Hearts and flowers, chocolate and greeting cards, Valentine's day is here and the commercial trappings of "romance" are everywhere. From OpenTable prompting you to make reservations for Feb 14th to Victoria's Secret flooding your inbox, it's clear that we're supposed to be in love with love in February. And, hey, I love a great romantic gesture as much as the next girl, but what I really value in my intimate relationship is just that - intimacy.
Our culture abounds with stories, books, films, memes about romance, but what is that really? First, we have the rom coms: boy meets girl, they like each other, a series of comic misunderstandings ensues and they either a) work out the misunderstandings and decide to begin a relationship, or b) one of them turns out to be an asshole, in which case the other turns to the friend who has "been there all along" and they decide to begin a relationship. I'm a child of the 80s and I grew up waiting for the perfect on-screen romance to happen to me. Which obviously led to ridiculous choices in my early romantic life....not to mention some hideous fashion mistakes.
On the flip side, we have the romantic tragedy. These manipulative feasts for the senses are designed to generate Kleenex sales. These are the stories of love thwarted: by death, by circumstance, by misunderstandings that do not get miraculously solved by the final curtain. Again, as a true romantic, I've secretly always wanted to meet my beloved at the top of the Empire State Building (preferably without the tragic accident on the way). The romantic tragedy is dependent on the end of a relationship in the same way that the rom com is dependent on the beginning of one. But, what about the middle? What about the meat, majority, foundation of what a truly intimate relationship consists of?
The fact is that the stories about the beginnings and ends of intimate relationships are easy to capture. They can be packed full of accessible emotions and themes that are easily expressed and conveyed: attraction, lust, jealousy, betrayal, longing, loss, uncertainty. This feast at the emotional entertainment buffet, however, only represents the most external edges of a truly intimate relationship. While this can be satisfying as entertainment, placing these expectations on actual relationships in the real world is like expecting to be able to thrive on a diet that contains flavor, but no substance. Intimacy is that substance, and without it a relationship is just a pretty (or not-so-pretty) shell.
So what does a truly intimate relationship look like and why is it so rarely captured for our entertainment? The simplest answer is also the most obvious: a relationship that is actually intimate exists between two people and is understood by those two people alone. It's not staged for public consumption.
So where's the fun in that? There's no drama! - you might ask (I know I did - for years). Then I learned to get real, really real, with both myself and my partner. It was hard and scary, but it turned a good relationship into an amazing one.
Here's what I learned: true intimacy gives us the ability to be truly who we are in the presence of another person. It allows us to love and be loved in a way that isn't about possession or dependency, but rather about authenticity and freedom. Real intimacy only comes when we are brave enough to see ourselves, and let someone else really see us too. It takes courage to get there, and genuine trust to stay there but it's a powerful experience. Intimacy is a decision that we have to make over and over again, but it is also immensely rewarding. Even if the relationship doesn't last forever, and let's face it, not every relationship does, the journey itself makes it worth it.
So, as we move through this season of romance, buy some flowers, eat some chocolate, maybe put on some racy lingerie, but strive for some intimacy too. Share more of yourself, and really see your partner (or the partner you may be looking for). It makes the feast of life much more satisfying.
Happy Valentine's Day!