A couple of months ago, I downloaded Tinder after hearing good things about it. And in one month’s time, I had four dates with three guys, pretty much the same amount as the last two or three years. I meet and talk to new guys every week. But now that I am back on the dating scene I’ve been thinking a lot about a crucial concept: intimacy. I think it is an under-discussed but important topic for black women in dating. I am not sure healthy intimacy is even a notion or concept on many BW’s radar. I know it was not something we discussed or I saw growing up in my family, before or after my parents divorced and they got into other relationships.
I want to start by highlighting a series of dates I had with one of the first guys I met, as an example of how not to build intimacy. My approach to dating is for the first date to be light and fun – basically a chemistry test and to check for any red flags or alarming behaviors. The next date is to verify the chemistry/attraction wasn’t a fluke and to start getting a handle on character – how does this person treat wait staff, animals, homeless people you encounter? I don’t believe in “interrogations” on dates but I will ask a few questions during the course of dinner or whatever about family, past relationships, goals, etc. I am trying to shape my idea of WHO this person is, aside from what they directly say.
For future interactions I am looking for tinges of emotional depth – “how would you have handled X differently,” “what did you learn from Y,” “what are your dreams,” “how will you do Z differently from your parents?” The Wikipedia definition of intimacy says “Genuine intimacy in human relationships requires dialogue, transparency, vulnerability and reciprocity.” Basically, in order for the relationship to progress (and determine whether we share the same core values), I am looking for these things.
Notice I haven’t mentioned anything about becoming physical. For me, an emotional connection is a pre-requisite for moving into a physical relationship and honestly, this takes time to develop. I look at it as being hungry and just eating some candy, or, taking the time to properly prepare a robust meal you’ve been dying to have AND you know it’s nutritious. This brings me back to the guy I referenced, a 35 year old European ex-pat who recently moved to my city after living in elsewhere in the States. Our series of dates went something like this:
He invites me for date #1 – awesome chemistry and physical attraction, we exchanged basic info about one another and shared funny stories about our respective lives. We parted ways after a polite hug.
A couple of days later, he invites me for date #2 – more basic info and funny stories. I started to get a sense though that he was kind of a quirky/socially awkward guy (he moved here to work for a tech start-up). Again, we parted ways after a polite hug.
After I returned from a two-week vacation, he immediately wanted to get together so we met later that week for date #3 – this time, things felt awkward and shallow. We chatted easily about the food, stuff to do here, current events, etc but as I tried to learn more about him he either a) gives a surface answer (“I don’t know,” “ I never thought about that,” “hmmm,”) or b) deflects to talking about other people. There was never any reciprocity where he asked me anything of substance. His attempts at conversation seemed like he was phoning it in (“so which of your tacos do you like the best? What’s your favorite color?”). The only real emotion he showed was when I asked about his last relationship and he got angry. He said they dated about six months but wanted totally different things and were complete opposites. He pretty much shut down after that. We awkwardly parted ways when I got to my car.
A few days later, surprisingly, he suggested date #4 – I accepted thinking maybe he was having a bad day or something the last time and that an afternoon movie might be nice so that we wouldn’t be pressed for time (our previous dates had all been after work). We could actually sit, talk and connect. But, as soon as the movie ended, he pounced me which caught me totally off-guard. I pulled away and said, “I’m not ready for this.” He then mumbled something sarcastically, stomped off to the bathroom, came back, pouted and was so uncommunicative I became really uncomfortable and left.
Later I shared that, while I had been interested in him, it was really important for me to have an emotional connection before becoming physically intimate and I didn’t think we had established that yet. He flatly said he considered them the same thing. I disagreed and with that impasse we stopped communicating, which I was more than okay with.
What I want to focus on is his statement that sex = emotional intimacy. In my opinion (and experience from my early 20s) this is not the case. If anything, early sex creates a false sense of intimacy. It is implied or assumed intimacy from having been physically close (through sex) but not true, earned closeness stemming from a “bond formed through knowledge and experience of the other” over time (again, from Wikipedia). So, while inaccurately believing you are already close from sex, someone’s true personality, character and values come out over time and may not be a good fit. Now comes the task of untangling, made more difficult for women who often become emotionally attached during a sexual relationship. Hence the “we probably shouldn’t be together but for some reason, I just really, really like/love/want to be with him” cognitive dissonance. This guy was harboring resentment about his last girlfriend and if he just rushed into sex with her before vetting for true compatibility, no wonder it didn’t work out.
I am pretty sure most women don’t envision “I probably shouldn’t be with him” when thinking about falling in love, finding a good partner, etc. So, how can BW establish relationships containing the intimacy most really desire?
1. Visualization. What does being close to someone look like to you? What kinds of behaviors help you develop trust in someone? What makes you feel supported? What things would you only reveal to someone you really trust?
Think on these things, and look for them as you date. Developing intimacy isn’t a race, it’s a tennis match. Look for reciprocity.
2. Practice. Intimacy isn’t limited to romantic relationships – are you happy with the number of friendships you have? Are you looking to expand your social circle? What kind of relationships do you have with your co-workers (or fellow students) – do you have any allies or advocates? Vulnerability is a key ingredient in establishing intimacy – have you shared any of your goals or dreams with people who may be in a position to help?
3. Stick to what you want. Don’t be coerced into less than what you want in terms of intimacy. When people are not meeting your needs in the way you believe you deserve, communicate that and be prepared to walk away (very easy when you are in a healthy place of self-love and you are not physically involved). Know that your emotional well-being is a #1 priority when it comes to acceptable, reciprocal treatment from others. One sided relationships are no fun.
While my experience with this particular guy wasn’t optimal, it was beneficial to verbalizing many concepts I had instinctively gravitated to over the past few years. I can honestly say that as I’ve held fast to “emotional connection before physical contact,” while I may not have found a partner yet, I haven’t had stupid stuff going on either, where I am all strung out over someone that refuses to reciprocally emotionally invest in or commit to me. Hopefully discussing this will help some of our readers and lurkers.
This site has good information about the stages of intimacy so please check it out (note: it is a religious site and has some faith based messages). What do you all think of intimacy? Are there other resources you recommend for singles? For our male readers, how do you establish emotional intimacy with women you meet?