Submitted by: Erica Manfred
Intimate connection = Soul Mate
The idea of soul mates wasn’t much in vogue when I was doing personals dating back in the 70s. Now it has become a cliché, and like all clichés has just about lost its meaning.
My ex-therapist Jim, who is one of the wisest people I’ve ever known, used D.H.Lawrence’s books for illustrations of what love was about. He described one of Lawrence’s couples as having a deep sexual connection that was always there and that was reflected in the way they touched each other, looked at each other, and presented themselves to the world as inseparable.
Lawrence thought sex was the root of our connectedness to a mate. Of course he was a male chauvinist pig, but he did have a couple of good ideas. Plus he chose a brilliant, feisty, highly independent woman as his mate, not a wilting lily, which gives him credibility in my book.
I do believe that there is such a thing as a soul connection, but it’s pretty mysterious because it’s different for each couple. The more levels on which two people connect, the deeper their union becomes. The soul level is the most mysterious, maybe it even has to do with knowing each other in past lives (call me flaky I don’t care). And there is a power balance that must be maintained or the whole thing falls apart.
What was missing from my marriage—and from most people’s failed marriages–is intimacy—another mystery. I thought we were intimate but I was mistaking common intellectual interests, values, sense of humor, and the same outlook on life for intimacy.
Jim described intimacy to me for an article I wrote over 20 years ago—long before I even met my ex husband. If I’d looked at it before I married him I might not be divorced today:
Intimacy has become a psychological buzzword. What exactly is this elusive quality called intimacy? Why is it so difficult to find? Why is our longing for it so mixed with fear?
For lovers intimacy means nothing more than good, direct communication in the context of a sexual relationship. This sounds almost simplistic but the problems in maintaining such communication can be formidable. Intimacy is possible only between two people who have a strongly felt and accurate sense of who they are—people who intuitively feel OK about themselves (this left out me and Ira)
Most of us are hiding something, and we are terrified of being found out. When we search for intimacy, we’re trying to have verified the part of ourselves that we like the best while ignoring and repudiating the part we secretly hate. But intimacy demands that, over time, all of a person be shared with all of another person. It’s not a question of saying everything but of not hiding anything.
This includes sharing our weakest, shakiest aspects—ways in which we don’t feel as good about ourselves as we’d like the world to think we do. Of course, sharing our insecurities with someone else means sharing them with ourselves. And many people find it enormously difficult to look at themselves squarely and face how scared they feel inside. Instead, most people keep trying to find verification of that false version of themselves.
The more narrowly and neurotically focused we are, and the more incomplete we feel, the more we mistakenly believe that intimacy is the answer to identity.
Substituting sex for intimacy
Sex and intimacy tend to get confused in our society where sex is often used as a cheap substitute for intimacy. Sex doesn’t take all that much time and effort, and it allows the partners to fantasize a sense of closeness that doesn’t really exist. In a love relationship sex can deepen what is there but can’t create what isn’t there.
You can have an active sex life without intimacy and you can have an intimate relationship without sex. Sex and intimacy are often not connected at all. Intimacy is possible between any two people who care about each other. What must be there is the willingness to reveal one’s true self, mutual trust and understanding, the sharing of feelings and experiences, the continuity of a relationship that has lasted over time.
For a nation used to working hard for rewards, it is ironic that we expect intimacy to materialize instantly and effortlessly. It takes both time and effort. Two people need months or even years to achieve clarity of communication, a sense of belonging, a sharing of events and time.
Intimacy takes a lot of practice before it becomes second nature. An analogy is watching an Olympic race. When you see the winning runner win, you get an instant sense of the runner’s exhilaration. If you identify with the runner, it’s almost as though you’ve won the race yourself. But you haven’t. She has. And in order to win she’s gone through a lot of changes and continuous self-discipline. There’s no avoiding the process to get the results in athletics. Like any other worthy endeavor, achieving true intimacy takes consistent hard work.
Erica Manfred is the author of He’s History You’re Not, Surviving Divorce After 40. She has written for Cosmopolitan, New York Times Magazine, Ms., Parenting, Women’s Day, and Bottom Line/Personal. She currently runs a women’s divorce support group in her hometown of Woodstock, New York.