A friend used this word recently and I realized that I haven’t poked at the concept. I have used the word, and I believe I have been intimate, but I haven’t really defined the edges.

The secret ingredient to any successful relationship. By definition it is obviously mutual. Wait, a minute… only if it is mutual is it successful. What if intimacy is not mutual, what does it look like to both parties?

On the one side it is constantly being vulnerable, exposed the most tender parts of your soul. There is almost the suggestion of sharing secrets when you are intimate. When successful, both parties hold shared knowledge very carefully. When only one party is intimate then their inner most thoughts and feelings are not secure. They may or may not be disclosed because there is no expectation of any kind of special relationship. It looks very much like an abusive relationship.

On the other side, someone who expresses intimacy is stepping on boundaries. It is like you have discovered a stalker. Your suspicions are immediately in place. What do they want? Why do they want it? How come I’m being dragged into this unwanted relationship? This relationship seems wildly inappropriate and smothering.

How do you move from a good relationship to an intimate relationship? Hmm, slowly. Very slowly!

It starts with transparency, which suggests of sharing secrets or generally unknown factors. We all have a public persona, and relationships can be based upon that persona. You seem to be like able, attractive, and kind. Let’s get to know each other! Then the public persona evaporates like a mist and you are left standing in disheveled clothes, scratching your armpits, and passing gas.

I am not suggesting that openly gross behavior is the path to intimacy. But I am suggesting that the protective walls that we build up must be slowly torn down. It’s a scary process and it must be a joint affair. There are plenty of examples when both people are removing barriers, but one or the other doesn’t see that the removed barriers are equal in weight. This is probably the most significant way that intimacy fails. Both parties are trying, but not in the same mutual fashion.

My wife is very much a fan of “love languages”. It’s the concept that each of us have very specific important ways to communicate. You don’t need to share the same love language, although that is very convenient, but you must be able to translate on the fly. You must know the words and concepts that break through to the inner person. When this happens there is intimacy.

To recap…

1. Establish transparency, be honest and open, pay articulations attention to your goals and aspirations.

2. Learn each other’s love languages. Note areas that are commanded, but pay special attention to those areas that are not common. Become good at using words and actions that are meaningful to the other person.

3. Go slowly. Go very slowly, but show progress. No one likes a stagnant relationship. But nothing terrifies as much as a runaway train, particularly when you are the primary passenger.