with you, thereby making impossible your love for me or at least my knowledge of it, and in turn I increase my chances of rejection. Who wants to be with a fake? Unwittingly I thwart and prevent what I want the most while encouraging and promoting my deepest fear. Patterns of destruction: who can deliver me from them?
Perhaps my efforts made sense in the beginning, at least to my childish mind. It did appear that the adults who held the keys to my kingdom were most concerned with what I felt was least my being at the time. They decried my me-ness, encouraging what seemed unnatural--like bathrooms, silence, and being "a good boy." They seemed opposed to all that was truly me--like crying when hungry or hurt, speaking when I wasn't spoken to, aggression, and of course having fun--in my own ways. The threat of banishment from their house was constantly over my head, or so I thought.
And since their rejection was my death, so far as I knew back then, perhaps my developed fear of being myself made sense. However it was, I learned early to present a good front. Being me, in my immediate form, was only possible when alone; since I developed a great propensity for guilt, even then it was seldom okay. Consequently I have a wealth of experience in pretending--with myself as well as others--and precious little experience in being me. Predictably, I fear your rejection, and therefore being close to you is a threat.
The risk of rejection also brings the threat of losing myself. If I get too involved in impressing you, I may forget who I am. The challenges of presenting a perfect image to please you may tempt me to leave the self I know. Too long in the land of images and roles, I may lose my citizenship in the country of who I am.
On the other hand, if you happen to like me, I may try to give myself to you. When my existence becomes a burden I sometimes want to give myself away. If you appear to be a likely candidate, I may try to lose myself in you, in the wonder of your love or even in service to you. Whether by mistake or choice--losing or giving myself away--the result is the same. Loss of self is a legitimate threat in closeness.
The fantastic amount of stimuli experienced in an event of closeness becomes another source of threat. Too much excitement is an experiential risk. The stimulus involved in ritualized encounters where we act in learned ways is relatively small in comparison to the incredible amount of energy generated when two persons honestly face the unknown of each other. We are trained for lower levels of excitement. We know more about meetings being distant and dull rather than intimate and stimulating.
Closeness-with-heart changes all this. Never a dull moment now! Dealing with these higher degrees of excitement as I move script-less into this unknown territory can indeed be exciting. Can I stand it? To understand this particular threat we must venture beyond popular understanding. Consciously, most of us want to have fun. Theoretically we seek pleasure; we wish to be happy; we yearn for excitement in our lives. The idea of pleasure as threatening may seem incongruous with our general thinking.
The facts are, however, that most of us have had far more experience with routine existence than with excited living. We know more about boredom than about stimulation. We have spent more time being pinned-in by parents than in practicing freedom. Our fifty weeks of work far outweigh our two of vacation. True, we have wished for fun. Even truer, we have more practice at missing it than having it.
This lack of experience results in an inward contradiction for many of us. Missing pleasure, we deeply long for it; but being unschooled in its practice, we also resist that which we seek. We want it, but don't know how to stand it. We fantasize bliss, but lack the experiential knowledge of how to tolerate its delights. Longing for heaven, alas, we know more about getting along in hell.
Because human intimacy is so exciting, opening such a wide door to heaven, it consequently becomes immensely threatening to us who know more about pain than pleasure. Our practice at loneliness ill prepares us for the incredible joy of intimacy. Though we want it desperately, its existential excitement can be a deeply threatening possibility.
As strange as it may sound, acceptance and forgiveness become another major threat in being close. The fear of rejection may only cloak a deeper fear of being accepted. Though I greatly wish to be liked and work to secure your approval, I have in fact had far more practice with holding you at arm's length. When I have succeeded in impressing you by my act, gaining your apparent acceptance, I have assumed you liked my performance (not me) rather than the real me. I have, in effect, by my own engineering, kept my true self hidden and hence rejected. I know by practice how to handle your distance. Rejection is, as much as I dislike it, familiar territory; acceptance, even though I seek it, is relatively new. If you keep your distance (reject me) I shall know what to do. But what if you truly accept me, not just my front, but the one who presents it?
This threat is in fact quite real in most events of closeness. The nature of the happening requires personal honesty; the common response to seeing an-other person as he actually is behind the image he presents, is acceptance. In spite of my fear: "If you knew me you wouldn't like me," the strange result of honesty is most often acceptance by the other person. Even if I do not approve of what you do, I am more likely to like you revealed than concealed. Contrary to our popular understanding, honesty evokes more acceptance than does pretending. When you accept me as I am, I cannot but face forgiveness for being myself. Your acceptance be-comes an instrument of God's grace. You tell me I'm okay when I don't know that myself. You say, by allowing me to be honest, "You are forgiven for being human." Because I know more about guilt than righteousness, your measure of grace is another source of threat to my unembraced self. Can I stand the forgiveness you extend to me?
Then there is the "me too" risk. If being heard (and hence forgiven) is a danger, hearing another (and accepting him)may lead him to also reveal him-self. To my revelation of me, you may add your own"me too." Showing myself invites you to equal honesty. In the beginning, "me too" can be a support and comfort: "I'm glad to know I'm not the only one." But in time, hearing another, as prompted by his hearing me, can become a great threat. You may reveal more than I am prepared to accept. You may show yourself in a way which destroys my previous image of you, requiring me to reassess my own stance. You may appear weaker than I had thought or more vicious, stronger or less secure. Your "me too"--or whatever self-revelations you add to my own--may threaten me, becoming but another legitimate danger in being close.
Perhaps the greatest real risk in getting close to another, in opening myself to my brother, is the inevitable self-discovery which ensues. I cannot reveal my known self to you without discovering more of my unknown. To show you what I know is to bring forth the growing edge of what I do not know about me. I open the door to surprise when I chance telling you who I am now.
Each honest revelation of my currently-embraced self (the me I consciously know), brings me to the edge of my awareness, to the chasm of my unconscious mind. Unless I am careful I will then look further into myself and discover God-knows-what. I may see more of what I have been. Each revealed memory can open the door to some long-forgotten pain. Or I may see the flaws, the inconsistencies in the image I have thought was my true self until-just now. I may find I am not who I thought I was. Or I may catch a glimpse of what I might become. My propensity for greater sin may flash across the revealed forecast of tomorrow's me. Or worse still, perhaps, my possibility of sainthood, of truly becoming a son of God, may be shown to me.
The potential discoveries of who I have been, now am, and may become, are always lurking near when I risk being close to another. Will I be able to stand facing the repressed pains of my childhood? Can I take the dissolution of my carefully developed self-image? Will my potential for the future overwhelm me? When my faith is low these dangers loom great. Without doubt, there are many legitimate threats inherent in any event of spiritual closeness.
I don't think we always know just how it is we push intimacy away, or how deep and wide we've dug our moat. There are so many masks.to hide behind, so many ways to get lost inside, that it's very easy to lock yourself away and lose the capacity to get out alive.
With such real dangers constantly present when one moves near-of-heart to another, small wonder that we cleverly design numerous routes of escape. Among the easy-ways-out are these: avoidance, playing games, sexual activity, acting stupid, subversive maneuvering, and falling in love.
Avoidance--creating spiritual distance--is perhaps the most common. The size of the human brain allows both the possibility of intimacy and the opposite--the appearance of closeness while we are in fact far away in spirit. When closeness becomes a threat, for whatever reason, I have but to use my human talent for spiritual distance. In an instant I can be far removed, even when you still see my body close by. With the magic of my mind I can fly away while I appear to stand near you. With practice I may perfect an act of intimacy which cloaks the actual distance I have created between us. Unless you are sharp, I may fool you, making you think I am with you long after I have fled the scene. This tempting act of avoidance becomes a major pitfall on the path toward closeness. When I fall into it, I may have the illusion of security, yet at great price both to myself and our relationship.
While intending to protect myself I unwittingly engage in a spiritual act of great potential danger. My momentary escape may tempt me to fall into an existential chasm of permanent inner division. The human capacity for objectivity, for both being myself and seeing myself at the same time, for both doing and looking at what I do as I do it, can easily be abused when taken to its logical conclusion. The potential blessing of constant correction through self-awareness can become an inherent curse when used for extended escape into self-division.
In reality I can see myself while being myself, but I have changed the blessing of objectivity into a sinful curse if I escape my subjectivity at the same time. I can be objectively subjective and remain whole, but if I split myself into object and subject, body and spirit or role and self, I have moved into the realm of mental illness, that is, spiritual hell. When I fall for the illusion of thinking I am a self apart from this body, of believing or living as though "what you see is not what you get"--that is, when I divide myself into a me and an it, I have died in spirit.
For instance, in my work I often relate to others through the role of minister. For practical reasons I objectively shape myself in this stance. If, however, I present this empty role while I myself am personally absent--if I divide myself into a me and an it (me, the person and it, the minister), then I have fallen into the trap of spiritual division. I can be myself as minister or many other roles such as father, husband, or friend, but when I split myself from any current stance I risk the hell of permanent division.
The same is true for any other presented image, such as, "good person" or "intelligent one," "sinner" or "dummy." When one ceases to be personally present, leaving any of these vacant images, he risks the dangers of inner division. I may feel safe, with only my role or image present, but I. have invited the existential risk of splitting who I am.
This danger becomes activated in any human encounter. When I attempt to avoid being present with you by creating spiritual distance, I invite spiritual death for myself. Obviously the danger extends to the relationship as well. If I am absent or dead, the encounter can at best be one-sided. Avoidance, though a common escape from intimacy, is exceedingly risky.
Playing serious games is a second easy-way-out of intimacy. The risks of honesty may be cleverly avoided by substituting practical moves of innumerable serious games of encounter, such as Hide and Seek (Bet you can.'t find me before I find you), Psychiatrist (I will analyze you before you know it), Preacher/God (I can save you), Capture the Person (I will possess you as my own), or One-upmanship (I will beat you at your own game).
Though exceedingly intricate, each such game provides an escape from the dangers of being open-hearted. The massive energy and skill required to play them is far less demanding than the faith necessary for intimacy. In comparison, even the most complicated encounter game is likely to appear safer than the simplest degree of openness. Playing is easier than revealing; acting seems safer than being.
Consequently, playing serious games is a potential pitfall for those who would be close. These serious games are to be distinguished from fun games which are played sometimes for added excitement by persons being close. The escape lies in the reason and seriousness of playing, not in the game itself. As discussed later, playing for fun can be an avenue for intimacy; serious games, however, are an easy escape.
Acting-out sexually can become another escape. The greater demands of spiritual intimacy may be evaded in the easier course of physical intimacy. Because we have biological preparation for acting sexy but no ingrained training for being close, we may easily take the less-demanding way out. Our genes incline us to intercourse, but every man is Adam in the spirit world. We inherit the urge to procreate, but no ancestry prepares us for intimacy. No one inherits the faith required for being close.
Even with the risks of acting-out sexually, hopping into bed may be less dangerous than hearing and being heard. Along the path of nearness, sexual play can become a tempting side trail. Being close-of-body is inevitably easier than being near-of-heart.
To be sure, the two are not inherently contradictory. Spiritual closeness may at times be beautifully experienced in physical intimacy. Yet they are not synonymous. More often, it seems that sex is used as a way out rather than a way in. The alert pilgrim will carefully examine his biological urges or programmed seductions lest they divert him from his primary spiritual quest.
Acting stupidly--that is, doing dumb things--can also become an escape from intimacy. Such unreasonable acts as getting angry at the other person, becoming unjustifiably critical, being emotionally or physically abusive, or abandoning such personal pursuits as education, job, marriage, or family, in favor of the intimate relationship, may be but an escape from the deeper threats of being close. For example, though objectively unreasonable, it may be easier for me to find some small flaw in you and get angry about it (thereby driving you away), than for me to tolerate the increasing degrees of intimacy I am coming to experience in your presence. Persons who get close may have the unreasonable inclination to "stop the world and get off together," to "go away to an island with you." Under this urge they may illogically drop out of school or quit their jobs, so as to "spend more time together."
These and countless other irrational acts can be but an escape from greater degrees of true closeness. The outward costs of acting stupidly may actually be less than the perceived risks of becoming more responsibly intimate.
Closely related is the pitfall of subversive maneuvering--doing things which actually destroy the closeness while appearing to invite greater openness. These may take the form of revealing too much too soon and thereby threatening the other person, taking advantage of the vulnerability of the other, inviting more intimacy than the faith of the other can yet allow, or simply using the revelations of the other person in a negative way.
Even while outwardly appearing to want, invite, encourage, and engage in being close, one may cleverly engage in innumerable tactics which actually subvert the overt efforts. One may, in effect, work against himself, destroying that which he engages in seeking. Subversive maneuvering, though difficult to describe or perceive beforehand, can often be recognized in retrospect as an obvious escape from the demands of being close.
Love is merely a madness, and I tell you, deserves as well a dark house and a whip as madmen do; and the reason why they are not so punished and cured is, that the lunacy is so ordinary that the whippers are in love too.
And then there's falling in love. Other pitfalls are simpler, but none is more tempting or dangerous than the ageless escape of falling in love. This path to hell regularly masquerades as a shortcut to heaven. Its promise of instant bliss deceives all but the most alert pilgrims. Since falling for is obviously easier than standing with and since it so cleverly appears to be the same, its victims are understandably deceived. Even so, the end is predictably disastrous.
To grasp the nature of the tragedy we may try to pierce this ancient mystery of quasi-romance. What is the event of falling in love? What happens? I perceive it like this: two half-persons, each divided within, missing a portion of himself yet pretending to be whole, meet on the level of their pretensions. Front encounters front; false self meets false self. In the mirror of the other, each sees a reflection of the missing part of himself. Blinded to the mirror, each believes that his own reflection is actually the other person. Aha! He has discovered out there what has been missing in here. Wholeness appears possible through the capture of the other. This magical person seems to somehow offer the completion he has long sought. In him or her he perceives the possibility of truly finding what has been missing in his life. Naturally he is tempted to fall into such an inviting trap.
We may think of it like this:
Person One, missing the B part of himself, meets Person Two who is missing the A part of herself. Both pretend to be whole together, as though nothing were missing. While playing, however, each reveals bits of his embraced self. Person One shows some of his A; Person Two reveals some B. This substance becomes a mirror in which each catches a glimpse of the missing part of himself. Person One senses the missing B of himself in the other; Person Two likewise perceives her missing A.
At this point the temptation to fall first presents itself openly. "If only I could have her (my missing B)," says he, "then I would be complete and happy." "If I had him (my missing A)," she says in return, "I would be fulfilled." This is the crucial time on the path toward becoming close. Will they opt out on standing with each other in favor of falling in love with each other?
If so, the relationship explodes into an angelic/demonic process during which each seeks to capture the other by giving himself away. Person One tries to get the B of Person Two to complete himself. She, in turn, tries to capture his A for the same reason. The trading pieces are the embraced reality of each. He gives away bits of his A; she barters with her B. In the devious, wild, frenzied exchanges there are glimpses of heaven and touches of hell. The trauma of falling in love is unrivaled in the annals of human experience.
What appears as love and is commonly so called, is actually a war, a desperate, no-holds-barred fight for the territory of the other. Nothing short of total possession will do. When such "lovers" are honest, they are extremely jealous; they want all. In turn they will often trade all of themselves; yet it is a barter masquerading as a gift. They give only as a device for getting. For all the loving appearance of their mutual offerings, each remains a covered hook, a bait to tempt the other. The true nature of such "gifts" is often revealed when a lover turns away. As the saying goes, hell hath no fury like a woman (or man) scorned. The angel, with equally miraculous speed, becomes a demon. The god or goddess is transformed into a devil.
Before this predictable conclusion comes, the magical romance indeed offers the appearance of bliss. Although the illusion of getting something from the other, of acquiring the missing parts of oneself, remains an illusion, potentially redeeming events may occur. As previously noted, the substance (the embraced reality of each--the A of Person One and the B of Person Two) is actually but a mirror in which each sees the unaccepted portion of himself. While Person One thinks he is seeing Person Two, he is really seeing a mirror image of his own un-embraced potential. Though the other person may, in fact, possess what he lacks, still what he sees is his own reflection. Blinded by his own inner-division, he cannot yet see reality as it is. The ancient knowledge that "love is blind" is continually reaffirmed.
However, under cover of this illusion--and here is the potentially redeeming element in the whole bizarre affair--one may muster the nerve to actually embrace some of the apparently missing part of himself. For example, one lacking courage, on seeing the courage of the other (his own reflected), may choose to embrace a degree of his own rejected nerve and for a change, act with courage. Though he thinks he is drawing his courage from the other, he is actually experiencing his own faith in the presence of the other.
Or, one who has not accepted his emotional capacity may risk, under cover of the emotions of the other, experiencing some of his own. While thinking that she "makes him feel," he actually takes the chance of feeling. Sex is another common agenda in such "love" affairs. One with un-embraced sexuality sees this missing part of himself reflected in the mirror of the other. Being blinded, he believes that "she turns me on"--that is, that the power to be sexual is received from the other. Actually, of course, this is impossible. The keys to all personal powers lie within ourselves. Still, under cover of romantic love, we sometimes dare to turn them on.
These cloaked turn-ons, of whatever personal capacity, are the quasi-heaven of romantic love. If the lover is fortunate, he learns while the moon still beams on his love that he can be more than he previously knew. The glimpsed heaven is accepted as a chosen private goal. If he is not so lucky and never sees through the illusion of reflected powers, then the hell of the absence of the lover will remain his eventual destiny.
To summarize: romantic love, the type which we mortals so commonly fall into is a psychopathological or spiritual illness. It is a magical escape from reality. Ideally the seeds of salvation may be gathered during its relatively brief existence; unfortunately, hell is a more common result.
Romantic love is a spiritual sickness because it is based on false godhood, built on idolatry, and maintained by clever acting. With these illusions for its substance, the final disaster is of course predictable. The fundamental premise is the mutual installing of each other in the position of a god or goddess. The lover is viewed as a superhuman being (consciously or unconsciously) with the magical power to bring happiness (turn me on). Of all the people in the world, this godlike one becomes the most important. The sun rises and sets on his/her head. This god/goddess has the power to lift me to the heights of heaven or plunge me to the depths of hell with the magic wand of a smile or frown. A lover's warm touch may produce shivers of ecstasy; her cold shoulder brings despair.
Such magnificent powers are of course projected on the lover--that is to say, one wraps up his own birthright (the power to be himself) and benevolently bestows it on the object of his affection. Without awareness he gives the lover all the magical abilities he assumes her to have. Once given, these powers do appear to be hers. He is left powerless, the victim of her slightest whim. She literally--within this magical system--holds the keys to his spiritual destiny.
In a mutual romance she reciprocates the favor, installing him in a comparable position of godhood. Her powers for being herself are turned over to him. The keys to private happiness are traded; she holds his, he holds hers. The result is mutual false godhood. He views her as a goddess; she sees him as god. The mutual installation is a spiritual fact which may or may not be recognized consciously. In either case, the event is the issue. Once these projections of power are made, the magic appears to become real. In the illusionary world of lovers, it works. If he truly believes she can make him happy, then for all practical purposes, she can. At least within the context of their shared illusion.
This mutual godhood, the basis of romantic love, is, of course, false. The queenly robes with which I adorn my goddess are make-believe. She remains human, except in my mind's eye. My kingly powers likewise exist only in her thinking. I too still have clay feet though they be hidden by my robes. With all its gaudy appearance, this foundational premise of romantic love is false. The event is a sickness based on non-reality.
Once the foundation of fake godhood is laid, the next step is to begin worshiping at the throne of the other. Lovers adore each other. Worship which in reality is reserved for God alone is now heaped freely on the human god--and reasonably so. If she can bring me happiness, she deserves worship. If I can make her feel beautiful, she logically adores me. Such adoration is commonly acted-out through the giving of gifts. Countless presents of both real and symbolic value, are laid on the alter before the throne of the other. Nothing is too good for a lover-god. Any possession, any previous value, may be freely laid aside for sake of a lover. All that mattered before no longer matters in this new magical world. A man may willingly sacrifice his business or career. A woman may give up her house or family as though they were of no consequence to her. The greatest gift, and of course the ultimate tragedy, is the gift of oneself. To the god of the other, lovers regularly lay themselves on the altar of sacrifice. "Take me, I'm yours," they say. "Do with me as you will."
Though the mutual adoration and self-sacrifice is seldom clearly recognized by willing participants, their worship is, in reality, idolatry. They have, without thinking, made idols of each other. Freely they break the first commandment, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3); other commandments often fall in swift order also.
The entire charade, being based on non-reality, is understandingly played better in darkness. The moon, quite rightly, is the symbol of romance rather than the sun. Romance flourishes in the night and tends to wilt at noonday. When moonlight and roses are phased into daylight and dishes, romance often makes a speedy exit. Being essentially unreal, it cannot long endure the demands of reality.
Consequently the game is best played surreptitiously. Romance flourishes on intrigue and clandestine meetings. The difficulty of getting together, the necessity of hiding, the infrequency of contact only add to the drama. The challenge is exciting. Danger but heightens the thrill of suspense. The risk of getting caught is a constant stimulant.
Since the illusion is primarily in the mind's of the lovers, it often abounds even more while they are apart than together. As has long been known, "absence makes the heart grow fonder." Though untrue for real love, this dictum is a truism for romance.
The principal activity of romance is a staged production in which each actor does his best to play the role of god for the other and slave to the other. Cleverly each tries to impress the other, both with increasing adoration (idolatry) and expanding serfdom. For example, the apparent gifts are not truly gifts at all; they are offerings designed to elicit the continual favor of the installed god. Each is selected on the basis of its ability to impress the receiver. "What would he/she like?," is the guiding question, rather than, "What do I want to give?"
Lovers continually try to impress each other in each area of their contact. Whether it is cloaked in: "See how good I am," or, "Look at how bad I've been;" "See how strong I am," or, "Look at the weakness I'm willing to show you;" "See how much I can help you," or, "Look at how badly I need you," the critical words are "see" and "look."
Each gift or revelation is for impression. It is designed for an effect. Romantic lovers are continually on the stage with each other. Even when the dialogue is personal information cloaked as honesty, the underlying script is a performance. Whether they lie or tell facts, the hidden agenda is always idolatry--admiration and service. Everything is done for impression. It's all part of a colossal act, a deadly drama with an ancient but ever-changing script complete with the predictable final scene. Lovers, caught up in the performance, may miss the beauty and artistry of their acting; the audience, though enjoying the play, usually sees through the roles and recognizes the game for what it is: an escape from reality.
Of course, love can never be stripped bare of illusion, but simply to arrive at the awareness of illusion is to hold hands with truth.
True intimacy can only occur between two persons who stand closely together, yet remain essentially separate. False intimacy, far more common, is a type of relationship which both looks and feels like the authentic experience and yet is more clearly seen as two persons leaning on each other.
True intimacy is loving; false intimacy is falling in love. The distinction is crucially important. In the first experience one stands on his own spiritual feet and moves near to the other. In the second, he abandons individual spiritual stability in favor of dependency on the other. Those who love, stand with; those in love, lean on.
We may distinguish the two by naming the first experience--the subject of this book--spiritual love, and naming the second, romantic love. Spiritual love or being close, involves meeting and responding to the other, while remaining essentially alone in the final analysis. Romantic love is an affair of giving and taking, while attempting to escape the reality of being alone. In the first, individuality is enhanced; in the second, uniqueness is negated. Being separate ones together is replaced by the effort to become a new mutual unit. Spiritual love is an ultimate expression of health, indeed, of the kingdom of God. Romantic love is a pathological condition which, finally, is hell.
And yet it is the event of falling in love which commonly brings the first glimpse of true intimacy. In the process of abandoning the assumed security of a false independence, romantic lovers do indeed taste the first-fruits of being close. They feel the ecstatic winds of spiritual love. Falling in love seems, for those who have so fallen, to be the real thing. No other human experience brings one so close to the kingdom of God.
Unfortunately, this wonderful feeling is only temporary--intense, but short-lived because it is based on illusion rather than reality. We may try to escape ourselves into another, momentarily concluding success, but the reality of actual and inescapable separateness soon comes crowding in. The fall into love, which seems so heavenly at the time, is finally damning. "Hell hath no fury like a lover scorned" is true because, in fact, hell is where the lover was at the time. The scorning only reveals the truth; it does not create it. The fall into love is a fall into hell, which, deceptively, feels ecstatic on the way down.
Thus, being close is, at the same time, the most fulfilling and most demanding of human experiences. It both brings and requires the most that we are. Being a separate person is the first and most difficult requirement. Physical separation is accomplished for us at birth. Spiritual separation--being separate--must, however, be chosen by each person. The obstetrician cuts the umbilical cord; only we can cut the apron strings. And apron strings must be cut before we can truly be close to another human being. Otherwise our only options are dependency (leaning on a secondhand mother) or loneliness (wishing we had a secondhand mother).
Being separate means being spiritually independent, able to exist with heart apart from the other. When I am spiritually independent, being myself, I stand on my own emotional feet. I do not need--in the sense of requiring for my well-being--the other. I can get along very well without her. My choice to be with is made freely, not dictated by need. I go because I want to share, not because I need to get anything from her. I do not have to have the other when I am a separate one.
Being separate also means that I can always walk away from one I am close to. We are not locked into some form of mutual dependency which becomes realistically threatened if the other fails to perform in the required way or moves further apart. A currently popular song has this line: "It's just knowing that the door is always open that keeps my bedroll stashed behind your couch..." Being separate does mean that "the door is always open." Because one is literally unattached--that is, close but not leaning on, he can walk away at any time. A separate one always has his hat in his hand. He chooses to say "hello" but can just as freely say "goodbye" whenever an appropriate time for parting comes.
I can only be with you when I can with equal ease be myself without you. If I come looking for you in search of myself, I advise you to run or slam the door in my face. I may unduly tempt you to flee yourself trying to be for me. We will both be losers if you do, even though our fall together feels like fun at the time. When I am truly being with you, I am simply being myself alone in your presence, as I in turn invite you to be with me. Being separate together, we can freely respond to each other, enhancing and fulfilling the wonder of our unique selves. We may have holy communion, sharing the bread and wine of heaven. We will know God together, praising Him when we part. But only if we meet as separate ones. Perhaps we will shed a tear when we say goodbye at the sadness of leaving, yet it too will be a part of the blessed benediction, another form of the joy of being together--separately.
To say that romantic love is a spiritual sickness, a psychopathological condition, is not to imply that romance itself is bad, and certainly not to denigrate the reality of love. When persons are truly close, lovingly, romance does indeed become a regular possibility. Then it is a delightful game, honestly chosen for the fun of it but never compulsively confused with reality itself. Though the play may appear similar in each case, there is a crucial difference. In romantic love (the illness) the game is deadly serious; when persons are being close lovingly, the play is light-heartedly gay. In the first case the game is confused with reality and is therefore the main issue. In the second instance it is but icing on the cake, an added attraction, an adornment on reality rather than an escape from it.
In romantic love the major activity is impressing the lover (paying homage at her throne). In so doing, I strive to be what she wants me to be. I offer myself on the altar of her love. Though I may in fact become very honest in my efforts to please the goddess, thereby catching reflections of who I am in the mirror of her response, my essential effort is dishonest. I can only be the parts of me which please her; otherwise I strive to hide myself and appear to be the one she wants ("loves"). Unacceptable aspects of myself must continually be sacrificed at the altar of her acceptance.
In sharp contrast, when persons love, the major effort is an ever-widening circle of becoming themselves in the presence of the other. They move continually closer to one another as they truly are. They work at revealing rather than concealing and impressing. When I am loving with another I strive to make myself known. My focus is on being me, staying myself, remaining in my own skin, standing openly in the presence of the other. Contrary to the labor of romantic love, I work to not-impress. When the temptation to please the other--to negate myself in favor of a manipulative effort to "make her like me"--arises, I resist it diligently. To be sure I do not succumb to this killer of closeness, I may make a deliberate move in the opposite direction--either moving apart for a time or doing some-thing potentially offensive, such as exaggerating a threatening part of myself.
The point is, in romantic love the major activity is deception, non-reality, pretending, not being me. In loving, the agenda is honesty, things as they are, getting off the stage, and becoming myself with the other.
To this primary agenda in being close persons may also add the fun game of romance. While majoring on being found they may minor on hiding--occasionally playing as children the friendly game of hide-and-seek. As a device for greater revealing they may temporarily conceal. To heighten the joy of being found they may momentarily hide. They make a show of seeking the other to exaggerate the reality of not looking. They tempt, flirt, drop-the-handkerchief, and chase; as a prelude to greater revelation they cloak truth in friendly deception, exaggerating the not-me, prior to showing the more-me.
Playfully they pretend to be for the other, to heighten the pleasure of being for themselves with each other. They act as though to impress, to sweeten the morsel of being without the need to impress; they feign adoration of the other to allow a greater revelation of themselves; they bow in mock worship, kissing feet, to show more clearly their acceptance of the lowliness of the other; they act godly as a show for displaying humanity. Non-gifts are given, valueless offerings whose sacrificial appearance but hides the deeper knowledge that each gives nothing to and takes naught from the other, and yet in so doing, both give and take all that is. Often non-gift presents with more worldly worth are chosen, as a greater concealer of the shared under-standing that finally nothing which counts can be given.
All this, and much more.
Yet for persons being close, these love games, this romance is exciting but frivolous pleasure, enhancing the profundity of being close but never supplanting the essential and everlasting agenda of sharing communion, being priests to one another, persons together.
And yet there is a deeper and more abiding type of romance inherent in the nature of being close. Persons who chance this profound experience are continually discovering expanded dimensions of themselves in the presence of the other. The giving of gifts of self, the sharing which is a regular part of being close lights the fires of romance as surely as do the pretended gifts in romantic love. More so in fact since each gift is deeply personal both for the giver and receiver. In romantic love, gifts selected as a device to seduce the other may be personal for the receiver but are often meaningless for the giver. He selects presents (tangible and intangible) not because they are significant parts of himself, but because he calculates they will impress a lover. His personal involvement is limited to the mental skill in second-guessing what will impress the most, plus, of course, the energy required in presenting.
Not so with gifts of those seeking to be close. They are always deeply personal for the giver; indeed they are a part of himself. Whether they are words, feelings, ideas, experiences, or objects, they come from the heart of the sharer. Because no manipulation is involved--they are not designed to do anything--the receiver is, in turn, freed to respond more personally. Since the gifts are not actually for her, she owes no debt of gratitude.
The sharings of one being close are truly free. The end result--the excitement of giving without strings attached and receiving without obligation--strengthens the invitation to presence between such persons. In addition, self-gifts carry a continual element of surprise due to the expanding experiences of each loving one in such a relationship. One never knows what will be given next--what word, what feeling, what insight, revelation or thing. Naturally such mystery gives continual rebirth to romance. Perhaps the most provocative appeal is the intimate nature of what is shared by those who are close. The calculated, quasi-gifts of romantic lovers, like the giving of "strokes," may evoke a reaction of pleasure; but the glimpse into the heart of the other afforded by more personal gifts silently invites a response of depth in ones who are being close. Depth calls out unto depth; romance in its purest form becomes the natural outgrowth of persons being close.
Being close is being me with you, existing authentically in your presence. In intimacy I risk being myself, rather than pretending to be an image I create as a self apart from being.
Being myself is not the same as having a self or acting like myself. The chasm between having and being is transcended when I become who I am. When I am me I have no self. My "self"--that image I have developed and maintained for purposes of protection or achievement--is abandoned in the event of becoming. My "self" dies when I be me. I cease to exist in a divided manner, as an "I" and a "self." Often I maintain fictional selves such as a good self or a smart self which I show to others. Sometimes I fall for the illusion, believing temporarily that the image I strive to present is truly me. I then get caught up, for instance, in trying to be good, smart, or perfect, instead of being me.
I stop being me and use my energies in acting like this perfect self I imagine. You may then see my performance at perfection--my act--but you cannot see me. Conversely, when I am being me I abandon all such acting. I stop trying to appear good, smart or perfect. I give up possession of a self which may be presented. I am as I truly am in your presence--selfless, without a self. No image or self stands between us. I am engaged only in the unitary experience of being me with you.
As myself I am activating one or more of my human capacities in your presence--for instance, sensing, feeling, or thinking. I may be seeing what is in my field of vision, including you; or I may be feeling in response to what I see, such as liking the way you look. I may be thinking of what I see, as in recalling a friend who looks like you or wondering how you managed to match the shades of blue you are wearing.
If I choose to speak, I say what is on my mind. I give verbal expression to what I am seeing, feeling, or thinking. I reveal me to you through words, in contrast to presenting a selected image or fictional self to you. In being me with you I may say what I am thinking but I can never engage in a conversational act of impressing you with my smart self. As soon as I slip into the image of see-how-smart-I-am, I have ceased being me with you. Thereafter you may relate to this false Mr. Smart, if you have the stomach for it, but I am no longer present to be close to you.
Consequently, being close has two essential requirements: I must be able to be me, to give up having any self; and I must be willing to be me with you, without any self or image to separate us.
Since you become the major feature of the world to me when I am near you, most of my energies are given to responding to you--to seeing and hearing you, feeling as I do with you, and thinking about you. Our encounter is primarily being our selves together and sharing our spontaneous responses to each other. When time allows an extended encounter we may expand our immediate sharing to include our past and future, our history and dreams. Even this sharing, however, will be spontaneous as it comes to mind in the immediate present. It will be an expanded part of our nowness, rather than a saga of the past retold to make an impression in the present, or a dream of the future used to escape the reality of now.
In authentic closeness I can only be with you as I am now. What you see and hear is who I am.
Tangoing takes two; being close only takes one--as a separate one, that is. Ideally each participant will be spiritually independent. Then the greater number of sparks fly. But ideals seldom occur in real life. More often we meet in varying stages of dependency and hence are unable to be intimate on our own. Fortunately, the wholeness of either of us can provide a sufficient base for our closeness. If I am being a separate one when we meet, my independence will be enough. Or if I am leaning and you stand tall, your unity will allow us to be close.
The familiar experience of discovering closeness with a particular person and not with others arises from the special permissions which that person gives, not from some inherent specialness. The common idea that one can only be close to one or a few special persons, with the resulting efforts to find one of those special persons to be intimate with, is false. When one is spiritually independent he can be close to everyone. When he is not, he cannot be intimate with anyone. The "special person" myth has validity only in the fact that certain others do indeed make it easier for one to be himself, and hence independent, in their presence. Such persons are either spiritually independent themselves or else in such a particular condition of dependency as to complement the dependency of the other.
In the latter case such a one is indeed special in the sense that rarely do the particular needs of one person exactly match the needs of the other. Even so, the specialness lies in a person's complementary sickness, not in the person himself. Although such meetings seem magic, as if instant intimacy is inherent in this "special person," what actually happens is that his combination of needs is such that they match the other person's at the time, thereby giving the other person permission to experience greater degrees of himself. For example, if I need to feel proud and fear doing so on my own, and I meet another who needs to feel abased but has no one to project his feelings on, we are prospects for sharing our complementary needs. Such a person, from his need, invites me to manifest my own. To him I can brag openly because he encourages (needs) to elevate me so he can experience his own abasement. We have matched needs looking for a place to happen.
Or if I need to be babied, fearing to embrace the infant aspects of myself privately, and I meet one who needs to mother, fearing to embrace the adult parts of herself, we bring complementary needs to the encounter. She invites me to be a baby, perhaps to cry or to recite the bad things that have happened to me, while I invite her to act like a mother, that is, to be an adult at the time.
In the presence of such invitations, either consciously or unconsciously presented, one may indeed proceed to accept rejected parts of himself, believing that the other "special person" magically makes it happen. The redeeming element in such rare meetings is that one may embrace denied capacities, thereby becoming more independent in the face of the special permissions granted by the needing other. The immense danger is that one may fall in love with the "special person," believing that the power to be lies in him, and instead of becoming more independent with the person, becoming more dependent on him. Instead of finding one's greater self, he ends up losing himself in the "special other." The safer and more productive course is to strive for spiritual wholeness apart from such special persons, and then to be close to whomever one chooses.
That one who is spiritually independent can be close to anyone does not mean that everyone is easy to be close to, or that such a one will choose intimacy indiscriminately. Intimacy, though exciting, may, as noted earlier, be immensely threatening. Most everyone keeps up his defenses to some extent. Some strive diligently to keep everyone at arm's length. Being close to such a particularly defensive person offers its own special challenges, but not an impossible barrier. Though his defenses may keep him from being close to me, they can only keep me an arm's length away, when I am able to remain independent. And that is still quite close.
Those most frightened by closeness do, of course, go to extended lengths to keep themselves hidden, perhaps even trying to drive another away. Unless these efforts are taken personally so that I fall for them, believing them to be against me instead of for him, I can still remain close, listening through his defenses. In these times the language of his defenses becomes the communication medium for our closeness. If I am able, I can stand near while he runs, trying to fake me off then. I cannot destroy his defenses, but I can stand close to him while he is being defensive. This, too, is closeness.
Naturally, intimacy is easier when the desire is mutual and both are experienced at tolerating its threats. Still, only one need be independent for an intimate relationship to exist.
Certainly, in the economy of limited human time, one may choose occasions of intimacy with those more able to reciprocate. Such choices reasonably emerge, however, from the wish for the greater fire, not in escape from the challenges of being close without permission.
Many a good relationship has been ruined by marriage.
As strange as it seems logically, the social institution offering greatest options for intimacy is often the least likely place to find it. Persons at first attracted to one another by new heights of shared closeness may discover themselves drifting apart soon after the ceremony. The vaunted bonds of sacred matrimony may turn out to be bars of a secular prison. Persons in search of greater freedom may find themselves instead enmeshed in a social trap. Then, contradicting their own sense of reason, they often find that intimacy with a stranger is easier than being close to one's own spouse.
Marital intimacy, in spite of logic, is indeed a challenge.
There are several reasons for the situation. The threat of excessive freedom is perhaps the grandest challenge of marriage. By the simple signing of a certificate, almost unlimited possibilities previously denied or curtailed by society, religion, and circumstances become immediately opened. Periodic dating is dissolved in a sea of almost constant physical togetherness. Now you can talk all night. Distant sexual horizons are suddenly at hand. The social and religious light has flipped from red to green. Emotional games can now be played twenty-four hours a day. Problems or hang-ups which might have been concealed before the ceremony lest they drive the other away may now be brought into the open. All of a sudden pregnancy, with the infinite demands of children and family life, becomes a socially acceptable option.
Although marriage is often viewed as a trap, and certainly many experience it accordingly, the fact is the institution thrusts a host of potentially threatening freedoms on those who choose to sign on the dotted line. That which could be safely longed for before the ceremony must now be faced realistically in the sunlight of the institution which makes it all socially acceptable. Wishing is easy; making dreams come true takes much faith. Chasing a dangling carrot, in spite of the frustration, is much less demanding than the freedom of life in the carrot patch.
The opposite side of the freedom coin is the loss of prohibitions which often are the stimulus for dedicated action. In spite of its dangers and difficulties, war is easier for many of us than is peace. Pursuit demands our best; possession only weakly calls for it. The nay-saying of society, religion, or the other person goads us onward. When they say yes, we must face the challenges of personal choice. The games of chasing and being caught are far simpler than the reality of being present with each other on a continuing basis. The performances of courtship are less demanding than getting together after the stage lights go off. When the wet paint sign comes down, many sidewalk engineers lose interest in touching the same old walls.
Legal responsibilities become a second challenge to intimacy as soon as the papers are signed. Community property, joint bank accounts, and fiscal accountability pose real threats to being honest with each other. Now there really is something tangible to lose. Your home and car are no longer your own. If you combine bank accounts your spouse can withdraw your money at any time. The law will also hold you accountable for your mate's debts. No longer can you have a spat and simply hang up or walk away. The requirements of alimony for the rest of your life hang heavy over every possible breakup. If children come, the legal demands increase immeasurably.
Although laws are designed to protect marriage partners as well as the institution itself, and do bring many advantages, legal responsibilities can pose a great threat to personal intimacy. The fact that what I reveal to you may be used against me in a court of law will naturally make me wary about potentially damaging revelations. Information which enhanced intimacy before marriage can become realistically threatening afterward. For instance, sharing financial escapades may be exciting during courtship when the listener has nothing to lose by them. After the ceremony which establishes community property, one must listen with a more critical ear.
The incest taboo is a third challenge to marital intimacy. Prohibition of sexual activity between family members gives each of us much experience in separating love and sex. During our early years we are encouraged to love our family but denied the possibility of being sexual with them. In order to live with these contradictory requirements the common solution is to repress sexual responses in the family, that is, to rule them out of awareness as well as practice. We try to love our parent of the opposite sex, for example, but to also deny feeling sexual for them. The better the job we do with suppression, the easier family loving becomes. Conversely, we may feel sexual only with those outside the family, that is, those who are not our loved ones.
This situation, while productive for one as a child in family living, can pose a great problem in creating a family when one is an adult. We have been trained to love those we can't be sexual with and to feel sexual with those not our loved ones. Then after a short ceremony we are socially invited to overcome all previous training and suddenly combine being loving and sexual. Now, for the first time in life it becomes socially acceptable, indeed, expected, that we both love and have sex with a family member. Although the conscious idea of making love to one who is much likea parent of the opposite sex may be acceptable and appealing, the deep unconscious challenges of overcoming years of rigorous training in the opposite direction are often enormous. In spite of the wish to now combine love and sex, the weight of learning may pose a near impossible barrier made even more difficult because it is seldom recognized.
Only its results may be visible in such signs as losing sexual interest shortly after the ceremony, being more excited by those not in the category of loved ones, or oscillating between love and sex with the spouse--embracing either one or the other possibility, but seldom combining them. Caught in this dilemma, one husband said, "I can't understand this, but any passing skirt turns me on more than my own wife does, and she is a beautiful lady." Living out this repressed psychological dilemma, some find themselves only able to love those who do not sexually stimulate them or to feel sexual with persons they do not love.
A fourth common problem in marital closeness probably grows out of the third. Experiences with loving or at least wishing to be loved by a parent of the opposite sex make marriage a tempting replacement or substitute for the family of childhood. Instead of marrying a husband or wife, one may more easily marry a father or mother socially dressed as a spouse. For example, if a man had a good mother, he will already know how to relate to a female in this stance. He can more easily treat his wife as he treated his mother--expecting the same satisfactions from her--than adjust to entirely new roles. Many an apparent husband is functionally a little boy in a spouse's suit living with a second emotional mother called his wife. Or, if he had a bad or absent mother he may use marriage as a solution to finding the mother he missed in childhood.
A host of psychological games falling under the general category of parent/child or master/slave--all emerging from the familiar childhood training described above--may easily tempt a spouse away from the greater challenges of being intimate with another individual. Playing old games with a substitute parent in a spouse-suit is easier than being close to a new person. Understandably many of us succumb, often without knowing it.
These and other problems make the quest for spiritual intimacy in marriage a challenging course. Succumbing to any one of them, substituting physical proximity for spiritual closeness, spouses may more easily limit their experiences of personal openness to the relative safety of encounters with strangers. Even so, the vast freedoms inherent in an institution which has social and religious approval invite every spouse to confront the challenges and transform marriage into a continuing occasion for being near-of-heart.
Occasionally we are granted the gift of chance encounters in which immediate intimacy seems to "just happen." Perhaps in a familiar place we chance to meet a new person, or in new territory we encounter an attractive stranger. "Somewhere across a crowded room," as an old song words it, "and somehow you know, you know even then..." Intimate glances may be boldly exchanged.
Often, without introduction, conversations begin on a very personal level. We may find ourselves sharing with a perfect stranger intimate information which we have carefully concealed from our best friends. "I can't believe I told that," we may later think, and yet it seemed the most natural thing to do. In no time at all we are talking freely, responding, laughing, sometimes even crying, as though we had known the person for years. In disbelief we discover a level of intimacy beyond that of long-standing friendships. As though by magic we hit it off together. The brief chronological time which passes before we part belies the eternal time compressed between the moments.
The question, for our purposes here, is: what happens? The reality and significance of such chance encounters is undeniable. At issue is how can we understand them? Are they anomalies? Quirks of chance? Should they be pursued, or dropped as mere coincidences? What is the meaning of the magic of such beautiful times? Before assigning them to providence--the favor of the gods or the curse of the devils, depending on how we appropriate the event--or to the secular version--luck or fate, let us examine some of the reality factors involved.
These factors are commonly associated with occasions of instant intimacy: spontaneity--they are unplanned, they "just happen"; newness--the other person is generally unknown to us, often never seen before; strange circumstances--we may be in unfamiliar territory or at least novel situations; no commitment--seldom are we indebted or obligated to the other in any way; freedom--since we own them nothing, we can freely move in or out, get close or run away; uncertainty--nothing is predictable, adventure fills the air; intrigue--the novelty of the occasion brings an element of mystery; danger--either physical, emotional, or social danger is commonly associated with the meeting. We may get hurt, embarrassed, or caught; drama--unique staging and characters often make the scene highly dramatic; excitement--the heightened stimulation of these factors plus the openness required for coping with them leaves one physiologically prepared for encounter; independence--in such volatile circumstances we are predictably standing tall, alert, and putting our best foot forward.
Reviewing this list we easily note that each of these elements common to chance encounters is also predictably supportive of any occasion of closeness. Any one or two of them might be the basis for a chosen time of closeness. In combination they are a setup. Who could resist being near to another when all the odds are in favor? Though such meetings seem to be by chance, the chances are, given full information, they are highly predictable.
Furthermore, many of the factors which tend to be present in any extended relationship and to interfere with intimacy--familiarity, commitment, dependency, reputation, investments, habits, established patterns--are all notably absent in the chance encounters. It adds up to a stacked deck. Even though it seems like magic at the time, careful analysis of facts makes such beautiful times easily understandable.
So what? we may now ask. What is the relevance of these observations? First, the point is not to take anything away from the beauty and fulfillment of such chance meetings. For whatever reasons they occur, each, like good wine, may be savored to its fullest.
The information becomes pertiment, however, when we begin to assess the next move. What are we to do about such apparent magic? Like Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration, we may want to build a tabernacle and remain forever. Or at least return as soon as possible. Or we may want to abandon established relationships of lesser intimacy in favor of grasping the magic of the present encounter.
In such decisions analysis is relevant. In particular, these are to be considered: first, there is no magic. In spite of the emotional conclusion, rational factors indicate that reality has simply worked in its predictable manner. Any projection of supernatural powers onto the other, such as, the ability to make me happy, is probably unwarranted.
Secondly, a change in the circumstances of the magic meeting is likely to change the nature of the next encounter, unless one escapes reality into his fantasy of continued illusion. For example, just the shift from spontaneity to a planned meeting, from new to old territory, or from best behavior to more honesty, can radically affect the conditioned magic of the first meeting.
Thirdly, should continual encounters result in a total change in the original situation, as when one later marries the stranger from "across a crowded room," most all of the factors supporting the original intimacy will also be reversed in time. Novelty will become familiarity; spontaneity must be replaced by careful planning. (what to do with the baby?); freedom phases into commitment; drama turns into old scenes; excitement of danger is replaced by the boredom of safety; independence tends to become dependence; nothing-to-lose is replaced by everything-to-lose. In short, all supports for instant intimacy are replaced by threats to any closeness. The caged bird ceases to sing; the exciting hunter gets bored with cleaning the cage; and often both turn out to sweat and occasionally have bad breath.
And so one must turn back to the dreams of magic or to a more realistic confrontation of the challenges of intimacy in difficult circumstances.
Oh, darling, you can't love but one
you can't love but one and have any fun
Oh, darling, you can't love but one.
Oh, darling, you can't love two
you can't love two and your little heart be true
Oh, darling, you can't love two.
In spite of the religious ideal of loving everybody, secular knowledge says it won't work. You can only have fun when you love one; and besides, how could you be true loving two?
Of course the familiar solution to the dilemma is to divide love--one kind for only one, and a watered-down version for everybody else. Thus, by a simple mental trick, we can be both practical and religious at the same time.
Except for the fact that the trick only works in our heads. The constrictions of being true-to-one, requiring suppression of our natural responses to others, do two things: first, being true-to-one leaves truncated "love for others" a shallow, weak, no-fun affair, making a mockery of the religion it purports to represent (Lord, deliver me from so-called Christian love).
Secondly, constrictions of true-to-oneness commonly end up killing the one real love itself. Witness the relative brevity of "true love." Of course a marriage spawned by "true love" may continue, given the supports of society, law, children, and community property, not to mention debts, but most often it is a charade--a gutted form, the appearance of love after the heart is gone from it ("For sake of the children," or, "I love my wife, but oh you kid!").
Before taking a potshot at this institutionalized ignorance, I pause to give due credit. Initially, loving one and being true is easier than loving two or more. Defining spiritual love as platonic, impersonal, and primarily for the soul, certainly takes the faith and work out of exercising that love. True-to-one also eliminates the danger of triangles, threat of jealousy, risk of reaching out, and burden of secrets. Unfortunately it encourages dependency, inhumanity, and irresponsibility both for the loved one, oneself, and those others who are deprived of true love under the guise of Christian love. Consequently I commend two moves: rewrite the old song and/or take the religious ideal seriously. Here is my suggested version:
Oh, darling, you can't love just one
If you try to love one, you kill all the fun
So don't try to love only one.
Oh, darling, you can love more
You can love more if you open your door
Oh, darling, you can love more.
Well, so much for songwriting. The point is: I commend the virtue of honestly being loving with everyone, of striving to love the other, whomever he may be, in every encounter. Lest I or a reader get lost in this lofty goal, I hasten to suggest that "everyone" begins with one and then moves to two, three, and so on in proportion to my faith and spiritual resources. Since love is an immensely demanding as well as rewarding experience, I must be reasonable in extending the circle of my concern in line with my embraced ability to be loving at the time. My moves toward "everyone" must be made carefully through "someones," lest I too escape reality via my proposed ideal.
I point toward the theoretical goal only to place loving more than one person in a proper perspective. Contrary to the common ideal of being true to one, I am striving to be true to as many as the size of my own heart will allow. Certainly, being limited, I am unable to love everyone; yet I want to love truly all of those I can. I prefer that the scope of my abilities, not the size of my ideals, limit my experience in loving. I wish to love everyone; I know that I can love relatively few and often none at all. And that loving more than one raises a host of practical issues such as logistics, sexual fidelity, keeping secrets, and responsibility.
Even so, the challenges are to be faced.
" ...let me give you this caution, Sissy, my podner: Love is dope, not chicken soup.'
When Sissy continued to look puzzled, Jelly added, 'I mean, love is something to be passed around freely, not spooned down someone's throat for their own good by a Jewish mother who cooked it all by herself.'"
I once heard an unmarried lady lamenting the fact that she "didn't have someone to be close to." I understood that she spoke of a husband, yet that same day I had heard a married lady equally sad that somehow she "could not get close to her husband."
Certainly closeness does require another person and there are innumerable reasons why spouses find it difficult to be spiritually intimate with one another. Still, I suspect that the persons quoted share a common illusion: that one can be close to someone he has.
I think this must be impossible. Closeness appears to be as intolerant of possession as daytime is of night. Freedom seems to be a required basis for being close--that is, only those who are free of each other, those not possessed, are able to be spiritually close. Any sense of having, of existing with rights over the other, of feeling that the other person is in any way obligated to you, makes intimacy less possible.
This is, I think, why spiritual closeness between spouses is so rare (they think they have each other) and why deeper encounters of heart more commonly occur between friends, lovers not married to each other, or even strangers in the night--passengers on a bus or plane. Married persons easily assume rights over each other, unmindful that the possession which follows the ceremony will almost certainly kill the intimacy which existed in the freedom before the contract was signed.
Children and parents are rarely able to be close for the same reason. When a parent views a child as "his own"--that is, as a possession rather than a small person he happens to live with and be legally responsible for--then the proper basis for intimacy is destroyed.
The issue is, of course, the assumption of possession, not the mere fact of marriage or parenthood. It is a man's assuming that a wife "belongs to me," or a woman's belief that "he is my husband," which destroys the freedom necessary for closeness. This feeling of possession is not inherent in the institution of marriage or the fact of parenthood. A couple may be married and raise children without assuming rights over each other or the small persons entrusted to their care. Only this latter condition allows for intimacy within a family structure.
Consequently, those who desire intimacy must carefully shun the temptation to possess the other. Certainly the faith required to meet without ownership is demanding; yet the challenge inherent in trying to be close to one possessed is infinitely more frustrating. Lovers considering marriage should carefully distinguish between the actual obligations of a legal relationship and the unreal assumptions of ownership commonly associated with the institution of marriage.
Spouses who have either assumed possession or given themselves to the mate may carefully consider a mental divorce--that is, a spiritual freeing of the other along with one's own emancipation--within the structures of the institution. Until these ties of possession are broken, spiritual intimacy with each other is likely to remain impossible. In like manner, parents who wish to have a close relationship with their children must first free them to be separate persons, with all the inherent rights of individuality. Even lovers who pretend to own each other must declare freedom if they are to be truly close.
Intimacy is not virtuous; distance is not bad. The one is fuller and potentially more fun, but the other is not evil or to be avoided. There are times for being close, but also appropriate times for remaining spiritually distant. Virtue is related to appropriate timing--the choice to be close or distant--rather than to one or the other.
Many seem to believe that "closeness is good" and "it's bad to be withdrawn." They think one "should be" spiritually intimate. They strive to be friendly, giving up private pursuits when these conflict with being talkative or sociable. Often such persons try to "always be friendly with everyone they meet." For them to choose distance when intimacy is possible evokes a feeling of guilt. They may think they are "being selfish" and therefore "bad" when not being open to others.
I believe that such feelings are more accurately labeled "false guilt" because they are the result of social training rather than reality itself. One may "feel guilty" for acting unfriendly or keeping distance, but the feeling is, I think, unrealistic. Conversely, one who fears intimacy may "feel guilty" about the distance he keeps, thinking he "ought to be more friendly."
In reality there is no should or ought properly related to either intimacy or distance. One is no better or worse than the other. To feel proud of being close or ashamed of keeping distance, or vice versa, is to indulge in a social belief not relevant to reality itself.
The issue where virtue is concerned is the appropriate choice of one or the other, considering circumstances at the time. Sometimes intimacy is good; other times it is bad. Distance may also be good or bad, depending on the timing.
The pragmatic question then becomes: what factors are to be considered in an appropriate choice? How does one decide whether to be close or keep distant? The answer is, of course, to consider all factors. Everything known should be taken into account in such a decision--personal want, willingness of the other person, circumstances at the time, and probable consequences.
Among the more commonly relevant issues are these: tolerance level of each person (how much intimacy each one can stand), personal interests at the time (what each one is doing just then), immediate circumstances (where you are and what is going on around you), and finally the possible results of being close to the other person just then (what the likely consequences of intimacy with that particular person are at the time).
Virtue accrues from pragmatic choice based on these or other relevant factors, rather than being inherent in either closeness or distance. Using social structures such as marriage or friendship to dictate the rightness of intimacy is another common error. Though closeness is socially acceptable within these structures, it may be wrong in many circumstances. Marriage does not necessarily make it right. Both in and out of all social roles there are proper times to be close and to keep apart.
Intimacy generates power. Being close is a continuously stimulating experience. Responding to another human being, as one constantly does in this type of encounter, is exciting. Excitement is perception of the power produced by the event. Even if not consciously perceived, power is still generated when two people get close. Recognized or not, power is present.
It is as though one sparks the latent fire in the other. The sight, sound, smell, and touch of the near one serve as stimuli to the ready response of the other. The tinderbox of one is ignited by the match of the other. As spark produces flame, so flame becomes spark to produce yet more fire in the first one. As a close encounter continues, the power-producing flame grows on.
The presence of power raises the pragmatic issue of what to do about it. Power invites use. Ideally the excitement generated by intimacy is used in continuing and enhancing the closeness itself. The fire is used to produce more fire. This, however, requires the human ability to contain excitement, a capacity many have yet to embrace. Extending an intimate encounter takes a wise and judicious containment and expression of the excitement it has produced.
Other easier options are to use the power negatively to destroy the relationship or to dissipate it in such relieving activities as sexual intercourse or exhausting physical projects. The engendered excitement may be diverted into emotional games such as competing with the other in being right or proving points, thereby stopping intimacy. From standing closely with the other, one turns his energies into confronting and standing against the other. The ensuing mental and emotional battles can dissipate the power discovered in being close. They may be combined with physical games, used not for the fun of playing together, but as mortal combat for exhausting the excitement of intimacy.
Containing and expressing productively the power produced in intimacy can be an exciting spiritual challenge.
Explaining a new relationship to her husband, a wife noted, "It`s just platonic." He was satisfied. Though the tension was temporarily relieved, both the explanation and its acceptance reflect a serious misunderstanding of the nature of human intimacy.
"Just platonic" implies something casual, insignificant, shallow, certainly less important than a sexual affair. His satisfaction implies a value system in which sex matters more than love, physical proximity more than spiritual closeness. Of course the interchange may be accurate--that is, honestly reflect shallowness and a common social value. Nevertheless, we must look deeper if we are to understand being close.
Where intimacy is concerned, profoundly platonic and just sexual might more often be accurate. That is, platonic friendships often involve more spiritual intimacy than do sexual affairs. The wife may be closer of heart in her new "just platonic" relationship than in her old sexual relationship with her husband. Though "being intimate" commonly implies having sex, the phrase is often a misnomer. We may be intimate and never touch, or go to bed together without being spiritually intimate.
Contrary to the common identification of unfaithful with adulterous, she may spiritually be more unfaithful with her just platonic friend than if they were sleeping together. In like manner being lovers commonly means being sexual partners. Not necessarily so. She may in fact be more loving with her platonic friend than with her sexual partner husband.
The point is not to quibble over words, but to use familiar language to note a distinction which becomes crucially important in understanding being close. Certainly, lovers may be close of heart as well as body. Often they are. But not always.
Ideally sex and love go together. Intimacy is incomplete when either is missing. Sex, at its best, is literally "making love"; love is fulfilled sexuality. Sex without love is merely an animal function; love without sexuality is a sterile charade.
But "ideally" is obviously not always the case. Much "making love" is very unloving, and much so-called "loving" is severed from the warmth and passion of sexuality. Getting the two together privately can be an immense personal challenge. When the demands of practicality and social acceptability are added, intimacy, including sex and love, becomes a quest of the highest order.
First I deal with theory: how sex and love are ideally related, then with some of the practical problems. Perhaps through an understanding of the relationship the difficulties of confronting each, as closeness requires, may be eased.
Along with an apparent instinct for physical survival, nature also endows us with a primitive urge toward survival of the species. This inclination for reproduction is summarized in the word sex. Sex, however, covers a wide spectrum of human experiences. We may view it as a continuum which is instinctive at the lower end of the scale but requires the activation of greater degrees of human capacity for its fullest realization.
Copulation alone, the only reproductive requirement, can be completed with a minimal activation of basic human abilities. However, when elemental urges are combined with fuller activation of human capacities for sensing, feeling, and thinking, a higher degree of expanded sexuality becomes possible. Greater pleasure and satisfaction may be achieved when one moves beyond intercourse alone.
For instance, a certain minimum degree of sight is useful in copulation, particularly in the selection of a suitable partner. After that, however, the lights can be turned off and the entire procedure completed without further visual experience. Hearing and smelling may be exercised in the attraction stage, but after contact these senses can be essentially turned off. Of course touch remains significant in intercourse, but not the refinements of the capacity which are possible in expanded sensitivity.
When orgasm is removed as the only goal, the basic sense capacities can be given a much greater range of expression. To the minimal amount of looking required for selection only, one can add an almost infinite amount of increased visual stimulation. Just the time involved in an encounter extended beyond the requirements for intercourse allows for much more seeing. Hearing experience may likewise be increased immeasurably in conversations extended beyond sex-talk alone. When feasible, even the touch capacities can be extended into new realms of sensitivity seldom known in copulation only.
In addition to sensing, human capacities for emotion and thought can be enormously extended in an encounter of closeness, beyond the minimal degree of utility required for biological sex only. Sensing, feeling, and thinking as described in response to the other person, with or without overt sexual activity, can be an immensely exciting sexual experience.
To distinguish mere intercourse from this expanded state of sensual involvement we may use the words "sex" and "sexual" with connotations not given in the dictionary. We may let "sex" stand for the sex act and related preliminaries, and "sexual" re-present expanded degrees of being sensitive, emotional, and thoughtful with another person.
With this understanding, being sexual is rooted in the primitive capacity to have sex, but is a considerable expansion of the instinctive act alone. One can be sexy--that is, engage in sex activity without ever embracing the larger measures of the capacities involved. On the other hand, one can be very sexual--that is, activate greater degrees of sensitivity, feeling, and thought with another person without ever engaging in any overt sex activity. Thus one can be sexy without being fully sexual, or be sexual without being sexy--using the words as defined above.
The two are not ultimately separable, however. Sex always has minimal degrees of sexuality, which in turn is always based in biological sex urges. Sex is continually subject to expansion into sexuality; sexuality can always be reduced to sex only. In practice though, the two often appear unrelated. These essential ties may be cloaked by the activities of the participants in the encounter.
So far we have only considered the degrees of sexuality, the relationship between being just sexy and more fully sexual. This continuum, which reaches from biological sex at its lowest end to full sensuality at its upper end is only the doorway to love. Sex may or may not be experienced in the higher degrees of sexuality, but in either case it remains an essentially selfish activity. Whether at the whambam-thankyou-ma'am end of the scale or at the more sensual upper end, all sexuality is finally selfish. Love goes beyond.
Out of this possibility for degrees of sensual experience, for being oneself selfishly, comes the human capacity for loving. When one becomes himself--that is, is selfish, he faces the option of caring for the one to whom he responds sensually. Self-affirmed through sexuality, he may then affirm the other person. This is love. The personal affirmation experienced in sexuality may be extended to the other in love. Love then is the natural culmination of sexuality. Openness to the other, required in being sensual, leads easily to concern for the other to whom one is open.
The embraced selfishness of sexuality opens the door to transcending selfishness in love. Though it is a logical paradox, the more sensually selfish one becomes, the more capable he is of unselfishly loving the other. To be totally selfish in this regard is at the same time to be capable of complete unselfishness in relation to the other person. Sex illogically opens the door to love.
Now. we turn to relating the two. Being sexual, as I have defined it here, is the basis for loving. Sexuality may be left at its lowest common denominator--the reproductive act--or it may be fulfilled in its highest extent--loving the other. One can be sexy without being more fully sexual, or be completely sexual without taking the giant step into love.
Conversely, however, one cannot be loving without first being sexual. Transcending love springs only from embraced sexuality. One may love without acting sexy--openly revealing his sexuality--but he cannot be loving without being sexual. To try to love without sexuality is like trying to run without legs.
The primitive sex urge expanded into being sexual through greater degrees of sensing, feeling, and thinking, is then culminated in the spiritual experience of loving. Love, rooted in sex, is an expression of sexuality fulfilled.
In our society love is considered virtuous while sex is generally suppressed. One theoretically gains virtue through loving and loses it in having sex. We are thus encouraged to be loving but discouraged from being sexual except in marriage. The result is that we are all socially invited to separate sex and love. The training begins early in life when we first confront the incest taboo.
The incest taboo, a prohibition on sexual relations between parents and their children, between brothers and sisters, or between other close relations, is operative in almost all human societies. Though we have long known its social values, only since Freud and the practice of psychoanalysis have we begun to realize some of the inward effects as well.
It seems that while growing up we commonly learn to control this unacceptable sexual activity by nipping it in the bud--at the initiating level of desire. We avoid doing it by stopping ourselves from wanting to do it. It is easier to live closely with unavailable sexual partners if we don't want to have sex with them. So, very early in life, we learn to avoid incest by negating the desire for it. So far, so good. It generally works, except that psychoanalysis reveals that we do not quite succeed inwardly. We repress (a psychic device for pushing something from conscious awareness) the sexual desires, but we do not stop them. More accurately, we stop being aware of them. We learn to live as though we do not want family members sexually. After pushing desire out of mind long enough, we forget it is there.
The procedure serves us well externally. Since we are also encouraged to love our relatives, we can, after denying sexual desire, love them freely without transgressing the incest taboo. A daughter can cuddle in her father's lap, a son can hug his mother, siblings can play together, all safe from breaking the ancient unwritten, even forgotten law.
Internally, however, as analysis has also shown, the system of repression can have dangerous and far-reaching side effects, especially when with marriage it later becomes acceptable to both love and be sexual with the same person. Though some persons, perhaps those who never made the repressions so deeply, are later able to drop the denials and mix sex and love, many others have continual conflicts when it comes to being close both physically and spiritually. They may be able to do one or the other, to make love without loving or to love without making love, but serious problems arise when they attempt to mix the two. It seems that the habit of separating sex from love, acquired early in life as a means of coping with the incest taboo, has become so ingrained that one is unable to break it.
Of course in the daily traffic of life physical intercourse is relatively rare. It is never socially feasible in many relationships and is limited for practical reasons in every relationship. Though sexuality is always an element in the drama of intimacy, sexiness is a bit player, a sometimes thing often kept completely offstage and waiting in the wings. Even sexy talk is commonly impractical.
Being practical about overt sexuality requires awareness; but this is not one of the major problems. These problems arise when we attempt to sever the continuum of sex and love, to have one without the other as in platonic love or casual sexual affairs. Trying to either be close but not sexy, or sexy without getting spiritually close, is predictably problematic. In the first error one may try to avoid the threat or risks of overt sexual behavior (affairs, pregnancy, infidelity, or excessive excitement) by majoring on spiritual matters such as acceptance, understanding, and love, while avoiding sexy feelings or hints of sexuality.
In such platonic love, a meeting of hearts devoid of bodies, or intellectual friendship, a meeting of disembodied minds, may allow many persons to experience greater degrees of intimacy than they have previously known. Even though having sex is often referred to as being intimate, a sharing of feelings and thoughts may bring more closeness than a sharing of bodies alone. This is particularly true for those who feel more closely identified with their emotions and minds than with their bodies.
For such persons the emotional and mental sharing will indeed bring them closer to each other than would sex alone. Given the additional shame and guilt which many persons associate with being sexy, the avoidance of sex may at first even promote greater degrees of intimacy.
In time, however, as the degree of intimacy increases between two persons, the split between sex and love which was at first a positive factor, may emerge as a growing problem. Inevitably the opening of a part of ourselves leads naturally to being increasingly honest with each other. Being emotional with another or intellectually honest, even though it begins as platonic normally leads to also being sexual. For practical reasons sexual behavior or even sexy talk may be avoided, but when being personally sexual in the presence of the other is categorically excluded, the degree of personal frustration can also be expected to rise.
Indeed the harder one tries to love only emotionally and/or intellectually the more difficult it is--that is, the greater the effort to rule out sexuality, the more unreal the encounter becomes. Finally, exaggerated emotional love or intellectual intimacy severed from its sexual roots escapes reality altogether. Such persons must become so unreal with each other in their frantic effort to accentuate one part of themselves while eliminating another that the encounter becomes a farce destined for failure. The non-sexual love which initially drew them together may eventually drive them apart because it is founded on the unstable foundation of split human potential.
This does not mean, of course, that overt sexual activity should be a part of every intimate relationship. Most often this is not feasible. It does mean, however, that unless participants are willing to settle for shallow intimacy, they must eventually learn to be sexual in the presence of each other.
The attempt to be close through sex alone, to achieve human intimacy while excluding care or concern for the other as a person, is conversely also destined to failure for the same reasons. Initially sex without love may allow for more than ordinary degrees of closeness, just as will love which excludes feeling sexy.
However, as personal intimacy expands through the medium of animal sexuality, the risks of caring increase also. "Just fooling around" opens the door to "making love"--literally. When one tries to rule out the possibility of loving someone who was originally a sexual partner only, he frustrates himself and the natural course of being. The harder he tries not to care, to keep it physical only, the more unreal the encounter becomes. Eventually the denial of the possibility of loving transforms sex alone into a boring joke.
A functional goal for one who would be close is to be both physically and spiritually open to the other yet continuously responsible for any expressions of sexuality or love--that is, to inwardly respond at any level on the intimacy continuum from feeling sexy to feeling concern, yet to outwardly behave in a manner appropriate to the circumstances. This latter state of responsibility includes attention to oneself, the other person, time and place, as well as probable consequences of being openly sexual and/or loving with each other.
To achieve this goal of responsible openness to the other, one must not negate either the possibility of feeling sexual or loving toward the other. To rule out sexual feelings is to leave oneself only partially present to the other; to deny the possibility of loving even the most socially inappropriate person is likewise to prevent a full encounter. Either escape sharply curtails the possibilities of being close.
Sexuality, responding to another person through the entire range of one's senses, feelings, and thoughts, is a primary avenue to human intimacy. To deny the roots of sexuality or the heights of love is to leave oneself a truncated person incapable of truly being close. Full intimacy requires being both sexual and loving, responsibly.
Full living will often involve a spouse; more certainly it will include friends. To have a spouse but no friends is a dangerous way to live. Having all your emotional eggs in one basket is not only risky, but also a great burden on the bearer of that basket. To have friends but no spouse is a safer way to live, yet also with its limitations. If you can only have one or the other, I think it is better to have friends and no spouse than to have a spouse and no friends. It is much better, though, to have both.
If so, however, you have a potential source of serious problems. How are spouse and friend to be related? Must spouse be friendly with friend? What if friend dislikes spouse, or vice versa? One-to-one is a straight line, a fairly simple geometric arrangement, but introduce a friend and you have a triangle. The geometric advance is significant; the emotional complications can be astronomical. Triangular mirrors may invite our better images, but they more often reveal our deeper spiritual flaws, such as, manipulation and possession.
Sometimes the triangle can be avoided by keeping separate the straight lines to spouse and friend. Inevitably, though, the lines come to cross in time and the triangle emerges. At this point one's values become crucially important. If one must be sacrificed for the other, which must go? Who matters most, spouse or friend? Ideally such value judgments might be avoided if both spouses were 100% mature. The open marriage concept theoretically eliminates the dangers of the triangle. Unfortunately, such completely mature spouses seldom appear in reality. Even those who consciously concur with the open marriage ideal often find that deeper human forces keep it on the drawing board in the real world.
Those of us who haven't yet arrived and yet choose to be both spouse and friend, must, if we are to be reasonable, deal with the issue of values, preferably before conflicts arise.
Values are, as previously noted, always personal. No one of us can set the values of another. At best we can share those we have privately established. This I shall do. I view both marriage and friendship as contractual arrangements. Even if the details are never spelled-out, I think a spiritual contract (legal also, in the case of marriage) is in existence in each situation. The question of values arises when the contract with a spouse conflicts with that with a friend. Which takes priority?
I view my marriage contract as primary and my friendship contracts as secondary. In the economy of living, when things are going well, each is of major significance to me. At specific times I may find one or the other to be more immediately fulfilling. The pendulum seems to swing, depending on my needs and wants just then. I value deeply the closeness which I know in marriage and in friendships. In certain instances I am closer to my spouse; in others, to my friends. Ideally there is no conflict between the two, only a rhythmical movement.
But ideally is not always. Sometimes the lines converge, the contracts overlap, and I must decide. This is where the values I have established come into operation. In such instances of conflict I treat my marriage contract as primary and friendship contracts as secondary. Hopefully, ultimate conflicts can be avoided. If not, the bottom line is: my marriage comes first.
Out of this value system these practical suggestions may be made in regard to intimacy: a primary contract should never be used to avoid secondary contracts. To use marriage as an escape from other friendships is a dangerous exclusion. It may temporarily be easier, negating the risks of triangles, but in the long run both spouses, as well as their marriage and their potential friends, will be cheated. When death, divorce, neglect, or insanity end such an exclusive relationship, the remaining spouse is often tragically unprepared for closeness with other human beings. Though a marriage contract is valued primarily, secondary contracts are also important. Like breathing and eating, one may take preference at a crucial time, but full life includes both.
Secondly, spouse and friends are best related to separately. Though secrecy is generally to be avoided, so are most efforts to overtly form the triangle. Inevitably it will emerge at times. Otherwise practicality seems best served by encountering spouse and friends at different times. Efforts to require one's friends and spouse to be friends with each other forces the triangle into the open, along with all its inherent problems. If spouse and friend are already friends, or if in chance encounters they happen to like each other, well and good. However, attempts to force their friendship are usually not feasible. That I happen to like a particular person does not mean that my wife necessarily will, or vice versa.
Thirdly, one should carefully avoid using one relationship for leverage in another. For example, the old "why can't you understand me like. . .?" ploy is exceedingly dangerous to both relationships. This type of power play is bound to evoke resistance or counter-attack, as well as set-up the named party for projected jealousy and hostility.
Because this temptation is often so great, even unconsciously, all but the most objective talk about a third party (spouse or friend) is to be generally avoided. To praise or criticize one's spouse, for instance, with a friend, is to invite jealousy or sympathy, no matter what one's motives may be. Each can be disruptive to the present relationship. Occasional sharing of information, when it happens to cross one's mind, is one thing, but to continually be talking about a third person is to invite distance in an immediate situation. Unless a friend happens to also be a close friend of one's spouse, "telling all about" the absent person is likely to be a manipulative ploy. In each relationship it is best to talk about things relevant to those present, bringing up third parties only when they enhance the immediate encounter.
I go alone
Intimacy is a sometimes thing, requiring much aloneness for a proper balance. The wish for perpetual closeness, whether in an established relationship such as marriage or in a number of casual relationships, is quite unrealistic. No human, I think, is capable of the excitement and demands of continual intimacy with other humans without extended periods of private experience. Aloneness is necessary for establishing and maintaining the personal unity which is the essential basis for closeness, for reflecting on and appropriating the fulfillment of intimacy, and for preparing oneself for the challenges of being near to another.
A proper balance is, of course, an individual matter varying from person to person, from time to time with the same person, and in accord with the given intensity of each relationship. Mildly intimate relationships allow for more time in close proximity. More intense encounters demand more time alone to preserve the appropriate balance in meeting.
Finally, being close is a sometimes thing; we are all separate beings. Like ships in the night we may pass closely on our different courses, sometimes nearer than other times. Twice blessed, we may linger briefly together ere we go our differing ways; yet part we must. The gifts of closeness come only to those able to stand being apart. At best we may share moments of existential intimacy spaced closer to each other; at worst we sail through our allotted days never truly meeting, living and dying--lonely.
Close is something to be, not to do. We can be close and not do anything, or we can do anything together and never be close. Physical proximity and spiritual nearness are certainly not synonymous. And yet while being close, we will most likely be doing something too. Closeness is not all in your head; spiritual does not exist in isolation from physical. It is a paradox, yet a truth.
Although we may do anything together while we are being close, there are certain activities which are more fitted to the nature of closeness, and others which most often conflict with this spiritual event. Here I try to distinguish more appropriate activities from those less likely to be fitting, realizing that in deep intimacy anything may go.
One further clarification: doing closeness does not mean doing something about it. When we are close, we do not have to do anything. Intimacy is its own justification and reward. It does not have to be expressed, acted out, defended, explained, or justified in any way. That it is, is enough. Nothing has to be done about it. In fact, doing is often used as an escape from being together. Activity can be but a dissipation of the power inherent in intimacy. Those wishing to remain close will be alert to such possibilities whenever they engage in any activity.
Still, the nature of being close does often make doing things together feasible. The question faced here is, what to do? What are more appropriate activities for those being close? And, what not to do? What activities are most likely to interfere with spiritual intimacy?
I amplify six positives and six negatives. First, what to do?: reveal yourself, share, give gifts, respond, stand with, and play fun games. What not to do?: show-off, manipulate, take from, try to change, try to help, or play serious games.
Revelation is the primary activity of intimacy. Most time spent in being close is given to being oneself (doing one's own thing) openly in the presence of the other. When I am truly with you, the main thing I will do is be me, showing myself as I presently am. Specifically, I am saying whatever is on my mind at the time, showing what I am feeling, and doing my normal activities as though you were not present--that is, I am revealing to you what I would be like, even if you were absent. My ordinary course of living remains unchanged, except in the fact of its openness to you.
What am I to do with you? Mainly, be honest about who I am. Be myself, exposed. Most often this will involve the immediate instant. I will reveal who I am just now. I will speak of my present sensations--what I am seeing and hearing at this moment. I will tell you of my current thoughts--what ideas or mental pictures are crossing the screen of my mind while we are together. I will reveal the emotions which stir within my breast while we are near.
It will be as though you approached me when I am alone doing my own thing; now I continue, yet exposed to your awareness. I do not stop my own living, or even change my course because of you; rather I keep on being me, except now I am revealed. I am still going my private way, only now I have company.
Nowness is the key word for this activity of intimacy. I am being my present self, whoever that may be, now, with you. If I was chopping wood when you came, I am now chopping wood with you here. If I was feeling sad before I saw you, now I reveal my sadness to you. If I am thinking of flying to the moon, I tell you my thoughts as they come to me.
Revelation is not the same as exhibition. The negative side of this coin is showing-off. Closeness thrives on revelation but wilts with exhibitionism. I may appropriately let you see who I am just now, but I risk destroying an intimate moment when I turn to making a show of who I am. Being oneself openly is not the same as making a presentation of oneself. The former is an expression of honesty; the latter is an act of deception, even if the facts presented are accurate. I can stand revealed before you, but I cannot pose for you without preventing the closeness we seek.
In order to show-off, I must objectify myself, split into two people--the one you see and the one managing the production. Closeness becomes impossible at such a time because I have vacated the action you see in order to play the part of production manager which you cannot see. Until I return to the current stage on which we meet, you are essentially alone with the actor I present. In such a case, the only way we can be close is if I confess my deception--that is, return to the stage of our encounter by either telling you of my effort to impress you (becoming the production manager with you), or by simply dropping the dual role and getting off the stage altogether.
Whether I present myself as good or bad is not the point. I may try to impress you with my virtues or my sins, to make you like me or hate me. In either case, intimacy is prevented by my presentation. I cannot be close to you as long as I am apart from the body you see. Making an exhibit of myself in any form negates the possibility of being close to you. I may reveal myself as I am--this is the primary activity of intimacy--but as soon as I begin trying to show-off myself to you, I have created distance and can no longer be near you.
Sharing is the second major activity of intimacy. Persons being close not only reveal who they now are, they also share the wider realms of who they have been and hope to become. The revelation of the present is expanded to include the past and the future. I may tell you not only what I am now thinking, but also what I have previously thought. I may share my memories--experiences from the past, my knowledge gained from the school of hard knocks, or my beliefs which grew from those events.
To what I am now feeling, I may add and share the emotional experiences which have shaped me as I am. I may open to you the pleasures and pains, the delights and wounds of my past. I may share with you the tale of my life. I may tell you my story, revealing my record, the history of my triumphs and defeats, my virtues and sins. To what I now am, I may add some of what I have been.
Furthermore, I may open my future to you, sharing also my dreams, goals, and plans. You may see me revealed as I am, but you cannot see what I hope to become unless I choose to share this part of myself.
Sharing differs from revealing only in the time sense. Primarily in being close I reveal who I am now. I let you see the one I honestly am in your immediate presence. But I may also expand my current revelation by sharing what has gone before and what I hope I will come to be. I expand the present to include the past and future, thereby enlarging the scope of my revelation.
Sharing is to be distinguished from manipulating by telling. Just as showing oneself is different from showing-off, so sharing is not the same as telling information in order to use the hearer for some purpose. For example, I may open the door to my past for you when it happens to be on my mind in the present. This is sharing. On the other hand, I may resurrect some previous event, true or false, in order to manipulate you. I may try to evoke your esteem by bragging on some accomplishment, or elicit your sympathy by telling a sad tale. I may tell you my goal to impress you, or my dream to get you to interpret it for me. I may tell my problems in an effort to manipulate you into solving them for me.
Positive sharing is for itself alone. It arrives at nothing except the wider revelation of who I am. Whenever I turn instead to telling you something as a means of manipulating you, when I try to use my past or future to accomplish some purpose with you, I have perverted sharing into an activity likely to be negative in our relationship. Sharing is a yes; purposive telling is most often a no with one who cares about closeness.
Gift-giving is a third thing to do while being close. Sharing of heart can be expanded to include sharing of hand. Just as I may reveal myself by letting you see what I am doing, telling you what I think or feel, or by sharing words about my past or future, so I may expand my revelation by giving you things from myself. Tangible expressions which can be touched, tasted, or smelled can become a delightful addition to those which may only be seen or heard. Giving presents is often a positive activity in intimacy.
And yet it must be done cautiously. The manipulative use of giving and receiving is so widespread that this potentially positive thing to do may easily be perceived negatively. Gifts have often been used to gain the favor of the receiver, or as a basis for imagined but unreal messages from the giver. Because these voiceless offerings are subject to such a wide range of misinterpretations, care in giving is always appropriate.
These guidelines may help avoid some of the dangers. First, give honestly. Just as a verbal gift should be an honest expression of what one is thinking at that time, so a tangible gift should come only when it expresses accurately who the giver is just then. For instance, if I send a card which says "I'm thinking of you," it should only be sent at a time when I actually am thinking of the receiver. Otherwise it becomes either a false gift or a manipulation. If a gift has monetary value, its cost should honestly reflect both the scope of my feelings at that time and what I can afford. To give beyond one's emotions or means is essentially dishonest.
The best gifts are those which are most personal to the giver--something he has made with his own hands, acquired during his personal activities, or at least bought with his own money. The obvious investment of one's time, energy, and/or money is the clearest revelation of a gift. Thus a craft of my hand or an object I acquired during my private living can reveal me more clearly than something I merely buy in a store.
A personal letter, for instance, is better than a bought card, unless the card message is extremely accurate. An original poem, painting, or home-cooked food is likely to reveal me more closely than any purchased object, unless the object is very expensive or exactly what the receiver has been wanting. In the latter case, however, much care must be given lest the giver fall for manipulating through pleasing rather than actually giving a gift of himself.
Because of this risk plus the difficulty which many have in receiving anything from another without feeling obligated, the safest gifts are often those with no monetary value. A single flower picked during a private walk may be better than an expensive bouquet sent from a florist. A seashell from a time when thoughts were of the other person can be more revealing than a costly purchase. Even a leaf, stone, or stick which has been related to the private life of the giver may say more than a store-bought item of social value.
Gift-giving, to be positive, must be just that--giving. Any use of a gift to get something in return becomes manipulative and thus destroys itself. Giving means letting-go-of without any expectation in return--even a thank-you note or acknowledgment of receipt. If I send you a letter expecting you to write back, my letter is no gift. If I send a poem expecting you to approve me, it is a device rather than a present. If I bring you a flower and want you to thank me, my apparent offering is a manipulative effort. When I truly give instead of using things to gain, I share myself in a tangible way simply for the fun of sharing. I am not trying to get anything in return.
Gift-giving can be a revealing and pleasurable activity for persons being close; the use of giving as a device for getting or manipulating is obviously negative and to be carefully shunned--both by the giver and receiver. Do not send a gift with hidden intentions or accept one which obligates you.
Responding is a fourth productive activity in intimacy. Revealing, sharing, and giving may be considered as "sponding"--making one's self known to the other. When this happens, the other person is likely to return the favor or follow suit in some way. He may show his present self, share some of the story of his own journey, or perhaps give a gift in return. After I see you in any way, I have then the option of "sponding-again"--responding.
What you have shown me may evoke a new thought. Your sharing may stimulate a long-forgotten memory. Your gift may pluck a new chord on my heart strings. These responses to you open the door to new levels of being myself with you. Now I may begin again--revealing, sharing, or giving in response to what I have received visually, verbally or tangibly.
I may either let you see more of myself as opened by you, or reflect back to you what I have received. When two are openly together, each mirrors the other in certain ways. I see things in you which you may not see yourself. I may choose to be a mirror for you, giving back to you my impressions of what I receive. Seeing oneself clearly is often a difficult matter. Honest feedback from another can be very positive.
However, I must be careful in reflecting you lest I fall into the negative activity of defining or attempting to change you. Nonjudgmental feedback can be positive. When I start trying to say who you are, or engage in manipulating efforts with my observations of you, then I risk destroying our intimacy. For instance, I may sometimes say in response to you: "This is how I see you," or, "This is what I heard you say." However, I must not assume the godliness of saying, "This is who you are," or, "This is what you mean." The dependency or rebellion which is likely to follow will destroy our closeness.
Nor must I allow my responses to you to phase into efforts to change you in any way. I may let you know who I am when with you, or how I perceive you as being in my presence, but I will carefully avoid any effort to make you different with my information. I must be clear and nonjudgmental of you as a person like a glass mirror would be of your physical image. I can sometimes return your image as I receive it in a way which is productive for our intimacy. Whenever I begin to use my reflections to do something to you, I have moved to dangerous ground.
For example, I may respond positively by saying "I like the way you look," or negatively by saying, "I am upset by what I hear." I must be careful, however, lest my positive response become a compliment designed to change your favor of me, or my negative response a criticism designed to alter your thinking. Responding must also be a gift of myself, carefully distinguished from doing something in an effort to define or change you in any way.
Standing-with the other is a fifth activity often appropriate in times of closeness. To stand with is to be near at hand, sharing silently. It is being close without words. Although sharing verbally or tangibly is often in order, there are times when physical presence alone is the best gift. "Just being there" it is often called. Rather than leaning on the other, either physically or spiritually, one chooses at such times to remain close of heart, yet without speaking.
Standing-with is especially appropriate when the other is revealing pain, anger, or is struggling with a personal problem. The gift of another's private struggle to be himself is a rare treasure. It can best be honored with one's silent presence. To turn away or absent oneself when another is engaged in the painful quest of becoming who he is is often perceived as a heartless abandonment. To stand tall, quietly, with one who is falling apart may be a gift beyond measure. The silent message, "I am with you," can be an eternal gift.
Sometimes an appropriate touch, an arm around the shoulder, or a tender holding of the other can be a beautiful confirmation of the silent message. Still, being near of heart is the essential activity in this form of closeness.
Standing-with is to be distinguished from trying to help, change, support, or direct the life of the other. Recognizing that each must bear his own burden, one who risks being near to a struggling one is careful to avoid inviting dependency or the illusion of solving problems for the other. The help of one who stands-with is inherent in his presence. He does not succumb to the temptation to advise, direct, or in any way relieve the other of final responsibility for his own quest. To escape into the role of a helper or to attempt to change another in any way is to flee the place of being a person with the other. Persons who care may appropriately choose to stand close during difficult times, yet they carefully avoid taking over the responsibility for bearing the burdens of one cared for.
Playing fun games is a sixth appropriate activity for persons being close. The structure of games can provide a functional avenue to increased intimacy with a minimum of threat. Such games may be either physical, as table or outdoor games, or spiritual, as man/woman seductions or oneupsmanship. The nature of the game is incidental to its function as a medium for encounter.
The critical issue is that it be freely chosen and played for fun only. Serious games--that is, games in which the outcome is more important than the playing, are to be carefully avoided when persons wish to be close. Any serious game is a deep threat to intimacy. The seriousness of a game is determined by its utility to the player rather than by his conscious thoughts about playing. One may laugh and joke about a game and yet be deadly serious about the outcome. For instance, seduction is a familiar man/woman game. Though it may be played just for the fun of it, and thereby be a functional activity for persons being close, the game becomes dangerous and a consequent threat to intimacy when either party gets serious about the outcome. When played for fun, each person may act like winning matters, yet both know better. The procedure is simply borrowed as a medium for encounter.
To summarize: being close can never be identified with any activity. Strictly speaking, there is nothing one can do to be close. Essentially, intimacy is a matter of heart and may exist between persons who do nothing together. And yet when persons are being close they will commonly be doing something, both as an expression and medium of their intimacy. Although any activity may sometimes occur between those who are truly close, experience indicates that some things work better than others on most occasions.
I have suggested these favorable things to do: reveal yourself or be who you honestly are in the presence of the other; share your history and dreams; give tangible gifts, especially things personal to you; respond openly to what you perceive from the other person; stand with the person, especially in times of his trouble; and, finally, play games, just for the fun of it.
Conversely, the following activities are to be avoided in close relationships: showing-off or making an exhibition of oneself; manipulating the other in any way; giving gifts with strings attached or trying to get something from the other person; any attempt to change, advise, help, or save another, beyond giving the gift of standing with him in his troubles; and serious emotional or physical games of any type.
Do as much as you choose while being close, letting your activities become an evenue to greater intimacy. Carefully avoid substituting doing something together as an escape from being together.
Conversation is the principal vehicle for revealing, sharing, and responding to the other. Through conversing we may be close. Our words can be the means for our being together. Yet not necessarily so. Words can also be used to keep us apart. Sounds cast upon the air may be either the invisible arms drawing us together or the walls which keep us separate. It all depends on how we use them.
I reserve the word conversation for that positive form of talking which is a means of being close, in contrast to other uses of words for such purposes as fighting or manipulating. These latter verbal exchanges may more properly be called arguing, defending, or selling. The word converse comes from two Latin words meaning with and to live. To con-verse is to live with through words. Talking is the medium for living together. A good conversation is two or more persons sharing life together through words.
Such conversation is characterized by honesty, spontaneity, and fluidity. If I share-myself-with-you-through-words, I have no choice but to be honest. Any attempt at deception destroys the essential foundation for intimate conversation. To speak honestly means that everything I say will be a truthful revelation of myself--something which I honestly sense, feel, think, or do.
For practical reasons I may not reveal everything I feel or have done, but whatever I do express will be a truthful revelation of myself. For instance, if I tell you what I think of the weather it will be my honest opinion; if I express a feeling it will be my honest emotion at the time.
Conversing may be viewed as a verbal striptease--minus the tease. Spirit is unclothed for the viewing of the listener. Just as your eyes see my body as it is, in conversing you may see, with your ears, my spirit as it is. I am using language to translate myself as accurately as possible into symbols for your hearing. Since eyes cannot probe beyond the skin, I use words to make known what I am like inside, to let you see what cannot otherwise be seen. I reveal the world of myself verbally. The only purpose of my words is to share who I am with you.
When I speak with any other motive, such as, to impress you, make you like me, or to achieve any desired effect, I have departed from the honesty required for intimacy. With such purposes in the background we may make conversation, but such staged performances are not the same as honest conversing.
In such a contrived conversation I may use words, for instance, to conceal my true self and present a false image I wish you to see--perhaps as a suave intellectual. While pretending closeness I actually separate myself from you with words designed to conceal rather than reveal. Instead of saying what is honestly on my mind, I may repeat lines learned in the past or make up things I imagine will please you. My compliment may be a device to impress you rather than a sincere expression of my admiration felt at the time.
Although conversing and making conversation may appear very much alike to an observer, the distinction between the two is crucial for intimacy. One wishing to be close will regularly reveal himself through conversing yet never succumb to the temptation to make conversation. When fearful or unwilling to tell you who he is, one wishing to be close will remain silent rather than tossing out words to deceive or trying to get you to talk. Valuing honesty over a good impression, he will wait until he can speak truthfully, risking the threats of mutual silence rather than the dangers of false words.
Spontaneity is a second earmark of conversation. Since living can only be done now rather than in the past or future, living-together-through-words is always a present-tense activity. I can reveal who I am at this moment, but I can never plan such revelations ahead of time. I can tell you what I now feel or think but not about my emotions or ideas of the future. To decide what I will say before the time of saying is to change spontaneous conversing into contrived conversation.
My practiced verbal performance may be articulate, reasonable, and beautifully presented, yet it is a speech rather than me speaking. You may enjoy my presentation, but I cannot be close to you as long as I am performing for you. Speeches have their place, but not in intimate conversation.
If I want to be close I must always take my chances, waiting to see what I will say at any given moment. I can have no script, no lines learned ahead of time. When I cease to be spontaneous, saying only who I honestly am at the time, I kill my chance to be close to you. We may have a formal meeting, sharing our memorized speeches, but we cannot encounter as persons being close, living-together-through-words.
Consequently, a conversation is a fluid event, a flexible, ever-changing, kaleidoscopic kind of encounter. Like a spiral it continually changes directions, moving into new territory at each emerging instant. The revelation of feelings may change to a sharing of ideas; opening one's history may be replaced by telling one's dreams. I may jump from talking about my inner world to the outer world, from my past to the future, from my present beliefs to my current problems. The subject of a living conversation is a bouncing ball with a will of its own. We must follow it honestly and spontaneously, but we can never capture or pin it down. At best we proceed by our faith, moving as spirit calls. The excitement of closeness, in conversing as in any other medium, lies in its continual mystery. We never know what will happen next.
Since conversing is dialogue rather than monologue, revelations of oneself will be punctuated with pauses which allow the other person to also show himself at the time. I say who I am, at least partially, and then hear, should you choose to reveal, something of who you are. I listen to you, allowing your words to evoke new responses in me. When I speak again I voice who I have become because of hearing you. I do not return to who I was before you spoke, leaving our encounter but a series of interrupted monologues. I flow with the conversation, changing and continually revealing myself as I become in response to you. Hopefully you will do the same, making our dialogue a vital event, totally unpredictable, constantly emerging and becoming new, even as do we in meeting each other intimately.
For sake of description we may liken such an exciting conversation to stacking books at odd angles. When I reveal some aspect of who I am, I place a book in the circle of our conversation. Whatever I say is my offering in the dialogue. If you respond verbally you stack your book on top of mine. Since you will be speaking yourself and you are different from me, your book will seldom line up exactly with mine. It will be over mine, yet at some unusual angle.
Occasionally we may exactly agree, one book lying directly atop the other. Most often the stacking will proceed in an apparently random fashion. Something I say will remind you of something from your own experience. Your offering will be made spontaneously, without trying to make it coincide with my own.
Then hearing you, I may think of a subject which seems new or unrelated. If I remain honest and spontaneous, I offer my new response or another book on the stack. You, in turn, may move in another direction.
At the time our unique stacking of books may seem to have no rhyme or reason. The constantly changing subjects may appear disjointed and unconnected. In retrospect, however, one may observe a common thread weaving through the oddly stacked books. Without intending or trying to stick to a subject we may unwittingly have followed a theme not recognized at the time. Even so, the lively and uncharted movement is the mystery and excitement of conversing, living-together-through-words.
Can two walk together, except they be agreed?
Being close to someone who agrees with me is relatively easy. When we think, feel, and behave in similar ways the challenges of intimacy are reduced. But when we're different--ah, there's the rub. The ancient question becomes a modern one: can we walk together when we disagree? What are we to do with our differences when we wish to be close? Shall we limit our intimacy to our sameness? Shall we hide our differences so we can pretend to be close? Or shall we try to "correct" the other to be like we are and thereby remove the threat of our disagreement?
Mutual pacing is the answer I propose--that is, pacing ourselves to walk together whenever our private travels allow. Respecting our differences--without ever pretending, or attempting to correct each other--we may choose to be close when our separate journeys take similar directions at the same time; we may meet when our differing paths by chance happen to cross. With care, we may sometimes vary our individual paces to prolong our mutual intimacy. We may choose physical proximity without spiritual closeness while awaiting appropriate times for togetherness--that is, we may stay in touch until we can be in touch.
And sometimes we must remain apart. In the final analysis, togetherness is a miracle. We cannot be close except by choice, yet human intimacy is a gift beyond choosing. It is ultimately by grace, thank God. First, last, and always, we must go our separate ways. We must march to our private drummers, follow the spirit given to each alone. True spiritual intimacy is always based on two separate persons being together. Only when we are diligent in maintaining personal integrity and willing to walk alone, are we open to the gift of being close.
Mutual pacing is our part of participating in this miracle.
To begin with, we must understand and accept the burden and blessing of being separate persons, each one unique in all the world. On the cellular level we are amazingly alike: male/female/red/yellow/black/white. At our lowest common denominator, viewed under the microscope, we appear much the same. But when our billions of cells are collected into our separate bodies we become wondrously different. Within a given range of similar possibilities, we are truly unique individuals. The severing of the umbilical cord at birth is a valid symbol of our being thrust--alone and different--into this vast world. What we make of it becomes a blessing or a curse.
Being unique means that each of us has his own privately tailored abilities, interests, beliefs, and schedule. We can do different things; we are drawn in separate directions. Our unique experiences (no one of us has the same set of circumstances, even the children of one family) naturally reflect in differing beliefs. And finally, each of us also has his own timetable, his personal schedule for walking his private path.
I can do some things you cannot; you, no doubt, can do things I cannot. I am attracted to things which may repel you and vice versa. I have had a different set of experiences from every other person in the history of the world. I have thoughts and feelings uniquely my own. All this, plus I have my own schedule. I have a proper time and amount of sleep tailored for me alone. Your sleeping schedule probably varies from mine. Though our other endeavors--rising, eating, working, playing, resting--may be categorized similarly, each remains individually tailored.
If I am to be myself--which is all I can be, in reality--then I must think my thoughts, feel my feelings, respond to what is given me, and go my own way. And so must you.
Out of this wonderful milieu of differences, our practical problem arises. How can we get together honestly? Being so awesomely unique, how can we be close to one another? The answer, again, is a gift which I shall try to amplify now under the title, mutual pacing.
I advocate accepting uniqueness as a blessing rather than a curse, as a quality to be celebrated, not suppressed, and to be used as a basis for getting together. In mutual pacing, two such separate and unique persons, each on his own private quest, out of the wealth of their diversity choose to accept one another and stand closely when the gift is given. Without abandoning individuality or attempting to change the other, each joyously participates in the miracle of being close.
Being withis a sometimes thing
Within this context of miracle and chance, closeness requires a deep respect for individuality--uniqueness of persons, separateness of paths and schedules. I must value being myself at my own pace over the delights of being with you; you likewise must never compromise your integrity or abandon your timetable to be with me. To give up being oneself for sake of the other is to destroy the only basis of being close. We can be ones (individuals) together, but we cannot be one for the other.
Though tempted, I must never veer from my appointed way in order to appear to be with you. Varying a personal schedule when one's time has come is a risk no serious pilgrim can afford to take. Above all one must never leave his own way, no matter how fearsome it seems, to try to find himself on the way of another. The quasi-intimacy of clinging, though temporarily a comfort, is finally destructive. Even if you do not succumb to the godhood implied by my idolization of you, I lose myself when I abandon personal responsibility and seek my salvation in you. In either case, being together as separate persons becomes impossible when either of us ceases to remain himself on his own private journey.
Within this framework, how can we be close? These are the ways I know: first, parallel walking (//). Even though our paths are unique, there will likely be times when we are moving in similar directions at the same moment. After all, we do share much in common. Sometimes our thoughts may be similar; we may in fact agree on many things. Our feelings may be alike at certain points. At some juncture our beliefs may coincide. We may find our interests similar, or discover ourselves engaged in the same work, play, or projects. Perhaps our schedules will coincide; we may want to eat at the same time. Or we may find ourselves struggling with similar problems. When a common joke strikes each of us funny we may laugh together. A common game may amuse us so that we can play together. A common grief may face us both; we cry together. The same drummer may at times beat for each of us; we may find ourselves marching near at hand.
At each such point of parallel walking, we may, if we choose, also risk being near of heart. This is not required, of course. We may walk near without getting close. Though engaged in similar pursuits we may choose to ignore one another. Proximity of paths does not necessarily mean persons being close.Yet it can be so. When by choice we as separate persons find ourselves walking side by side on paths of body or spirit, we may, as our faith allows, also take the chance of being close to one another. Such parallel walking, when we do in fact agree, offers our easiest occasions for spiritual intimacy. Two can walk together in spirit with the least required faith when they do agree.
Then there are other occasions for closeness when our paths cross (+). Though we are headed in opposite directions--have differences of thought, feeling, belief, or interest--often our separate ways may meet. We can, if we choose, be close--though different--at those junctures in our private journeys. For a simple example, I may meet you coming out of the supermarket. You may be engaged in juggling your groceries and reaching your car intact, while I am yet intent on entering the store. Still, for a magic moment, our paths may cross at the door. We face a choice: will we ignore each other? Look without seeing? Or will we take the chance of recognizing a fellow pilgrim on life's quest, and share an instant of existential intimacy--perhaps without breaking stride--as we go our parting ways?
In just such manner, life is filled with human crossroads, given moments of chance encounter, when we often have the option of intimacy if we choose it. On the way to the bathroom I meet my wife going to the kitchen; off to work, I cross paths with my children going to school. A stranger confronts me in a restaurant; my parishioners pass me when they leave church. Boarding a plane for Atlanta, I meet the in-coming passengers for New Orleans. And in many of these crossings, we face the possibility of opening our spirits to each other. Strangers in the night, we may sometimes be given the gift of closeness--if we choose it.
These physical crossings are simple examples of many other possibilities for intimacy when nobody is going anywhere. We also cross paths of mind and spirit when our bodies are at rest. My wife disagrees with me on what to have for supper; my children want to watch TV programs I dislike. My neighbor and I support different candidates; my parishioners sometimes (often?) disagree with my sermons.
Although these junctures of difference may be used to exaggerate and extend our spiritual distance, they may also become occasions of closeness while we deal with our differences. Disagreements are not inherently divisive; even fighting can be done in an intimate manner. The point is: being near of heart while walking parallel may be the most common formof closeness, but there is also an option of intimacy when we cross with one another--if our faith is large enough. We can, if we dare, walk together even when we disagree. We may be headed in different directions, but still share in the bond of our common humanity.
Thirdly, there are occasions when we can vary our paces to lengthen our times together, without leaving our private paths. I have a certain leeway in my rate of jogging which allows me to speed-up or slow-down in order to keep company with a fellow jogger, and yet remain on my own course. In like manner I sometimes have latitude in my other journeys of body and mind, which allow me to spend more time with my brother than would normally be available. Even our crossings may sometimes be temporarily changed to parallel walking without disrupting the direction of our separate ways. With our conflicting beliefs, for example, we may stand near in the shared event of believing. While supporting opposing candidates, we may be near in our admiration of a functional political system.
And then there are times when spirit does not call me, when temporarily I have nowhere to go in my own quest. My heart is at rest while I await the further music of my drummer. At these moments of peace, these times of containment and unity, I am more at liberty to travel with you along your own way. Having nowhere to go just then, I may choose to tag along temporarily on your journey. I may listen to your story, try to understand your feelings, play your game, watch you work, sit with you while you eat, or even walk a mile or so along your way.
If you care to, and spirit does not call you at some time, you likewise may choose to travel briefly with me on my pilgrimage. Even though you have no need to exercise, you may choose to jog along with me, for sake of company. Though full, you may sit with me while I eat. When your spirit is whole, you may listen to my agonies. If your heart is light, you may laugh at my jokes.
Because we care--and like the company--we pilgrims may often vary our pacing or share a time of closeness when not engaged in private business--yet carefully, lest mutual pacing be replaced by two on one course, not together but lost in the other.
Always we must remain alert for the spirit's personal call. Even in the midst of my free time when I choose to walk with you, I must keep one ear open for my own drummer. If my music starts while I am on your way, I must excuse myself with all due haste and resume my own dance. Whenever I meet you, I must have my hat in hand, prepared to go my way at anytime. Only then do I remain able to be close to you.
And then there are times when overt closeness is impossible. Yet we may remain physically close while awaiting the times of heart. We may sit together while waiting to be together. There is also a sense of spiritual unity in mutually shared distance. In our accepted silence we may even be nearer than in our chosen conversation.
And sometimes we must remain apart. In the final analysis, being close is dictated by the miracle. We may do all that we can do--look for parallel walking, be open to crossing paths, vary our pacing for the other, or sit together in silence--and yet the gift may not be given. Then we must be willing to remain not only alone, but also apart.
Mutual pacing is often our choice; but finally we must await the miracle of being close.
Luke says of Mary following the birth of Jesus: She kept all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19). For every person of integrity there are certain things appropriately kept and pondered in the heart. The primary activity of those being close is sharing--revealing themselves, saying exactly who they are in the plainest possible way. Being near of heart is most often having your heart revealed. But not always. There are times for sharing, but also for withholding; for speaking, but also for silence; for telling all, but also for secrets. He who would be close lovingly must learn the fine art of keeping appropriate secrets.
In spite of the obvious need for the protection of hiding, most of us seem to have a deeper longing to be totally revealed, to confess everything, to let it all hang out. Sometimes we want to share every thought and feeling, to tell every secret and reveal every dream. Some make this wish the basis of certain personal relationships such as a friendship, love affair, or marriage. In the intimacy of these encounters they strive to be totally honest--that is, to reveal themselves indiscriminately.
With full respect for this wish, and, indeed, the necessity for total confession in the process of salvation, it remains, I believe, an unrealistic fantasy in all common human relationships. Only in those structured encounters between priest and parishioner, or the secular version--psychiatrist and patient--does total honesty become feasible, and only then because it is written into the contract.
Why? Because all other positive relationships between humans are based on the premise of separate, responsible, people together. True closeness requires independent ones standing near. Personal integrity, being one, precedes being with. In the give and take of persons being close, this essential independence may be hidden; yet it remains.
Someone has written: "I could not love thee dear so much, loved I not honor more." Unless one cares more for integrity, both his own and that of the other person, being close slips easily into dependency; "standing with" turns into "leaning on." Being two selves together phases into losing oneself in the other. Such symbolic returns to the womb may be momentarily satisfying but are destructive in the long run. When mutual integrity is gone, closeness has lost its foundation. Its fall cannot be far behind.
Responsibility is one aspect of integrity. To remain an independent person, one cannot abandon being responsible for what he tells. Words and personal information often affect both the speaker and the listener. To ignore this fact is to become irresponsible, thus destroying the basis for being close.
Honesty remains a crucial issue in closeness, yet it can never be equated with merely telling all. To be honest is to be true to one's fullest awareness, which includes facts as well as their likely effect. If I am honest with you, I will represent my fullest self, not merely the information in my mind. For one who is responsible, withholding information will sometimes be more honest than telling it.
Furthermore, withholding out of love is to be distinguished from withholding out of fear. To keep a secret because I care for you is not the same as refusing to tell because I am afraid. The first is an act of responsibility; the second confirms cowardice and may destroy the basis for being close. The subject here is the choice not to tell because of love, not hiding out of fear.
To summarize: secrets are often appropriate in being close to persons cared for. The major business in an intimate relationship is being open and sharing, yet always there must remain the possibility of private parts unshared. Specifically these may include ideas, beliefs, fantasies, opinions, dreams, feelings, as well as information about personal activities.
Often the level of openness may be so great that secrets appear to be nonexistent. Close persons do sometimes share almost everything; indeed, in certain areas, they may tell all they know. Still, however, the option of secrecy must remain. If one has to tell, or gives up all discrimination in the choice of what to tell (must answer every question or tell everything he thinks), then the basis of closeness is gone. The temporary relief of dependency replaces the long-range possibility of intimacy.
The problem is: how to distinguish appropriate information from that which is inappropriate? How can one know what to share and what to keep? How much openness is enough and how much is too much?
The answer can, of course, never be specific. It varies from person to person and from time to time with the same person. What is appropriate in one relationship may be improper in another; what a person is able to hear at one time may be destructive on another occasion. Thus, rules are impossible; only guidelines are feasible.
Here are four such guidelines. Each is a generalization for determining appropriate times for secrecy. First, keep silent whenever you think you cannot stand exposure at the time. If you do not feel capable of tolerating the risk of having information known either to that person or in the moment, keep your secret. To tell that which threatens your integrity is an unreasonable chance to take. Too much too soon, leaving the teller overwhelmed in his exposure, is also destructive to closeness. If your ability to stand with what you tell is dependent on how your listener responds, probably you have told too much. In true sharing (vs. veiled dependency) how the gift is received is not the main issue.
In reality, most persons seem to lean in the opposite direction, withholding too much rather than sharing excessively. Probably we are all capable of more exposure more often than we realize. Even so, the first guideline is: do not tell what you cannot share and still remain on your own spiritual feet.
Secondly, withhold information which may injure or destroy the spirit of the other person. Just as you have your limits of what you can stand to share, so every other person is limited in what he can receive without injury. Though determining this point of limitation is often difficult, still one who is responsible must seek to do so. If the listener takes your information personally or is hurt by what he hears, probably you have shared too much. For example, information about a previous relationship may be damaging to a present encounter. If a listener becomes upset in hearing you, gets defensive or attacks, you have revealed too much--back off.
A third guideline relates to depth of information rather than content. Persons meet on different levels of spiritual awareness and experience. Some have probed deeper into the nature of reality than have others. To try to share what is beyond the current spiritual depth of a listener is usually destructive. The guideline is: do not reveal information which is from a depth beyond that to which the other person has gone.
For example, many persons have not yet faced the reality of negative feelings toward loved ones. To try to share one's hostility for his children or parents with such a person is likely to be disruptive. The other person cannot receive the information comfortably since it is from a level of experience he has not yet had. Other examples of such information which is commonly threatening include sexual subjects and certain spiritual experiences.
A fourth guideline concerns the danger of inviting dependency. One must be careful in sharing that which unduly tempts the hearer to leave his own experience in favor of accepting uncritically what he is told. If you believe me without question--then I have gone too far. If I fall for your opinions as though they are the final word, you had best withhold them from me. This guideline is: keep secret that which distracts a listener from following his own experience and leads him instead to become dependent on you. The worship may inflate your ego but only at the cost of the close relationship. Leaders and followers may exist in proximity but they cannot be close as persons.
Although certain relationships may be strong enough to bear the weight of almost every secret fantasy and feeling, there are some subjects which seem particularly dangerous in every encounter. They may at times be appropriately shared, but the careful person will be especially alert, realizing that he may be on thin ice in regard to continued closeness. For example, criticism of the other person is usually dangerous. Even when your negative reactions are honest and you mean well in sharing them, few can take straight criticism and remain close. Even though some ask for it and appear to thrive, the deeper nature of the relationship may be subverted in a way which prevents actual closeness as persons.
Interpreting an experience such as the dreams of another is always dangerous, even when the person asks for it and your opinions are honest. For instance, "What do you think this dream means?" is an extremely sensitive juncture in a close relationship. The second, third, and fourth guidelines may each apply. The same is true for sharing your ideas about what another person should do in any situation. You never have enough background information to know for sure what is proper action for another person. Even if you do, the danger of guideline four (inviting dependency) is great. In general, either explaining the experience of another person or advising specific action is inappropriate in a close relationship. In fact, the closer the relationship, the more dangerous such sharing becomes.
Other subjects which are commonly risky include: positive feelings toward a person who is perceived as a threat by the listener; activities or fantasies which are outside the experience of the listener; any subject which you feel compulsive about or absolutely necessary to share.
In conclusion, here are suggestions about how to keep secrets. Because unshared information is always a potential threat in an intimate relationship, how the secret is kept is often quite important. First, avoid being excessively surreptitious about withholding anything. The choice to withhold out of love must be carefully distinguished from hiding because one is afraid. In legitimate secrecy one has no fears of "being caught." Because his secrecy is born of concern, he will be reasonably careful about revelation yet have no deep fear which requires being overly secretive. Should a secret kept because of love be suddenly revealed, one might feel regret for damage done but not personally threatened by the revelation.
The proper stance with appropriate secrets is more like concerned ignoring than compulsive avoidance. One may wisely be alert to avoid discussing the subject, dropping hints, or leaving clues, yet at the same time he will not lean over backwards in pretending. He will, like Mary, keep things and ponder them in his heart, simply choosing to keep the subject private for practical reasons.
Sometimes a person will be inquisitive about subjects which you determine to be best kept secret. In such. instances, one may choose to ignore the question, respecting the curiosity of the asker, or state openly that he chooses not to answer. The more insistent the other person is on getting an answer, the more careful one must be in withholding it, lest the integrity essential for closeness be lost in the transaction.
In summary, if you would be close, share as much as you determine to be feasible; yet always maintain your responsibility for secrecy and respect the similar rights of the other person.
Jesus, aware that power had gone out of him, turned round in the crowd and asked, "Who touched my clothes?" His disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing upon you and yet you ask, 'Who touched me?'" Mark 5:30-31 N.E.B
In this chapter we explore the place of physical touch in the spiritual experience of being close. How are the two related? What, if anything, does touching hands have to do with touching hearts? What is the "holy kiss" the Bible speaks of? What is the difference between "feeling of" and "touching?" How can one learn to be in touch by touching?
First we note the essential difference between mere physical contact--skin to skin--as in the typical handshake or jaded lovemaking between those who no longer care for each other. Touching, even of intimate body parts, in no way implies the necessity of spiritual closeness. And yet physical touch can be one of the purest forms of spiritual communion. We can touch without being in touch; we can be in touch without touching; and we can be in touch through touching. This latter experience is our concern here.
To distinguish these two basically different kinds of touch I shall use the phrase "feeling of" for mere physical contact and "being in touch" for the more profound spiritual experience in which touch is the medium for being close. The first and more common type of contact is manipulative in nature. One who "feels of" is trying to accomplish or get something by way of touching. Perhaps he is trying to get your favor through a firm handshake or your approval through a hug, or to excite you by way of a kiss. Maybe he just wants to see what you feel like to satisfy his curiosity, or to make you feel secure so you will love him. Maybe he clings as a way of gaining your support. In either case, his touch is essentially manipulative, designed to do or get something for him personally.
In contrast, the second kind of touch is expressive rather than manipulative. It is a means of revealing the one who touches. He "speaks" himself through touch as he might through words. Through the language of contact he tells you who he is just then. It is as though his spirit goes out, for instance, through his hand when he touches, as it might through his words when he speaks verbally. Spiritual touch is non-verbal language, often clearer than any voicing would ever be. Nearness-of-heart is registered by nearness-of-hand.
Because the language of touch is learned earlier in life than is the language of words, it can often speak more directly to the deeper heart. A single hug may say more than a hundred letters; a kiss may out-volume a thousand "I love you"s.
And yet there is more to spiritual touch than expression alone; power is involved. When persons truly touch there is a flow of spiritual power, whatever the personal message may be. Jesus knew "that power had gone out of him." So will anyone else who touches as a means of revealing himself rather than feeling of the other person. Historically, religious groups have used the rite of laying-on-hands in ordaining chosen ones. When the contact is spiritual, the event is more than symbolic. Power is in fact conveyed.
Thus we may say that this second form of touching is literally a giving rather than an attempt to get. In it one gives of himself to the other. His power of being goes out to the one touched.
Spiritual touching is also to be distinguished from mere sexual stimulation, which is a biological phenomenon requiring no spirit at all. Sexual touching may be even more engaging for some when restricted to contact without caring.
This distinction is more difficult to grasp since spiritual touch may also include feeling sexual. The problem is compounded by the common practice of dividing the physical from the spiritual as though they were opposites. In this erroneous division, love, for instance, is often thought to be either sexy or platonic--that is, either physical and hence non-Christian, or spiritual and non-sexy.
On this false premise, religion has often been used as an escape from sex. In the convent syndrome, young girls may join a convent to escape the pressures of coping with sex. Or a youth may attempt to attain spiritual or "pure" love in avoidance of sexual or "impure" love.
This use of religion to suppress or avoid sexual activity may have useful social values as well as immediate personal advantages. In the long run, however, it becomes dangerous because it denies reality in setting the physical over against the spiritual, thus robbing sex of the fulfillment of spirit and undercutting spirit of its essential physical foundation.
The spiritual touch of which we speak here is neither just sexy nor a sterile platonic "love." It is, on an elemental level, rooted in the human capacity for sexuality. And yet it is much more. In this event the instinctual is fused with the chosen, the physical is fulfilled with the spiritual. The touch of hand is brought to fruition with the addition of heart.
Thus spiritual touch is more than mere physical touch only. Though it includes the excitement of sensuality, yet it is more. Conversely, this type of touch is not some lofty ideal which pretends to be higher by the exclusion of sex, while in practice it turns out to be lower or less exciting than physical touch alone. It is beyond sensuality, not before it.
A closeness which automatically excludes touch for fear of becoming sexual is likely to be an escape from spiritual nearness. For practical reasons such as social acceptability, touch may at times be excluded, yet the idea of attaining the spiritual by jumping over or avoiding the sensual is very dangerous. For instance, the popular notion that virgins are inherently virtuous is notably fallacious. They may or may not be.
The point here is to distinguish spiritual touch from a platonic phenomenon devoid of sexuality. Our subject is more than or beyond the sensual, not less than or exclusive of this essential human capacity.
Three other potential threats may be faced before we deal with the subject directly: inexperience, primitive desires, and intolerance for power. Although everyone knows something about physical touching, "feeling of"--grabbing, pawing, clinging--many are quite inexperienced in the realm of spiritual touching. The abuses and temptations of manipulative touch have so jaded or frightened some that they have withdrawn altogether from human contact except for perfunctory handshaking, family hugging, and ritualistic sexual intercourse. Having little or no experience with expressive touch, they are predictably threatened by this unknown possibility.
Secondly, there is the threat of a buried primitive desire to be held. It seems that few of us receive a sufficient amount of holding in early life. We grow up feeling deeply deprived, longing for the security of warm mothering yet dealing with the desire by repressing it from awareness. Thus we live, denying the wish to be held while unconsciously drawn toward its possibility. In the face of this dilemma, spiritual touching can pose a deep threat. Being non-manipulative in nature, it is likely to evoke the primitive, repressed desire for closeness. This disturbance in repressions can be perceived as immensely threatening in an immediate situation. Wanting it deeply yet fearing the desire, one may find the conflict intolerable.
Thirdly, lack of experience with the power inherent in spiritual touch can also be disturbing. Power, for those accustomed to feeling powerless, can be a great threat. Since many today, as in Jesus' time, are unaware of the healing power which flows in such touching, its emergence may not only be surprising but also threatening. Thus in approaching the possible experience of being close through touching, one may well be alert to the potentially threatening aspects of the event.
In his letter to the church at Corinth Paul instructed the Christians to greet ye one another with an holy kiss (II Corinthians 16:20). We may use this as a symbol for being in touch by touching. A holy kiss is an intimate touch in which the whole spirit of one reaches out to the other. This delicate yet powerful touch is holy because the physical contact is fulfilled in spiritual communion. The kiss is not spiritual rather than physical nor platonic rather than sexual. It is indeed passionate, yet more than just physical. The holy kiss is beyond sexual by being more rather than less.
With this understanding we may also speak of holy hugging, holy handshaking, and even holy standing closely. Each of these physical events is transformed into spiritual communion when the spirit of one reaches out to the other in the touch. For example, in a holy handshake the ritual greeting is transformed into a spiritual event because one puts himself into the touch of hands. We might say his heart is in his hand, in contrast to a manipulative grab or cold-fish extension devoid of warmth.
When two persons are standing closely with spirit an apparently casual brush of elbows may be an electric encounter. A manipulative hug which may be offensive or merely sexual is changed into a holy event when one extends himself through the contact of his arms.
In contrast with mere physical contact--feeling of, grabbing, or brushing against--being in touch by touching involves one's fullest self in the points of communion. It is as though the totality of one's being were centered in that part of the body which reaches out to the other. Such holy touching is always gentle yet firm and deliberate. Respecting the inherent power with its potential threat to both giver and receiver, one who touches in this manner does so carefully. The sometimes casual appearance of these physical encounters only cloaks their deeply sensitive nature.
One never knows in initiating such an event whether he will be able to endure the power, to maintain himself focused in the point of contact. Perhaps the initiator will find himself overwhelmed and withdraw his own presence from the touch, leaving the event profane rather than holy. Perhaps the other person will be frightened by the power and project an old memory of being manipulated on this new time of meeting, requiring withdrawal for self-protection. Or perhaps the presence of one will be met by the presence of the other, multiplying the power in spiritual fireworks.
In the face of these possibilities one reaching out does so firmly yet tentatively--firmly because of the power extended, tentatively so as to respect both his own capacity to contain excitement and the ability of the other to respond. The extension is deliberate, lest uncertainty rather than power be transmitted in the touch. If the other must run, let it be for his own reasons. Yet it is gentle, lest it resurrect the fear of manipulation in the other or one's own temptation to lean or hold on to.
Always in a holy touch, as in any spirited encounter, one must be continually ready to withdraw when threat overwhelms, causing spirit to flee. To touch with heart is a matter of eternal consequence, but to extend contact when spirit has gone is like carrying on a conversation when no one cares, or like making love without loving. The charade defames the potentially holy event.
Before one can touch in this sacred manner he must learn to be comfortably near another without touching and to be present in a touch without confirmation from the other. Bad experiences with physical contact earlier in life leave many of us with exaggerated and threatening notions about any physical contact. Perhaps we fear it excessively or want it desperately--or both. These hidden feelings will predictably interfere with holy touching, inclining us to run from it or rush into some form of manipulation.
First, then, we must learn to be physically near without doing anything about it, either shying away or compulsively reaching out. We must practice standing close until the urge to run, grab, or seduce is overcome. Only when we have free choice in touching can we be alert to appropriate timing--attentive to ourselves, the other person, and the leadership of spirit.
Then we must learn to remain attuned to ourselves while touching, lest we be confused or distracted by the responses of the other person. When the power of touch is unbearable by the other, of course we must reasonably stand apart. However, those who have been wounded by previous manipulation may instinctively react when their deeper wish is to respond with presence. If I am uncertain myself at such a time, needing your immediate confirmation of my touch, I may misread your protective reaction and withdraw when you most need my power.
Others have learned to easily go through the motions of touching, appearing to be present when their heart is not in it. If I am not attuned to myself I may be deceived into falling for this empty touch which is without spirit. I may confuse activity with presence and proceed in a contact which actually leaves us further apart. We may end up touching without being in touch. Many who deeply need and want to be touched, habitually withdraw from first contact, while others not yet ready for the power of holy touching rush to profane grappling.
Consequently, if my touch is to be authentic, furthering our closeness rather than destroying it, I must be alert enough to myself to accurately discern between your reactions--either negative or positive--and your true responses. If I am faked off by your seeming aloofness or by your heartless touching, our physical encounter becomes a charade.
When, however, I dare to meet you with my heart in my touch, whatever form our contact may take, alert enough to withdraw if spirit dictates, to stand in with your pretended rejections, to extend the power of myself to you and perhaps to meet your own in return, then we shall both know God in the communion of the moment. Through physical touch we will indeed be in touch.
Any new ethic, if it's to work, will have to find ways of reconciling growth with commitment, change with loyalty, and freedom with alienation, because a world in which new loyalties constantly replace old ones will make neurotics of us all. Merle Shain
Old ethics--commandments, prohibitions, impersonal dos and don'ts--often fail us in the realm of spiritual intimacy. Though they work well in the social world where keeping a proper distance is more relevant than showing a side of heart, when it comes to being soul brothers and sisters instead of mere siblings, the old rules are often inadequate.
What then? Obviously more is required than replacing an old don't with a new do, or vice versa. Objective prohibitions neatly replaced by personal permissions only extend the old legalism in a new garb. A permissive society may be easier than its puritanical predecessor, but the cloaked legalism of "have to" is but the flip side of the coin of "don't do." True freedom must muster the faith to go beyond any objective rules which disregard circumstances; yet it must also be guided by more than feelings or "because I want to."
Though finally ruleless--in Eden anything goes sometimes, or as Paul said, All things are lawful but all things are not expedient--responsible freedom also has its guidelines. Here are some of those I have discerned.
Always maintain personal integrity in the midst of a close encounter with another. If you lose yourself there is no one left to meet. In like manner, avoid participating in any activity which diminishes the integrity of the other. His loss also will make meeting impossible. Specifically this may occur through dependency, excessive excitement, or placing trust in another.
Never go beyond your ability to stand squarely on your own spiritual feet--that is, do not lean far enough to become spiritually dependent on the intimate other. When your degree of involvement leaves you personally off balance, you have gone too far. When you are too wrapped up in another to say goodbye at any point, you have also lost your ability to say a legitimate hello. Individually, the essential basis for valid meeting, has been lost in union. When the pair becomes one, the encounter is over.
Nor should you participate in inviting the imbalance of the other person. Playing god and encouraging spiritual dependence by another on oneself, though satisfying to a sick ego, is equally damaging to an authentic close relationship. Though you are not finally responsible for the leaning of the other person, you are ethically irresponsible when you promote dependency; you will also share in the loss of closeness after it occurs.
Though you may reasonably push your known tolerance for emotional stimulation (excitement, fear, ecstasy) with an intimate other, never exceed your limits. Do not, for example, get so excited you cease being responsible. Let your capacity for love grow with the other, but retreat at any given time when you are feeling more than you can reasonably endure at the moment. Lest your friend misunderstand, you may explain, but above all, respect your tolerance for this power generated by intimacy. Leave temporarily, before you lose yourself.
Trust God in the presence of the other, revealing yourself and responding openly, but never shift your trust to the other person so that you cease being alert to how he actually is. The kind of blind love which develops in popular romance is not feasible in true closeness. To so trust another that you cease your careful scrutiny and become unalert to his changes is for you to pull the rug from under the relationship. You may enjoy the illusion of godliness you have given the other, but your misplaced trust will eventually exclude reality from the encounter. Such human trust always costs one's integrity in the long run.
To keep on seeing another as he is does not mean that every observation is to be talked about. The love that sees clearly and yet accepts may appear to be blind, say to the faults of the other, but the ignoring is calculated, not actual ignorance. With integrity one who trusts God may move trustingly into the presence of the other, choosing to reveal himself and not to call attention to certain things about the other. Though this stance of trust may seem to be in the other person, this can never in fact be so. When one does begin to trust the other, ceasing to see him clearly, taking him for granted, personal integrity slips away. With it goes the essential basis for meeting in reality.
Avoid secret spiritual retreat. Don't run away inwardly while remaining present outwardly. If you cannot be there in spirit, don't stay there in body only. Pretending to be spiritually present when you have departed in your mind can destroy the basis of closeness. Retreat is, of course, often necessary in intimate relationships. The guideline is: let it be done openly. If for any reason you must withdraw, do so openly. Either depart physically or at least tell the other person that you are no longer with him. Faking presence is dangerous both to the dishonest one and to the other he would deceive.
In like manner avoid saying, doing, or giving anything which causes the other to depart in spirit. No matter how honest, sincere, or loving you may be, if you drive the other's heart away you have destroyed the possibility of meeting. Even your good intentions cannot atone for such a loss. For example, if you give more than the other can receive with heart, causing him to inwardly withdraw, you, no matter how sincere your gift, have broken the foundation of closeness. No matter how warmly you may feel for another, if your touch causes him to freeze inwardly, you prevent meeting. If your words, ideas, or information causes spiritual retreat in the other, the meeting is over even though he remains to make conversation or love.
Obviously there can be no objective rules about how much to say, do, or give. It will all depend on the persons, the place, and the time. Some can hear what others cannot. Sometimes you can say that which you cannot say at other times. You may safely do some things with a person in one place which will drive him away in another place. What can be received with heart at one time may be too much at another time. It all depends. Nothing is more relative than the materials of exchange between persons being responsibly close.
As Paul noted, everything is lawful--that is, at particular times and places with certain persons anything may go. But, as he continued, not everything is expedient. Sometimes nothing is acceptable; no words, deed, or gift may be feasible on other occasions. It does, indeed, all depend. This guideline for the ruleless situation is: don't run away from a close encounter while pretending to be present. If you. must go, do so openly. Leave physically or say, for instance, that you are no longer able to hear the other. Return any gift you cannot accept with heart. And don't say, do, or give anything which the other cannot hear, stand, or receive while remaining spiritually present himself.
The deciding factor is not fear, embarrassment, guilt, or any other emotion, since one may feel anything and still remain present. For example, you may say something in a close encounter which embarrasses you deeply, as long as you don't flee in your feeling. Or you may say something which brings fear to the other, as long as he can remain spiritually present with his fear. Experiencing such a feeling together usually deepens the encounter. Only when the emotion causes either of you to inwardly run away has this guideline been missed.
A third guideline involves attention to the social context of the intimacy. The integrity of the society--the community, group, or place--must also be maintained if closeness is to continue. Often the person may be able to endure with integrity what the community cannot, for example, public nudity. In such a case, public integrity must also be maintained. Just as the expressions of one individual must be withheld when they threaten the integrity of the other person in the private encounter, so the expressions of the couple must be contained when they threaten the integrity of the context in which they occur.
Obviously social tolerance varies from place to place and time to time, making objective rules impossible. A couple may be able to do in private what would be impractical with even their closest friends, or with friends what would not be feasible in the community. The guideline is: don't function in a close relationship in any way which destroys the integrity of the context of the encounter or which causes the society to react in ways which would destroy the integrity of the participants in the meeting.
The ethics of intimacy which I advocate are finally pragmatic. These guidelines are only attempts to put practicality into words. Feasibility can never be reduced to objective codes about specific activities. In the final analysis we can only borrow the show business rule: whatever the traffic will bear--traffic taken to mean the integrity of the participants and the society in which they function.
The new ethic must be an ethic of relativism if it is to survive in these exciting times, else, as Ms. Shain noted, this changing world "will make neurotics of us all"--or worse.
The "true to one" ideal often boils down to sexual fidelity. "I don't care if she has male friends," he said, "but she'd better not sleep with them." "He can love them platonically, in the Christian sense," she allowed, "as long as they stay out of the bedroom." And organized Christianity has, of course, made a virtue of sexual fidelity and a sin of adultery. Thus from both the secular and religious camps has come the same song: be true to one sexually. I hasten to add my own chorus: just because I advocate loving more than one does not mean that I encourage sexual promiscuity. Loving around and sleeping around are not necessarily the same.
And yet I do advocate a more reasonable approach to the issue of fidelity. The secular messages quoted above smack of possession. "You're mine and you better not run around on me." The religious version which equates morality and sexual fidelity does rational violence, I think, to both ethics and fidelity. Any ethic which equates virtue and legalism (good if you don't do it), ignoring matters of spirit and love, is a shallow one. Furthermore, the implication that legal sex is virtuous (good if married, bad if not) is even more subtly dangerous. Both conclusions ignore matters of heart--the seat of morality.
Viewing fidelity as a moral issue also has the disastrous result of removing it from the realm of reason, where, I think, it primarily belongs. Few subjects in our society are more deserving of the light of reason than is sexuality; unfortunately, few get less. Fidelity, I propose, is best treated as a pragmatic rather than a moral issue only. Instead of asking is it right or wrong, we will fare better by asking is it feasible or unfeasible either inside or outside of marriage.
Treating sex reasonably we can neither conclude that it is always right in marriage or always wrong outside of marriage. Under certain circumstances marital sex might be immoral and extramarital sex moral. Rape, for example, while legally excluded in most states from the bonds of matrimony, may be immorally present within them. An affair may have more heart, integrity, and love than a marital union, and therefore be more moral.
The point is, sexual fidelity is best treated as a pragmatic issue with morality applied to sex both within and without the legal structure of marriage. Viewing fidelity practically means considering all circumstances instead of legalism alone. Among these are the possibilities of pregnancy, AIDS, and venereal diseases; the purpose of sexual activity (Is it an escape from intimacy? An effort to control the other? An expression of love?); the independence of persons involved (Can each person tolerate this form of closeness without becoming dependent on the other?); the possible effect of a sexual encounter on this and other relationships. Also to be considered are matters of logistics (time, place, birth control, etc.); effect on business matters (Will an affair interfere with professional responsibilities?); possible social effects of public knowledge; the ability of each person to keep secrets, should that be feasible; and many others.
Treating promiscuity pragmatically may in fact result in greater fidelity than treating it with unreasonable moral platitudes. Sleeping around is indeed fraught with innumerable practical dangers. Even so, in close encounters I think that pragmatism remains the best basis for deciding on sexual fidelity.
By "affairs" I mean spiritual alliances with sexual activity as a predominant focus. Although the spiritual components may be submerged in the flood of overt sexual responses, still they are present. Though commonly termed "illicit," because they frequently occur outside the bonds of matrimony, such affairs may also take place within marriage. One can have an "affair" with a spouse. Nor are affairs limited to heterosexual behavior. Homosexual alliances may have the same personal dynamics. The most familiar examples, however, are husbands "cheating" on their wives, wives "running around" on their husbands, and unmarried persons having "love" affair's.
Affairs, though condemned by the church and frowned on (usually with a wink) by society, can serve positive values for the persons involved. Usually they are conducted surreptitiously, with an air of secrecy and intrigue. The skill required in keeping them hidden demands creativity and reflects an aura of mystery. Mystery has a way of breeding excitement. Thus affairs tend to be inherently exciting, so long as they must be kept undercover. Often the participants confuse this thrill of intrigue with some quality in the other person. They commonly think that the sexual partner is the source of the excitement. "He/she turns me on."
To be sure, the partner in intrigue is one element in the secret drama. Often, however, the other person plays only a minor role, as evidenced by the succession of partners and affairs engaged in by those with an appetite for excitement. As soon as one partner becomes familiar or predictable, he/she loses the air of mystery, and hence his/her essential role in the drama. Soon other new and exciting (unfamiliar) players must be chosen in order to renew the element of intrigue. In any case, the excitement and adventure can be a positive value.
Self-discovery is a second positive result of many affairs. In new relationships one tends to discover new dimensions of oneself. Unfamiliarity invites novel responses. In exploring the dimensions of a new person, one almost inevitably finds previously hidden parts of himself. The particular combination of traits of each unique individual is likely to mirror some formerly unreflected portion of oneself. Self-discovery, however it occurs, is an expanding, though sometimes threatening experience.
Personal growth is a third positive element in many affairs. Though often ignored in the excitement of secrecy, affairs have an element of safety which is absent in all, openly established relationships. Even when the emotional commitment is greater, the overt lack of responsibility, legal liability, and tenure, all combine to provide a spirit of personal safety. The tenuous nature of affairs (no rings, no promises, no laws, no children, no tomorrows), though sometimes frightening, provides a continual out. One is not bound. He can theoretically leave whenever he chooses. The absence of public scrutiny or legal consequence, the cover of darkness, the openness of the partner, all convey the deep message: "It is okay to be here as you are. You can be yourself with me. No need to pretend here."
With this element of safety, one is naturally tempted to more honestly become his/her fuller self. For example, sexual desires which may be restrained in a marriage due to unconscious incestuous fears projected on a spouse, may be safely expressed with a stranger in the night. Emotions normally contained for practical reasons in established relationships can be safely released with a person who theoretically has no power to hurt. Irrational thoughts, strange philosophical notions, or socially unacceptable beliefs can often be voiced without threat in the course of an affair. Being sexier, more emotional, and more open with one's thoughts can obviously be a fulfilling experience, resulting in personal growth.
Potentially negative results include the cheap grace dispensed in night air. Excitement born of intrigue rather than faith tends to be over-indulged and under-digested. In an affair it is easy for a person to experience too much for his present level of tolerance, and hence to overly credit the partner in the affair. Unable to embrace the capacity for such ecstasy, a person easily projects it on to the cohort in his passion. "He/ she does it to/for me."
The resulting dangers are three-fold. Instead of expanding oneself, as excitement based on faith can do, the "given" ecstasy is ultimately deflating. Instead of "I can," the deeper message may be experienced as "I can't, but you can do it for me." Dependency, a second danger, almost inevitably results. Compatriots in affairs commonly lean on one another. While leaning and thusly braced, the feeling may be delightful. But alas the daylight, when the giver is gone: The flat fall is predictable.
Thirdly there is an inherent temptation to omnipotence for both parties. One who can bring ecstasy must indeed be godly. Lovers tend to become synonymous with gods/goddesses. The inherent sin is, I trust, obvious.
The benefits of self-discovery may be more lasting, yet there is a danger here also. Too easily discoveries are assumed to be about the partner only. The affirmation then goes to the other, leaving one ultimately diminished rather than enhanced.
The affirmation of expanded experience is the most positive benefit; yet it too may bear seeds of destruction. Because the darker elements of oneself are experienced so rapidly, assimilation can be extremely difficult. Lacking development of spiritual muscles, many cannot bear the weight of an extended affair. Affairs thus tend to be short-lived because the heat and light are too much for the participants. Soon they must "get out of the kitchen," before their newly found wings are singed beyond healing. Those alert enough to leave at the right moment, and strong enough to face and bear the guilt of the possible hurt inflicted on both the involved and innocent parties, do indeed sometimes rise in distant times ahead--like the Phoenix bird--from their own ashes.
Affairs, as they are often practiced, are thus a common form of spiritual intimacy offering potential positive rewards, but laden with serious inherent dangers.
I would like to find a perfect person who could accept and understand me completely, allowing me to fully be myself in their presence with no thought of consequences. So far I have not found such a person. Some have fleetingly appeared as such, but everyone I've known has turned out to be rather human--that is, limited in certain ways.
Some have accepted me physically but have had difficulty with my emotions. Others allowed my beliefs but had trouble with my behavior. Some have loved my mind but said no to my body. My social values have been welcomed by some who found my religion intolerable. One friend says I am a "pretty good old boy" but that I've "got crazy ideas." Another who loves me mentally and emotionally turns aloof if I become sexual.
And with each person I've found limitations within the broad categories. In the area of thought I've discovered that even my broad-minded friends have certain topics which are taboo for them. One friend who is open to talk about women's liberation closes up to me if I mention gay liberation. Another who accepts my philosophical speculations turns me off when I wonder about Jesus. Certain emotions are obviously threatening to certain persons. One who allows my tears and laughter becomes quite cold when I reveal my jealousy and hate.
Human limitations become an immensely practical issue in being close. My wish to be "loved as I am" completely by one person must reasonably be tempered by the fact that I have no perfect friends--so far as I've been able to determine (which is only fair since my friends find me the same way). Each one can only relate to me honestly within the framework of his own hangups. When I am reasonable I must accept these limitations. I do not extend intimacy when I try to force my liberal views on my conservative friends or to flirt with those who only want to relate to me intellectually.
When I am smarter I accept the fact of human limitations, including my own. And, without abandoning my childish wish for total acceptance, I choose to respect the obvious facts and relate intimately within the given tolerances of each current encounter. Though I may at times push these limits, hoping to expand the borders of our closeness, I do so carefully.
In practice this means that perceiving the reality of individual limitations, I choose, when I have better sense, to speak primarily the language of the one spoken to. If he speaks religious language I talk theology. If he talks weather and politics or gossip and babies, I speak these languages. With one who favors emotions, I relate emotionally. With those who best speak body language, I relate physically. Conversely, with those who fear touching, I am close through words. With those who shun feelings, I relate intellectually.
Thus with some friends I am more verbal and less physical; with others more emotional and less philosophical. With some I can speak through religious language, with others I speak psychology, and still others abhor both these vocabularies. Certain subjects, varying from person to person, are relatively taboo with most of my friends.
To my delight, some acquaintances have greater tolerance for diverse languages, allowing me to be more easily with them. Yet all of us have our limitations. Wise intimacy always takes these into account.
It should be noted that a limitation in language does not necessarily limit one's degree of closeness. Personal intimacy is revealed or expressed through words, feelings, or the body, but not contained in either of these means of communication. We can be close without sounds or touch, or we might have social and sexual intercourse without personal intimacy. Ideally one would utilize each means of communication in being close. In real life, however, most of us have learned to speak better in one way or the other, rather than all three. Some have more practice and are more comfortable using words only. Touching threatens them. Such a person may be quite close spiritually and yet never speak through physical contact. That I, with a friend like this, avoid touching, does not mean that we cannot be just as close as I am with another friend who is comfortable with physical contact but avoids much conversation.
The point is, when I am alert I accept the limitations of my friend's language as well as my own and am as close as I dare through our acceptable means of communication. I do not confuse the medium with the message, such as touch with closeness, assuming we cannot be truly close because either of us is uncomfortable with physical contact. Instead I seek our most functional languages and get near through them. With one friend that avenue is primarily through eye contact. She is essentially nonverbal and would run like a frightened doe if I touched her. Yet we have shared more intimacy looking into each other's eyes than a thousand conversations might have brought.
Although I may wish for every avenue of communication--that is, every one I feel safe with--in each encounter, I do well to remember that intimacy is the main issue, not the means of communication.
There are no unbreakable rules for intimacy, no how-to-do-its which apply in every situation. Even the most universal of principles may become the exception rather than the rule in a particular relationship. The following rules of thumb are, therefore, only guidelines which may be useful while one learns to live closely without them or any others.
1. Practice tolerance for excitement. Learn to contain the power of being without expressing or dissipating it in any way.
2. Learn to keep significant secrets even from those closest to you, so that your sharing may be without burden.
3. Speak "I" language primarily; seldom say "you" when you are close.
4. Practice giving anonymous gifts so you can give a present to a friend with no strings attached.
5. Learn to be alone so that your being together is in no measure an escape from being apart.
6. Develop independence so that closeness is not a false name for dependency and you can patiently enjoy the time when your friend needs to be away.
7. Learn to be sexual without acting it out so that your physical intercourse is as appropriate as your social intercourse.
8. Practice silence together. Communion without words may surpass even the intimacy of heart-to-heart talk.
9. Do not rush to a hurting friend lest you unwittingly be transformed into a savior. Friends can be close; a savior and a savee only appear to be.
10. Trust God in the presence of each intimate other; never trust the other himself.
11. Share your pain and sorrow but do not give either away. Your friend has enough of his own and you will need yours to teach you joy and empathy.
12. Play fun games as often as you both choose, but never compete seriously with a friend.
13. Learn to listen through your friends words, hearing his eyes more than his mouth. Take each message at face value, but never leave one there.
14. Balance all time together with at least ten times as much apart. A little intimacy goes a long way.
Near the end of his two-month walk through Grand Canyon, Colin Fletcher wrote: There is a powerful human compulsion to leave things tied up in neat little bundles. But every journey except your last has an open end. And any journey of value is above all a chapter in a personal odyssey. Its end is not so much a goal attained as another point in a continuing process. And the important thing at the end of a journey--or of a book--is to keep moving forward, refreshed, with as little pause as possible.
This is my goal for myself. I could not, even if I tried, wrap up this subject in a "neat little bundle." I have paused in my own pilgrimage to record some things I see; now I shall move back into the refreshing process of doing them--when I can. I invite you also.