You hear it on talk shows. It’s mentioned in every romantic comedy at least a trillion times. And it’s something we men have been told we have a problem with since the dawn of time. It’s intimacy, of course. I recently attended a class on “developing deeper intimacy in our relationships,” a proposition that both intrigued me and, as it would for most men, scared the life out of me.
It met once a week for four weeks. As soon as I entered the classroom for the first time, I could see that I’d be one of just two males in the class—pretty good, actually, considering I had expected to be the only one. The ages ranged from early 20s to mid-50s. The class would be led by Dr. Jeffrey Rubin, author of The Art of Flourishing and Meditative Psychotherapy, among other books. Rubin intrigued me because he is reminiscent of my own spiritual mentor, Dr. Wayne Dyer. After introducing himself he led us in a guided meditation, which he would continue to do at the start of every class. Just being in that space with those people, sharing that practice, geared us up for a better sense of self and openness, which is fundamental for intimacy.
One of the first things I learned is that intimacy is the culmination of self-care. When I heard that, something clicked. Could longtime problems with developing intimacy stem from difficulty with our own self-worth? As the classes progressed, it became clear to most of us that it did.
Dr. Rubin spelled out the ten characteristics that need to be present in order for intimacy to occur:
- Shared values
He made engaging use of metaphors and society to explain why intimacy can sometimes be hard to grasp. One such metaphor is seeing intimacy as a garden: it needs care and it needs to be maintained or it will die. He would often note the societal pressures we face on a daily basis—having things how we want, when we want—and how that lends itself to rigidity when dealing with another person. He even gave his own example about noticing his impatience when attempting to download an on-demand movie, realizing how ridiculous that was when, years ago, we never even had that option.
Dr. Rubin in weeks two and three expanded on this notion of intimacy being the culmination of self-care by having us identify our own individual obstacles to intimacy, following up with how to overcome those obstacles. Once again using the art of the metaphor, Rubin spoke of our childhood emotional injuries and how the “splints” that we needed as a way of protecting ourselves, if kept on for too long, become the very thing that prevents us from getting intimately close to people in our adult lives.
Now that we had defined intimacy, it was all about improving the relationship with yourself, which in turn will improve relations with others. The key is increasing inner space—the sense of openness one often feels, for example, after an emotionally draining relationship, as if a weight has been lifted off your shoulders.
Some of the ways to expand inner space that Dr. Rubin suggested include yoga, meditation, even physically clearing/cleaning out your home. I can speak for myself in saying that I have genuinely experienced an expansion of my own inner space by doing all of these. Even though I didn’t have a name for it at the time, I definitely felt the difference. It’s a moment of clarity, ease, and genuine happiness. And if you work daily on it, it can lead to sustainable happiness, which gives you a great shot at being a better, more intimate partner to another.
As we moved to the fourth and final class, we started to get more personal. Being a big talker, I chatted openly about my reasons for being there: I wanted to take an honest look at how I have stood in my own way of intimacy in nearly all my past relationships, and I wanted to get better at differentiating whether I’m dating someone who might not be right for me versus running because of fear of intimacy. That last is probably the question I’ve asked myself the most in the past year, and the one whose answer has eluded me.
And how do you tell whether a person is right for you? Sure, you can say to yourself, “Just trust your heart,” but we all know hearts can mislead. Rather, Dr. Rubin encouraged us all to focus on the following questions when seeking a partner for a long-term relationship:
- Are they interested in intimacy?
- Are they committed to working on themselves?
- Are they focused on respect and reciprocation?
- Do they have a healthy sense of entitlement, i.e., humble versus self-serving?
- Are they conscious and protective of their own healthy boundaries?
I truly appreciated each and every one of these questions, and realized I had never asked them of myself or a potential girlfriend before. Amazing how those five questions alone change your thinking about relationships!
What I learned in those four sessions is that developing and cultivating intimacy isn’t a small thing—it’s everything. It was clear to me that I had never truly experienced it before. I have great friends, an awesome job, and I’m in the best shape of my life. Yet having a true and meaningful relationship had escaped me. I knew that the more I deepened the relationship with myself, the better foundation I would be building for finding a great partner to build an exceptional relationship with. I had my doubts, as I have had in the past, about whether I truly deserve such happiness, but I was reminded while reading an excerpt from Wayne Dyer that “you don’t attract what you want, you attract what you are.”
We may not be responsible for where our fear has come from, but we are indeed responsible for what we do about it. Perhaps there was a lack of intimacy between your parents, or perhaps you caught this fear unconsciously from someone you’ve dated. Regardless of where you learned to fear intimacy, the point is you can do something about it. I highly recommend The Art of Flourishing by Dr. Jeffrey Rubin, which includes all the lessons covered in his 4-week class, and much more. You can also check out Dr. Jeffrey Rubin’s website for information about his other books and upcoming workshops.