Because I am an attorney, I believe words mean things. So, before I discuss an issue, I typically want to start by defining what it is I am discussing.
How is intimacy defined?
Intimacy is a bond formed between people or animals (but I confine this discussion to people) that is physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, or experiential. When two people are intimate, they have formed some type of bond in one or more of these areas.
Now that we have defined intimacy, let’s discuss how it is created at the lowest level. To borrow an idea from the paragon simple self-understanding, Tony Robbins, the undeniable conclusion is that proximity is the only necessary ingredient to create intimacy. Even willfulness is unnecessary! Just take a moment to contemplate the ramifications of the fact that willfulness is unnecessary to create intimacy.
How does this unwelcome intimacy happen? Well, captives may unwillingly form an experiential bond with their captors. This phenomenon is so common its name has entered the common vernacular, “Stockholm Syndrome.” Intimacy for people experiencing Stockholm Syndrome is created against any conscious desire on the part of the captive. Also, consider the so-called, “oldest profession,” where sexual intimacy is exchanged for payment, thereby creating intimacy even though presumably the participants would prefer to avoid this. This minimum level of intimacy may be described as negative in its impact on individuals. However, unwilling positive intimacy can also be created, perhaps between coworkers.
We don’t want to focus on negative intimacy, so what is required to create a positive and beneficial intimacy? The addition of willingness to proximity creates a much more positive and beneficial intimacy. People may choose to be intimate for a variety of reasons. We start making friends at the earliest of ages out of a desire for intimacy in and of itself. At a traditional workplace, employees form bonds with employers in order to create a mutually beneficial economy, which results in intellectual and experiential intimacy. People form intimate relationships and formalize their intimacy with a marriage. In these examples, people desire to create intimacy for the different kinds of benefits they believe they will glean from it.
Finally, there is a high level of positive intimacy. This high level requires proximity, willingness, and intentional vulnerability. This high level of intimacy can be found in close friendship, family, marriage, mentor/mentee, brothers-in-arms, etc… In these relationships, people create powerful synergy by forming bonds through intentional vulnerability, extended proximity, and a willing commitment to the process. The results lift the human spirit and form teams that exemplify the highest levels of human achievement.
But what about trust? Where does trust fit into this equation?
First, where does the Bible stand on trusting people? Does the bible tell us to put our trust in people? I think not. Does God trust us? I do not think so. Yet, He is intimate with us. Consider the powerful implications of the fact that Jesus chooses to be intimate with us despite our propensity to continually greave him, disappoint him, anger him, disobey him, and abandon him. I believe that Jesus’ relationship with us should inform our relationship with others and serve as a model.
Next, can we imitate Jesus’ example and be intimate with a person who is totally untrustworthy? Yes! Because intimacy requires vulnerability, not trust. Intimacy requires a person to accept the risk that the person with whom they are being intimate may hurt them. Therefore, the highest level of positive intimacy depends on risk tolerance, not trust. Risk, or one’s perception of it, is decreased when a person appears to be trustworthy. This risk reduction provides the perception of security in which to be vulnerable. And as we have discussed, vulnerability leads to intimacy.
Trust, as it relates to intimacy, is the perception that the risk of vulnerability is acceptable. The greater the trust (perception of lack of risk) the easier it is to be comfortable being vulnerable. The greater a person’s comfort level, the greater their vulnerability is likely to be. Increased vulnerability is likely to engender a perception on the part of the other person that reciprocal vulnerability is a low-risk proposition. This cycle produces mutually increasing trust and accompanying vulnerability, which in turn increases the possibility for heightened positive intimacy.
Finally, if trust is a prerequisite to intimacy, that allows a trustworthy person to blame a lack of intimacy on a counterpart that is untrustworthy. This is a prevision of Christian values, but even for the purely secular, it is an abdication of personal responsibility. My obligation to be transparent and vulnerable does not depend on another’s trustworthiness, what they may do or not do. There is a moral obligation to be as vulnerable and transparent as propriety allows regardless of the recipient’s worthiness or lack thereof.
There are some big takeaways here. We should be careful in whose proximity we are, lest we become intimate with the wrong sort of people. We should be willing and venerable in order to create the most positive of relationships. We should be ready to be hurt; and we should develop mental toughness so that when people disappoint us, we can recover. We must have grace with others; because as humans, we all do things we wish we hadn’t done. Trust does play a part in relationships. Particularly, we can grow a relationship by being trustworthy! What a wonderful gift that can be to a partner, the assurance that their venerability will not be used against them but instead will consistently be rewarded.
If you disagree (or maybe even if you agree) with me or have other thoughts on the issue, I would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment or send me an e-mail. I’d love to hear your perspective.