Successfully Seeking Intimacy |

4 min read
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

Source: Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

Wishing to belong—to be a part of some group, to be known and accepted into a fellowship—is a basic human desire. This comes in many forms: a family, a sports team, a civic organization, a culture, a political party, a religious group, and so forth.

But belonging to a group is seldom sufficient to fully satisfy this desire. We want to be appreciated for what we as individuals bring to that group.

One particularly compelling way to be appreciated is to be desired. This might be that an employer desires your technical skills and demonstrates this by providing a raise. A school desires your academic abilities and expresses this by offering you a scholarship. A friend desires your companionship, and this is expressed by invitations to dinner.

Being desired and belonging are not the same thing, but they very often go together.

Being desired when one is deeply known (strengths and flaws laid bare) is the pinnacle of belonging. This is often thought of in terms of romantic relationships. But this is far too limited a context. After all, parents intimately know their children, good friends have intimate platonic knowledge of each other, and within psychotherapy, patients often feel intimately known by their therapist.

Healthy intimacy combines a sense of belonging with a sense of being deeply appreciated and desired. Because healthy intimacy involves being prized despite your flaws and shortcomings, this depth of belonging is rare. It requires building a sturdy foundation of trust, a prerequisite for genuine self-disclosure. This process is risky and, consequently, time-consuming.

Many people, however, try to take shortcuts. They substitute attention and superficial approval for receiving deeply genuine appreciation. These shortcuts include emphasizing one’s sex appeal, or endless boasting about accomplishments, pretentious displays of intellectual prowess or physical strength, and so forth.

The attention garnered through these methods is only a chimera of the deep appreciation that attaches to genuine acceptance and intimacy. The momentary attention given by others may be rewarding, but it is not substantive. Like most quick fixes, it rapidly fades.

What’s worse, these efforts often result in the person being objectified by the very attribute they most emphasized. For example, the woman who uses her sex appeal to win a sense of approval is very likely to end up simply lusted after, rather than being deeply known and appreciated.

Barriers and Solutions

Today’s social media world encourages connection without commitment. Consider Facebook and the ease of having hundreds of “friends,” very few of whom you would wish to confide in. Settling for the superficial appreciation found on social media is seductive. Why work on developing real friendships that require sacrificing your time and energy when you can get dozens of likes by posting a snarky political comment, or heartwarming photos of kittens?

Added to this is the culture that normalizes excessive displays of sexuality, violence, and hedonism. The cultural message is that if you wish to belong, to be accepted, you need to follow suit.

The solution for those seeking genuine connection and intimacy is to be intentional about building relationships. Be selective in who you pour your time and energy into.

That is not to say that you should be stingy with your goodwill and grace. But do be very focused in consciously directing the focus of your interpersonal energies on building relationships with those whom you admire, and trust, and have shown at least an initial appreciation for who you are and what you offer.

Relationships Essential Reads

A great many of the depressed clients with whom I’ve worked lack these types of relationships. This is true even of those who are married, have children, and regularly meet with friends. Almost invariably the missing piece in their life is a sense of intimacy with someone who appreciates them deeply, and wherein this appreciation is expressed as taking delight in their company.

This sort of relationship takes a great deal of work, and risk, to develop. But the rewards are great. Initial attempts often fail. There is a temptation to give up and retreat to the comfort of more superficial relationships.

But what you’ll find, if you persist, is that over time you become better at building these relationships. Each attempt may not meet with success, but each attempt will bring you closer to your goal. And because the desire for this type of relationship is so universal, eventually you are likely to find others with whom you deeply connect and enjoy a profound sense of belonging.

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