Sex, of course, is one of the most primal ways of being intimate with your significant other, but then again, clichés exist for a reason.
I could say true intimacy is holding hands and watching the sun set behind cotton candy clouds, or staring into each other’s eyes as a slow song plays in the background, or being able to kiss them passionately, but in a thoroughly non-sexual way.
Today, however, you can’t judge someone else’s relationship, or gauge their level of involvement on the things they do as a couple. Polyamory and open marriages, threesomes and swinging as a regular activity for couples who’ve been together for years on end – everyone is try-sexual, we make our own rules.
However, what goes unsaid is that sex is easy. It doesn’t take much to focus on your body and it’s needs, to look at it as the means to an end rather than an end in itself. So what really does intimacy mean to us these days?
Drawing on my own experience with my boyfriend, I can say to a certainty that for me, nothing screams “I trust you” more than being able to go to the washroom – while your partner is standing outside and talking to you about something inconsequential – and actually managing to do the job.
Of course, being able to have conversations about nothing in particular is beautiful in itself too. Or not having conversations at all. Intimacy is bubbles of space punctuated by the distant sounds of dogs barking or the crinkle of paper or quiet breathing – when two individuals exist in perfect harmony, in sync with each other and still not feeling the need to prattle on about something or other.
It’s special to find someone you can share your hopes and dreams and ambitions with, but it is also pretty damn amazing to be able to shut down, unwind, and be perfectly still with someone.
Intimacy looks an awful lot like inaction too. It can be as easy as lying in bed with morning breath and not feeling the need to run out and clean up and add a dash of lipgloss for good measure.
Milestones, for a few of my friends, have been the times they went without make up, and didn’t feel self-conscious. Not because they’d grown complacent, but because they knew that the length of their eyelashes truly didn’t matter as much as their warmth in their eyes did.
Then come the icky things you’d reserve for the privacy of your own house. Like you know, shaving your legs or doing your laundry or even just unashamedly eating an entire carton of ice cream by yourself. It isn’t as much about not worrying about grossing your partner out, as it is about knowing that it doesn’t and won’t drive them away from you.
Vulnerability is the one of the biggest signs of comfort and intimacy, but it is so subjective.
While it does involves splitting you soul open and laying bare all and each of the monsters in your head, it also means listening to your partner with your eyes and your and your touch and your heart. My grandparents had this beautiful synchronized pattern at the breakfast table, each morning – my grandmother would make tea, and by then, my grandfather would make sure the toast was buttered. She’d begin to push her chair back for something, and with unerring precision, he’d already have it ready to hand over to her with a smile. She’d read out loud from the Marathi newspaper, and he’d do the same with the English ones.
It was an unshakeable pattern of easy familiarity, but he always broke the monotony with casual compliments that made her fumble just for instant, even after more than 40 years together.
But perhaps the purest form of intimacy is that which transcends the bounds of sexuality in an honest physical display of affection – devoid of expectations of it leading to sex, without the burden of having to quantify it or return the favor in the future.
If you can welcome your partner home from a long, hard day at work, share the meal they got you from the usual Chinese takeaway, give them a massage or hold them close as they crib about their horrible boss, and with all your passion and longing and belonging, listen to their breathing quiet down as they fall asleep, you know you’re truly intimate.