Both closeness and intimacy are vital ingredients to a sustained healthy connection. Often we hear these terms used in reference to relationships as though they are the same. But in fact, they refer to different facets of our connections with others.
Closeness has to do with our experience of feeling drawn towards another person, and the expression of that feeling. We can have feelings of infatuation, passionate desire towards someone we have only recently met. We may yearn for closeness—wanting to be physically close or near someone we care about. In closeness, we draw together. Examples of closeness on a larger scale include: responses of communities pulling together after a natural disaster, or fans congregating in support of their favorite sports team. Intimacy is related but different. It has to do with the experience of knowing another person and being known by him/her. Intimacy is all about your knowledge and understanding of a person, and the degree to which that person knows you in return. Intimacy continually develops as we mutually share about ourselves and are open to receiving others’ sharing in a relationship. This distinction between intimacy and closeness is important because you could have a relational connection with someone where you spend a great deal of time together (closeness) but do not really know each other (lack of intimacy)—or perhaps that you stop knowing each other because you have been around each other for a time and feel familiarity “fills in the blanks”.
Familiarity is really the name we give to something when we begin to make assumptions. The wonderful thing about familiarity a relationship is that it can provide a sense of comfort, predictability, and ease in a relationship. This is true of any kind of connection with someone, not just a romantic relationship. For example, office workers, sports teams, and emergency response personnel thrive on the predictability that comes with familiarity. But familiarity’s assumptions also bring with them a less visible problem: we cease intimacy. In other words, we no longer are curious because we feel we “know” the other person. The problem here is that none of us are static beings—who you and I are now is different from last week, last month, last year—even though many things are still the same. In relationships, it’s important to continue getting to know your partner. Another aspect to intimacy is that knowing someone also means knowing things about your partner that are hard to hear, or that trigger some of your own frustrations or disappointments. But true intimacy is knowing another person as who he/she is, a complex being, not just a simplified image that we may hold of the person, or latch on to because it is safer or more pleasing. So, in this sense, intimacy is vulnerable, intimacy is joyous, intimacy is risky, intimacy is truth, and intimacy is the basis of respect and love, because we cannot fully love someone who we do not know.
Now that you know about the difference of these ideas, in my next blog update, I will be sharing with you some tips on how to build greater closeness and intimacy with those around you.