Checks and balances
Dating outside the box.
“What is intimacy?”
This is the question my date asked me as I ungracefully shovelled some Greek moussaka into my mouth.
My mind immediately went to an old memory— isn’t it cruel, the way that romantic feelings can often bring you to an unwelcome flashback from the past? Like everybody else, I have old traumas that are all-too happy to resurface at the most inconvenient of times. The memory was of one of my ex-girlfriends, during our breakup. She told me, factually:
“You’re like an apartment that checks 9 out of 10 boxes.”
Clearly, she wanted to break the lease. The emotional frigidity of the statement didn’t startle me. What surprised me was how familiar the analogy felt, as if I had been navigating my whole dating life as a series of checked boxes. It took her speaking that statement out loud, to set myself free of the conditional expectations of dating as a millennial in the modern world. I realised in that moment, that I didn’t want to be measured by the boxes I checked, and that I desired to free my future lovers and partners from these boxes, too. I also realised that I didn’t want to date any more Capricorns.
Now I was back to chewing my cheesy moussaka, staring at this man who wanted an answer to this intimacy question. Ironically, he was a Capricorn, too.
“Intimacy is presence, and being seen,” I answered. It seemed like an artful enough response. I think I meant it at the time. But the reality is that as I write these words, I am very honestly asking myself: Do I even know what intimacy is?
The best lived examples I have of true intimacy in my life have come from friendships. Perhaps because these are the containers in which I feel safest. Intimacy within the dynamics of platonic exchange doesn’t feel as risky to me as it does in romance. My therapist calls this fear of rejection – my fear is always that if someone I like sees too much of me, all of me, that they will promptly run in the other direction and block me on social media. Dramatic, I know.
Intimacy precludes love – at least true love. And when I am honest, open, and vulnerable with my closest friends, I never think of checking any boxes. That’s what unconditional love is all about. The ability to be received and held by another without fear that they might abandon me at the slightest suggestion of a flaw. In fact, my flaws, my wounds, my fears – all of those become invitations into deep honesty and reflection on the human condition. I love talking to my friends about this stuff. It’s what inspired my whole spiritual awakening, it’s what sparks the best conversations. Because those very flaws, wounds, and fears do not only belong to me, they belong to the whole drama of being human. I am simply one iteration, one expression of that drama. We are never alone. Which is why it feels so comforting when we find a book, a movie, or a friend, who shares a similar story. We’ve all been there, at one point in time. This is part of what connects us as humans – our ability to empathise.
Of course, I don’t suggest that all of our connections in intimacy be rooted in pain, that would be some serious trauma bonding. But the shadows of my persona are what I am least likely to openly share when I am first dating someone. In the shadows, there is also shame. Meeting a new person often involves a suspension of disbelief. They say put your best foot forward, and you never get a second chance to make a first impression. So we present the best of ourselves, forgoing the shadows of ourselves and the other in favour of the illusion, the mask. That’s where the whole “checking boxes” thing messes us up. Because we are measuring the person across the table from us by how many needs we think they will fulfil based off that first impression. And many people stay in this delusion for the majority of “the honeymoon phase,” however long it lasts. Until the illusion breaks.
But here’s the thing: If you’re brave enough to see your shadows from a different perspective – not as something to hide, but as something that informs the complexity of who you are as a person – then you get to remove the cloak of shame, the pressure of performance, and you just get to be yourself. It is only when you show your true self, that you’ll know the person you’re dating likes you for who you really are, and vice versa.
To date outside of the box, to not measure the people we meet by any preconceived standards, is to truly honour the multiplicity of human nature. Ditch the boxes, stop looking for red flags, and you might have the chance to arrive at the truth of the other person.
Intimacy is truth. Intimacy is revealing whoever you are in the present moment, exactly as you are.
I guess my answer during that date was right in the end. The thing with dating is that you have to be willing to be open first. If you keep waiting for the other person to reveal their deepest secrets and desires, while you safeguard your truth, then you might as well keep on waiting. The older you get, the more likely it is that the people you date have also had their fair share of heartbreaks, disappointments and ghosting. People have their guards up. We’ve all been there, and we all have the hope of meeting someone who will be different. We all want to be liberated by love. If we stop measuring each other by limiting ideals of perfection, then maybe we’ll all get the chance to meet that someone special.