Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there is only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
But who is that on the other side of you?
TS Eliot, ‘The Waste Land’
One of most poignant literary exploration of ‘intimacy’ I have encountered is Sally Vickers’ book “The Other Side of You” which explores the meaning of love between friends, spouses and soul mates.
A former Jungian psychoanalyst, Sally Vickers explored the shadow side and the soul’s redemption through love, through the book’s two main characters – Dr David McBride, a psychoanalyst whose spectre of his dead brother remains with him since the brother’s death at 6 years of age, and Elizabeth Cruickshank, a ‘failed suicide’ (David’s client) whose love affair with Thomas Carrington, an art historian was doomed by her inability to accept love. David is the narrator, recalling the brief therapeutic relationship which made him aware of the parallels of his and Elizabeth’s lives – the denial and subsequent recognition of the ‘other side’ of themselves, and their bittersweet experiences of love.
Through the different relationships, intimacy is defined:-
1. Between David and good friend, Gus – “Watching him, I was aware of a sensation which often visited me when I saw Gus, which was that with him I was safe from harm… This, it came to me, in an access of gratitude…was why I loved him.” – intimacy is trust and psychological safety.
2. Between David and Elizabeth – “It is said that when we touch pitch we are defiled. But when we touch, or are touched by, another’s story, that also affects our being, and more radically.” – intimacy is compassion. It is soul connection – being attendant to and ‘seeing’ the other – as Elizabeth wrote to David, “Were not our hearts burning within us?” and demonstrated through David’s willingness to take on himself for Elizabeth.
3. Between Elizabeth and Thomas – intimacy is characterized by the “air of not-quite-belonging”, of being transported to an alien yet exciting place, of sexual attraction and tension. Most significantly, it is a soul connection which Elizabeth described “[I]t was as if I were meeting someone whom I had known intimately and from whom I had been separated for a very long time”. As David said, “[W]e all long for someone with whom we are able to share our peculiar burdens of being alive”.
Intimacy is the recognition and acceptance of “the other side of you” – our shadow. As Elizabeth states “[I]t was as if we knew each other from way back…I mean really knew…deep down things…you don’t know yourself, until you meet someone who knows them for you. It was the effortless knowing and being known” and “utterly and unquestioningly liked for it.”
We struggle with intimacy because it requires us to put down our defences, to be vulnerable, to expose our whole self even when suspecting of possibly pain and hurt. Courage is a tough act.
Intimacy also necessitates trust and faith – in ourselves that we are lovable and in the other that they love us unreservedly.
Intimacy also requires effort – engaging the spirit and soul and never guaranteed of a positive outcome. The development and maintenance of intimacy can be unpleasant and painful at times when it compels self-and-other reflection.
Thus, to have intimacy in our relationships requires us,
- To hold and support each other, not just physically but also emotionally and psychologically,
- To have faith in each other to honestly love
- To trust yourself to be worthy of love,
- To be courageous in order to be vulnerable,
- To give of yourself, quoting Andreas Salome, “[I]t’s in giving yourself that you possess yourself”
- To find means of uniting “through sheer reciprocal joy in the other’s being”.
As an aside, when we are in a truly intimate romantic relationship, sex is great! Where intimacy informs and is the basis of sex, it becomes a spiritual and soulful experience. And where intimacy is absent, sex is just sex, with no greater meaning and fulfillment beyond the physical.
Intimacy is soul work that requires commitment and perseverance beyond prevailing cultural and societal expectations.
So my questions to you in this are – do you have intimacy in your relationships? What does intimacy look like in your relationship, romantic or otherwise?
Sculpture ‘Intimacy in bronze’ by Boris Kramer
Painting ‘The Kiss’ by Gustav Klimt
© 2014 Copyright reserved. The author asserts her moral and legal rights over this work.