I used to think that saying you wanted to be loved was weak, that saying you crave to be touched by someone who cherishes your body because your body houses you was also weak and I used to think that admitting a need for intimacy and connection was akin to saying you were desperate and needy. It’s not. It’s human.
Desperate and needy is when you value yourself last and take scraps of what you think is love wherever you can find it simply because you think you won’t get it anywhere else. Intimacy and connection is opening your heart in the presence of someone else gently opening theirs. This can happen through conversation, through time spent in nature, through laughter, through touch, through sexual play, but it takes two to be present and one to hold the others vulnerability safely.
It also takes time to build that trust and while these moments may start as mere flickers for fleeting moments at a time, the more they are experienced the safer it feels and the more those flickers grow into a full bodied friendship or relationship. But most of us fear opening our hearts. Perhaps they were crushed into smithereens when we were young or pounded into submission as we reached adulthood or ripped from our rib cages and thrown beating onto the floor by someone we thought we loved.
So we keep them shut. Tight. Or we offer them up to human orcas that we subconsciously choose knowing they will play with them like a seal before devouring them whole and the shutting cycle begins again. Or we open them for a moment and we fear the blinding light that reveals our vulnerability will expose the darkness that makes us whole and voila, we shut up tight again. You get the picture and the pattern.
Rachael Oakes-Ash on sex and intimacy on the Go From There podcast
“If you’re not laughing with someone you’re having sex with then you’re having sex with the wrong person. I also think sex is about intimacy and I think intimacy doesn’t even have to be about penetration. Intimacy can just be about touch. Just being with someone, because most people in this world just want to be held in some way shape or form and that slowly builds to whatever else. You have to build a trust before you can have an authentic in the moment sexual interaction.
People come into sex with different stories in their heads and you have two different people having sex together, one person has different stories and different value systems around it, different shame around it, different ego around it with someone else who has different shame and different ego around it. You’ve now got two people trying to figure it out and no one talks about it. We should be able to talk about it to destigmatise it and just to get the elephant out of the goddamn room. Because who cares, really? I just care whether I like you or not.”
I’m in Colorado writing a book about saying ‘yes’, finding the fun in the flow, seeking the joy and living courageously with an open heart. My ex boyfriend doesn’t know it, we do not speak anymore, but he was an integral part to my heart opening, he and the year of my mother’s cancer and eventual death. Both of these relationships led me to where I am today in the Rocky Mountains.
My ex, we’ll call him Ronaldo to protect the innocent and because the name sounds more exotic than his real one, taught me the value of touch. I come from an unaffectionate family, we don’t hug, we pat each other’s shoulders, so affection was not a natural experience for me. He used to laugh that when we first got together I would let him cuddle me after sex when we both felt most vulnerable having shared our bodies and then after a set amount of minutes I would say ok then, roll over to my side of the giant king sized bed and sleep as though I was in the bed alone.
Within the first year he said he would wake in the middle of the night and I would be spooning him, reaching out for him in my sleep until eventually I would do this awake, by choice, for the love of his skin against mine and the knowledge that his skin housed him. By the time we broke up I had learned to sit with my open heart and now it was open I refused to let it shut, no matter how painful the idea that his heart and mine were no longer intimately connected.
It wasn’t easy, break ups rarely are. A friend gave me the book Daring Greatly by Brene Brown and I discovered the power of vulnerability and compassion – true compassion, not sympathy but empathy. The writings of Byron Katie then taught me how to Love What Is and more recently Jeff Brown’s musings on his Facebook page now resonate with me daily.
Saying yes with an open heart requires stepping out of your comfort zone. Those that travel alone know this feeling well. If you don’t say yes and force yourself to go to events or accept invitations then you may as well be in the four walls of your abode back home because all you have done is transport yourself and your same debilitating fear from one address to another.
You don’t get connection if you consistently retreat. Connection is out on the limb, that’s where you’ll find it and you need to be willing to climb to get there with a few slip ups, bruises and scrapes along the way.
But there’s a difference between challenging yourself outside of your comfort zone and putting yourself in a dangerous place and the difference is gut instinct. If you live with an open heart then gut instinct is even more important. It’s that voice that tells you if a place, person, situation is in your best or worst interests.
It says come closer this feels nice or walk away, this is no place for you. Though many confuse gut instinct and fear of intimacy and use the former to validate the latter and run like the wind. If you ignore your real gut instinct then you’ll damage your open heart. Listen to it and take your heart where it feels safe to remain open and watch the blossoming begin.
Of course all of this takes practice and most of us would rather pile the armour back on and throw away that heart key, I know my instinct when faced with romantic challenges is to sprint to the hills faster than Usain Bolt or write the persons name down on a piece of paper and put it in the freezer in a bid to protect the screaming child inside me. It’s easier that way the same as it is easier to leave when you’re angry with someone because it creates distance than to leave when you feel close.
I don’t know where my open heart is taking me on this adventure I am currently on nor do I know who will be let in along the way. I am thankful for Ronaldo’s persistence with me and showing me the value of what my heart and body are worth and to treasure who I give them to and I am grateful for those who are already part of my Colorado adventure less than three weeks in, for every heartfelt moment driven by fun, intimacy, connection, conversation, challenges, nature, laughs and even tears with each of you provides an opportunity for long term healing for both of us. That’s where the joy is.