Intimacy is an elusive word.
You think you’re intimate if you love someone. Not so. You think you’re intimate if you’re physically connected to someone. Not necessarily so.
The definition of intimacy is “a close personal relationship,” but that seems lacking to me for what I truly think it means. I think it means to commit and give yourself over in a way that is deep and authentic. The most deep and the most authentic. It’s when you don’t hold back; you don’t reserve, preserve or protect yourself. You give yourself over in the most complete way you can – with un-abandon. Obviously, you could never do that with anyone but the closest and most trusted person.
I have participated in a Leadership Intensive course twice. I did it the first time with a very close, long term friend. Thank goodness, since I describe it in hindsight as “scared straight.” It was the most intense, scary thing I had ever done. From the course leader, I was told I had no feeling from the neck down, that I was so controlled that I probably couldn’t even recognize my feelings when they occurred, that I lived exclusively in my head and not my physical body.
I was offended. And then I thought –well, that was what I was told to be. I had worked at it. It was succeeding in the male-dominated field I chose. I did it intentionally and with lots of practice and effort. I thought that was what I was supposed to do as I got older -- get rid of emotion, buck up, say and do the hard thing.
I was brought to the abyss in my first session at the Leadership Intensive when I was told my children would mimic my energy…which sadly, was a frightening thought to me. That was the last thing I wanted. My energy can be intense. There are certain places in my life where my intensity has allowed me to succeed; it’s been a positive. But when I look at it with clarity, it’s not something I would wish on my children.
This picture of me from that Leadership Intensive that I had not seen or thought about myself, and then my foray into motherhood, showed me something new. Motherhood opened up my locked self and taught me intimacy.
It’s not that I’ve not been in love or not had deep and long term friendships. It’s not that I haven’t given myself over to someone else; I have. But what I’ve learned is that I’ve not been truly intimate with anyone but my children because with children, there is no choice. I cannot hold back. I cannot disconnect or watch from the sidelines. The beauty and most frightening thing about motherhood for me has been to become intensely intimate with my children, with absolute abandon and no control.
“Wearing your heart on your sleeve” is the phrase that I identify most with motherhood. I feel everything about my children more deeply and with more emotion than with any other aspect in my life – my own family, growing up, my marriage, my career, my friendships, my own emotions.
I’ve said having children has made me more human. Sounds odd, right? Not so. I’m more human because I’m a feeling, emotional being with no control over those feelings. And I’ve learned at midlife that that is actually a great way of being, a more intimate, authentic, human way of being. My children have given me something I never could have found or discovered without them – intimacy.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Photo: 2007 Mooselookmeguntic Lake, Rangeley, ME