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I’ve done tons of therapy in my lifetime. I started in my thirties when my marriage was falling apart. Then 100 plus hours to meet requirements while I was going through therapy school. Then I had a full practice and started getting really busy. I mean lazy. Life happened. Basically lots of excuses.
You’re supposed to see a therapist when you’re a therapist but I’ll be honest, many don’t. Including myself. Well, at least not consistently. I also started dating someone recently so I thought it would be a good time to get back into the room. Process sh*t. Because things come up when you date someone and it’s a great opportunity to turn it into learning. I believe the beginning of a relationship and the expiration of a relationship are the richest soil for growth. Assuming you actually process and do the work.
Anyway, I f*cking love therapy with a capital F. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a therapist. Sip coffee and talk about your life and problems while the other person makes it completely about you for fifty minutes? Are you kidding me?! That’s called being on the right side of a lopsided friendship. Yes, it can be expensive. But if you have insurance, milk that sh*t. If you don’t, tell yourself you’re putting 300 dollars aside monthly for your mental health and don’t evaluate each session or you’ll stop. Therapy is cumulative. Some sessions are going to be life-changing and you’ll walk out skipping. And others will drag and you’ll wonder what else you could have bought with that hundy. But I don’t believe any session is a waste. They build on each other. And sometimes, it’s not even about what’s said during the session. It’s the actual relationship with your therapist that can be healing. For example, if you’ve only been in toxic relationships most of your life, the safe space your therapist provides gives you a corrective therapeutic experience. You exercise muscles you haven’t before. But ultimately, therapy is about self-understanding. Without it, we are all just walking knee jerks. Therapy helps you open the hood of you so you can see how everything works. Imagine driving a car that doesn’t run well but you never open the hood. You just pound the steering wheel thinking it’s going to fix itself. That’s how most of us live. There is no true self-betterment without self-understanding. It’s everything. Realizing why you do what you do, think about how you think, is growth soil.
So let’s talk about my first back to therapy session. I tell people I was raised by pop culture. Because my parents were never home. They were always at work. They also didn’t give me much emotional milk. “You’re valuable. You’re worthy. You’re good. We love you”. They’re from a different generation. They showed love in other ways. Through sugar cereal and designer jeans. But like all of our parents, they did the best they could with what they had. So I got my nurturing from the neighborhood kids. But in order to have friends, you had to be cool. And in order to be cool, you had to do cool stuff. Thank God I was coordinated. I think that’s why friends have always mattered so much to me. They became the parents I never had. They give me the emotional milk I was deprived of. Or a version of it.
My new therapist is mostly Psychodynamic, which basically means helping the client turn the unconscious conscious, and exploring childhood experiences that shape our adult personality. I think subconsciously that’s why I care so much what my friends think. What I drive. What I wear. Who I date. I mean on a deeper subconscious level. Not something I am aware of on the surface. It’s deep-rooted. It’s like how many try to please and be perfect for their parents. I actually have no desire to impress my parents. But I do with my friends. It’s the other way around for most.
The other GREATER revelation I had was that maybe I’ve never experienced true healthy adult intimacy. If someone was to ask me if I have, my first response would be of course I have. I’ve been in nothing but relationships most of my life. I’ve experienced all types of intimacy. From high school crushes to marriage. But if I really look at each one, I’m not sure if they were healthy mature adult intimacy. I mean, I’ve experienced strong connection, chemistry, and skin. I’ve experienced love. Losing myself in someone. Hot sex. But I’m not sure if I’ve experienced deep healthy adult intimacy. And I keep saying adult because one can argue that true intimacy is whatever is true for you at the time. High school love can be true intimacy because at that time all those feels are honest to us. But I’m talking adult intimacy, after we learn about codependency and enmeshment and what it really takes to build a healthy relationship.
The idea that at 44, I may not have experienced true healthy adult intimacy blows my mind. Like the surprise ending of The Sixth Sense when you realize Bruce Willis was dead the entire time.
So then the next question is what exactly does true healthy adult intimacy look like?
And so my journey begins…
Here’s what I know so far.
First, both people have to have some tools. Self-awareness. Ability to be metacognitive. Process their feelings. Express themselves. Communicate. Look under their hood. Have their own lives. Without this, healthy goes out the window. So this means all my relationships before about age thirty-four were not truly healthy adult relationships, because I was lacking tools. And / or she was.
Then I examined my relationships post mid-thirties and they were good and powerful but I’m not sure if I experienced true adult intimacy. Not that anything was wrong with the relationships or the other person. It’s more about me. I’m not sure if I’ve ever allowed someone to truly love me. Like on a deeper level. And that’s the kicker. The true twist. Maybe I’ve never allowed someone to truly love me. Maybe I don’t know what that looks like because it didn’t’ get it growing up? I don’t know.
I used to think intimacy was simply physical attraction, chemistry, and sex. And it can be when you’re in your teens and twenties. I don’t know if we have the capability to explore more than that at that age. And of course, I’ve learned that intimacy is much more. But now I’m discovering that there are even more layers. I’ve always been a late bloomer and I’m late to the party once again.
I’m going into the physical space with new lenses and a different mindset. It’s not just about skin. I think adult intimacy means to turn your dial to explore and lock it there. The process of exploring, which is never-ending, is what creates intimacy. The slow burn over the bonfire. Using all your senses. Intention and energy behind each touch. Not putting so much weight on the finish. Intimacy is touch.
Not as a gateway but a stand-alone. As self-expression, as if it was a language. Kissing with intention. Purpose. To discover. To know. The kiss is underestimated. Forgotten. A main brush we’ve put aside for specialty brushes that weren’t meant to fill in large spaces of color. Intimacy is kissing.
Not a word I would have used before in regards to intimacy. But it’s huge for me now. What’s the energy of the other person like? Your energy when you’re around him/her? The new energy produced by both of you guys? Is it calm, chaotic, soothing, invigorating? What’s it like? Is it claustrophobic? Or is it milk? Intimacy is energy. Energy is everything.
Conversations. Intellectual stimulation. Idea exchanges. Do you challenge each other mentally? Allow stretch? Shift perspectives without defense and or hurt feelings? Is there brain food? A space for sharpening or is it competition? Intimacy is learning from each other.
Feelings. A safe space that promotes vulnerability and allows, encourages, and validates your daily feels. What’s this space like? Are people being heard? Understood? Validated? Intimacy is swimming in a healthy emotional space.
Beliefs greater than self, than both. Also, the spirit in each other. Because we are all spiritual beings. What’s the dance like between your spirits? The connection you can’t see or explain. Is it strong? Loose? Vague? Growing? Intimacy is a spiritual process.
I think true adult intimacy is a quilt with all of the above patched together, making a blanket that covers both people. This blanket gives us a sense of comfort, safety, and warmth.
And finally what weaves the quit together is –
Is there a shared passion for each other’s stories, direction, bodies, company, and purpose? Is there passion lined in the physical, the kisses, the energy, the mental, the emotional, and spiritual?
I think to experience true adult intimacy, you have to explore these categories but also pull back to have a whole experience instead of measuring parts, as many of us do. A blanket. Not a scarf. This road leads to being deeply loved.
This is what I’m learning so far about adult intimacy. Tomorrow, it may be something entirely different. And that’s the thing about love, it’s a living breathing thing that changes as we change.
What’s your definition of true adult intimacy?
Have you experienced it?
This post was originally published here and is republished with permission from the author.
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