This is part 2 of a series in which I am reflecting on intimacy. In my first post I shared about an intimate experience I had with 150 people. Not exactly the usual definition of intimacy.
Another way I have been thinking about intimacy is in relation to a couple of dear friends I have had over the years. In particular, my dearest college buddy. Let’s call her Clover.
Clover and I “dated” in college. She called it that a few years ago and it stuck.We weren’t smooching buddies but we pretty much did everything else together – at least as much as was feasible. Sesame whole wheat waffles at Sunlight Cafe? Off we’d go. Coffee and then class? We’d wander in with to go cups in hand. Study in the library, 3rd floor? Check. Go to Wright’s 24 hour restaurant and drink gut-rot coffee until 2 in the morning? Check. Fall asleep for a few hours in our separate apartments, then call each other at 6 am to go back out for breakfast and study? Check. Check. Check.
They were sweet months, that senior year, and to this day, I have never felt closer to another friend. But it wasn’t simply all the hours we spent in each other’s company. It was the level of trusting, honest conversations we had. We connected on a deep level, deeper than personality and likes and dislikes. We wrestled with beliefs, hopes, dreams, theology, the two boys we had crushes on, our crazy-making families, our anxiety about the Reagan years, our callings in life and ministry, who had the best coffee in town … you name it. We were “heart friends”. That is how I still think of Clover. My dearest heart friends.We really didn’t waste much time with peripheral things. (No, coffee is NOT peripheral.)
That was around 25 years ago. We no longer live in the same area. But what we have remains an intimate, beautiful friendship. When we get together after years of not seeing each other; skype, or talk on the phone, it’s instant honesty, depth, and laughter. Very little is hidden between us. If something is, we can sniff it out pretty quickly. That’s what happens when you really attend to each other over the years: your sense of smell becomes pretty accurate.
There have been a few others who have filled that space for me. As Anne Lamott says, our hearts are all “swiss cheesey” with holes that need filling up at times. Annie takes a different tack with this, but I would say usually that filling is something we learn that we must do for ourselves. Occasionally, though, someone pours over us and fills up those holes for a while, reminding us that we are really, truly not alone in the universe. They prove in their words and actions that they are invested in our well being, in us becoming and being the wonderful us that we are.
Richard Bach says, “the opposite of loneliness is not togetherness, it is intimacy.” I think this is true with those few precious heart-friends we find in life. It isn’t so much that we share the same physical space, but more that we are safe and enjoyed even perhaps because of our quirkiness.
We just have to date our friends. We need to treat them with attention and preference and prioritize time with them, even, and especially after we are partnered and/or have children. EVERYthing will work against it, but if we want to have intimate friendships, we be so happy to have to made the space for them.
Every Valentine’s Day for years, even after one of us began dating someone “else”, 3 or 4 of my college dearest friends would have a “rotic” evening. Rotic meaning, “romantic without the man.” We’d dress up, put on dangly earrings, and high tail it to the dessert bar at a fancy hotel in downtown Seattle. Wine. Chocolate. Cheesecake. Coffee. All sorts of deliciousness that left us feeling a little woozy, in love and -sure-with a little bit of a gut ache. It was great!
There are so many kinds of conversations that need to be shared in the day in and day out of life. In our partnerships, with our colleagues, with our children. Meal prep, deadlines, conflict negotiation. They all form the web of living we need to make it through in a manageable way. Sometimes, though, those become nearly all the conversations we have. and then, we start dying inside. Sort of curling up like those roly-poly bugs the girls used to play with.
Dating our friends will help assure that this won’t happen. At least not for long. We need these long term friendships who know when to say, “um, Shannon, you know I adore you. So let’s get coffee. Now.”
Ways to date your friends: surprise them and take them out for dinner, drop flowers by their door, find a silly card and send it to them in the mail, bring them their favorite chocolate bar just for fun, volunteer to weed their garden, light candles when you are together, return to a favorite old haunt together, spend a weekend together every year, and don’t be afraid to tell them how much they mean to you.