The challenge of intimacy

By Caitlin Kelly

If there ever was a time challenging our traditional ways to be intimate with others — from hugging a friend to cheek-kissing a new acquaintance to long conversations face to face, let alone sex with someone new — this pandemic is it.

It’s really difficult to eschew all emotional, physical, sexual contacts for months in person, soon to be years, even when we know it’s the only safe option.

And, odd as it may sound, reporting and journalism can be very intimate emotionally as people share stories, sometimes things they’ve never told anyone else. Face to face is much better for this — body language, sighs, eye-rolls…harder to parse otherwise.

Of course medicine and therapy are very different without in-person contact.

I had lunch this past weekend with a dear friend who lives in the next town; we met in the large, airy parish hall of the church where we first met and where she does volunteer work, so she had a key!

She sat very far away and I sat on a sofa and we caught up. And it was so so good to see her. She is always so elegant! I show up in matching olive green leggings and a fleece and she’s in palest cashmere.

I’ve been working hard since November 1 to lose weight through intermittent fasting 16/8 and it was nice to see her agree there’s a difference in my size and shape — she knows what I normally look like.

That’s intimacy — the trust it takes to be vulnerable and to share our weakest and most scared moments, not just the performative WOOHOO of social media.

But another friend, a much newer one, has withdrawn and I admit I’ve struggled with that. I miss her friendship, even though we only met two years ago. She has two teenagers and works, so she is busier than I, I know. But the few times we’ve gotten together recently, with our husbands, were enjoyable.

I finally told her I was pretty much giving up — having tried repeatedly to make contact. Her reply was a terse and impersonal two sentences that she has had some health issues.

The only way to grow a friendship is to share, good and bad.

So I’m sorry this one seems to have withered, temporarily or permanently. But I’ve really learned the hard way that true intimacy means both people have to want it.

I enjoy much of my life in suburban New York, but, as I’ve blogged many times, it is lonely as hell.

I work alone at home and now, thanks to COVID, all social activities and events are verboten.

I have no kids or grandkids, the two obsessions of almost every woman I’ve met here, over decades. Or work. Or both.

Friendship, here, feels very low on people’s list of priorities. I just don’t spend much time trying now.

So I’m even more grateful for those who do connect now by phone and Skype and Zoom — like C in London and my college bestie, Marion, in Kamloops, BC or Leslie in Toronto, or Melinda and Alec in San Francisco.

It’s ironic, and sad, that the people with whom I share the closest emotional intimacies live so far away.

One of my Twitter followers said it perfectly:

Burdens shared makes for lighter burdens and deepened trust.

13 thoughts on “The challenge of intimacy

  1. I like the comment from your Twitter follower.

    Sorry to hear about your friend. Not all friendships are going to last, but it’s hurtful to lose one. I have three “best” friends who all live 20 driving hours away. I miss them terribly.

    1. Jan Jasper

      It is a real challenge to make and maintain friendships over the years. Sometimes your friend’s circumstances get in the way. But if they don’t make an effort, it can mean the end, even if it’s not personal. Years ago I knew a woman who had stop responding to me for unexplained reasons. I happened to run into her years later and I asked her what had happened, and I was surprised to learn that she been in a very serious postpartum depression – apparently a lot of things in her life just did not get handled for some months. Of course I forgave, her but it’s kind of ironic that if I hadn’t bumped into her I never would have found out why she had disappeared from my life.

      1. It’s not at all clear to me this woman even wants to stay friends — someone who actually chastised me for not remembering her birthday last year. Just feels weird to me.

  2. I count myself lucky to have two very close friends — we text almost daily and meet (now, and for the foreseeable future, virtually) once a week. But the lack of in-person, human interaction is hard.

    People keep talking about a second ‘Roaring Twenties’ after this is over, and perhaps that will be the case. I think a lot of people have realised that screens and social media are no substitute for real human connection!

  3. My father loved chess, was ready to teach me but I never got the bug. My half-brother learned from my dad and did play. I have issues around competition of almost any sort, I know…. But back to the revelatory subject of close friendships. While I was in NYC for nine months during the first Covid spring and summer, I actually made some new friends in the co-op that I’d soon be divesting (my shares of) in order to move to France. The building’s big courtyard-garden space made it easy for us to meet and share quite a lot — socially distanced, so of course no hugs. This became a Friday evening habit. All are younger women than me, 40-somethings, with careers and kids (two also have partners), so their time definitely is tight. Of the four friends, I’ve received emails off and on from three, but when I sent a New Year’s greeting with collective and individual notes of gratitude, I got just one answer….
    Thanks for the good subject — an opening to mention my suprise and disappointment in receptive company.

    1. I’m glad you had it when you did — I am pretty sure that, without depth and history, we need quite a bit of repetitive proximity to keep a friendship thriving.

      The one I’ve given up on lives a 10 minute drive away but seems too busy with other issues.

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