What Intimacy Is
The meaning of intimacy may send a chill up the spines of the men who were conditioned to be lone wolves; the men mentioned above who don’t feel the need for close relationships. Intimacy can feel intimidating because it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with sex, but rather an openness and willingness to be vulnerable with another human being. It doesn’t have to involve a lifelong relationship, but you do need to have a sense of trust and mutual respect. You also must have a connection where you feel safe and accepted, just as you are.
Caveat: not all sex was meant to be intimate, which is why some one-night stands make people feel even lonelier. And while some sex is intimate, you can find intimacy in other areas of life, too. So, don’t make the beginner’s mistake of conflating intimacy and sex—but having both at the same time is even better.
What Intimacy Does
As humans, we are biologically programmed to go through life together. Long ago, when hunting and gathering comprised most of your to-do list, those who lost their group and were alone were almost sure to die. Our daily lives have changed, but our need for companionship has not. The idea that there is strength in numbers remains just as true today as it did in the past.
When you find someone with whom you can let your guard down, you get a unique kind of rest. Intimacy is like the feeling your personality has when you can take off your jockstrap (or tie and dress shoes!) and put on your pajamas—you allow someone to see the essence of you. This feeling can come as quite a relief.
Studies show that, when you have intimacy in your life, you reduce your perception of stress, anxiety, and depression, and you increase your self-esteem and compassion, and you even have better immunity against disease. Going without intimacy and connectedness is as bad for you as smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure, and you are likely to take longer to recover from illness. Intimacy isn’t just a feel-good term you see in self-help books, but a dangerously undervalued life skill that every person needs in order to be a healthy, happy human.
How to Carve Out Space for Intimacy
The social aspects of our lives are slowly being eroded from their status as a necessity to that of a luxury. We can keep in touch with friends via social media, rather than engaging with them in real life. Work slowly moves into all facets of our lives, in some cases hijacking our social lives, too, in the form of work happy hours, work-related parties, client dinners, and other time-sucking activities. This new normal is the reason we’re having a loneliness epidemic, when 60% of Americans report feeling chronic loneliness. Chronic loneliness means that you’ve felt this way for a while, and you know you need more connection.
Tips for Getting Started
There are a few different routes that can help you get out of your funk and back into the social world. If you have friends you can reach out to, do so! Find a regularly scheduled time to hang out so that you don’t forget or get too busy. This can come in the form of a weekly board game night or hitting the gym with your buds after breakfast together. Remember to include activities that don’t involve alcohol, because going out for a night of drinking that no one remembers is not the best path toward intimacy. As long as you routinely make time for it, you’ll see benefits in your mental health.
Meeting with a mental health worker can help, too, if you feel like significant barriers are keeping you from reaching out. You can talk about why you’re feeling isolated and what strategies you could use to get back out there. Working on issues like anxiety and depression may help you return to your social self, but conversely, returning to the social world may help you work on issues like anxiety and depression. You’ll have to do some soul-searching to find out which makes more sense to tackle first.
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Lastly, meeting with a sex worker helps scores of people overcome their lack of intimacy. Sex is just one service provided, but really, affection and companionship is the main thing people seek from sex workers. Sex workers can take you on a practice date if you’re nervous about entering or re-entering the dating scene, but they can also help you learn social skills and build the confidence you need to be a fully self-actualized person. Don’t hesitate to consider this option, especially if you’d like help emerging from a long period of isolation. Sex workers are pros at meeting people and making them feel comfortable enough for intimacy—and they can help you reconnect with yourself, too.