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Appropriate Intimacy

Group3aSummary: Intimacy involves closeness in relationships and sharing of your true self. For hearts to bond, affections must be shared. In building healthy relationships, it is important to understand correct principles of both physical and emotional intimacy.

Physical Intimacy

We all have basic emotional needs for affirmation, affection, attention, and approval. If these needs were not met as you grew up, deficits were created, and as you instinctively searched for ways to meet the emotional needs, at some point they may have become sexualized. If this is the case with you, the solution now is to back out of the sexual feelings, but not to the point of emotional indifference. You need to find ways to appropriately express your affections.

This can be tricky for men because male affection is limited in contemporary Western culture. While women friends may hug each other upon greeting, men usually shake hands. Two women may even hold hands at particularly emotional times, while it is out of the norm in many cultures for two men to do the same. For some men, this arms-length intimacy is sufficient for their needs, while other men wish they could express more affection but are held back by cultural norms. It is interesting to note that when men’s defenses are down (such as when they are drunk) or when they are particularly excited (such as at the winning score at a sports event), they tend to be all over each other, hugging and touching. Cultural norms guide a lot of what we do.

Traveling in different countries, it is easy to note different cultural norms that guide the physical expression of intimacy. In some cultures, men show more affection with each other by greeting each other with a kiss or by holding hands. These customs may allow men to more easily meet their needs for physical affection and affirmation from other men. In some countries, males spend a great deal of time together in bonding activities. For them, it is not a social taboo to touch another man, to hold hands in particularly emotional moments, or to walk down the street with an arm around the other’s shoulder. This level of male companionship can be healthy if handled appropriately. It may be helpful for you to think through cultural norms and establish your own personal boundaries.

Roger explained, “When I began to really watch the men around my office, I was surprised to realize I was the least physical man in the office. I began to notice when men touched each other and I tried to follow their lead.”

Emotional Intimacy

Emotional intimacy includes the sharing of your personal thoughts and feelings. Emotional intimacy increases the more you disclose yourself to others. Because of the shame you may have felt, you may have learned to hide your true self from others, and maybe even from yourself. Once you come to understand and appreciate who you really are, you owe it to yourself to share that person with others. When you do, you will be in a position to support each other. Life and love are meaningless if they are not shared and those who find a way to open up with each other can be more emotionally healthy.

Ben explained, “Once I started opening up to friends, for the first time in my life I no longer felt like I was unacceptable because I started to find out that people could know everything about me and still want to be my friend. In fact, through the sharing of deep emotions, I gained some of my closest friends, and I continue to seek such relationships. It seems that the value and impact of the friendship is directly proportional to the emotional investment I make. The more I share and trust, the more sharing and trusting I receive—and I think there is more value in that simple truth than most of the things I learned in college or since.”

How to Meet Your Needs for Intimacy

All your needs for intimacy will not be met perfectly all the time. There will be some disappointment. Don’t become discouraged and stop trying to build relationships when you become disappointed. Disappointment does not mean rejection. Be confident in the fact that other people give you their time, even though you may wish they would give you more attention or verbal or physical signs of affection. Learn to accept their intangible forms of affirmation. Remember that most men bond by doing things rather than talking about things. If another man is spending time with you doing things, recognize he is saying that you are worth spending time with. His smile may mean the same as a hug.

To better understand how men express themselves, you may want to read the book Men are from Mars; Women are from Venus by John Gray or He: Understanding Masculine Psychology by Robert A. Johnson.