The Fear of Intimacy, or How I Know I Still Need Therapy

I’ve come to realize about myself over the past several years that I am somewhat prone to a fear of intimacy.

Okay, so, that’s kind of an understatement. I am not prone to a fear of intimacy–I’m damn scared of intimacy sometimes.

I’m not talking about the kind of intimacy you have with a new love interest when you’re romping around in bed, or the kind of intimacy you find among a group of friends hanging out exchanging thoughtful conversation.

I’m talking about the kind of intimacy that asks you to lay bare your heart & all its desires, your body & all its flaws, and your soul & all its deep fears. The kind of intimacy you have with a best friend who you’ve known for years, who calls you on your shit one day and laughs with you ’til you cry the next. I’m especially scared of the kind of intimacy you have with a romantic partner after the dizzying excitement of new romance fades away, and the real work of the relationship begins.

I’m talking about the type of intimacy that demands you show your full humanness to the people closest to you, promising a full, expansive, heart-hugging, rich interpersonal world in exchange. I’m talking about the type of intimacy that demands you open your heart and mind to another person’s expansive beauty and unavoidable flaws, and asks that you accept these things as they are without trying to change them or force them to adapt to your own special brand of weird.

It’s never been hard for me to start a romantic relationship. The excitement, the rush, the invigorating satisfaction of wanting and being wanted–it is almost too easy for me, it seems, to dive head-first into the fun of discovering someone new. I can hide my honest self behind a thin veil of lust, playfulness, and surface-level confidence. I love the feeling of knowing the other person is intrigued by me, and that I am intrigued by them. The mutual discovery is intoxicating.

As soon as the infatuation begins to run its inevitable course into a more stable connection of care and compassion, I start to get freaked out. The person I’ve been sharing my body with starts clawing and scratching for pieces of my mind, heart, and soul. They reassure me they’ll love and accept me regardless of what they find. And even though I don’t feel like I’ve got anything unsavory to hide, the idea of someone knowing me so fully makes my chest feel tight and my head dizzy. I panic. And I begin the process of letting go, just as the other person starts to feel like we’re getting into something really good.

I make myself so angry every time I fall into this pattern. I make myself so mad, even though I know my reactions are based heavily on the experiences I had with men in the past who lied to, cheated on, and abused me. Men who reached their hands into my heart and, instead of holding it with care, squeezed it, poked holes in it, lacerated it with tiny little mico-tears for years, and then left without saying so much as sorry. My life right now is being dictated by the reactions I learned when I was in a much more vulnerable state of mind. That makes me feel vulnerable and weak all over again, despite all of the progress I’ve made that says otherwise.

The last man I felt truly intimate with was my ex-husband. Shortly after we married in 2013, I wrote in my journal about a dream I had where he died. I wrote about how I woke up with a pit in my stomach only to find him sleeping next to me, and my whole body felt drawn toward him. I was so relieved. The dream left me rattled. I wrote that I couldn’t image what my life would be if he were to leave me, willingly or otherwise. I tried my best to give my whole heart to that man, even with my flaws and mistakes. When he left, it felt like he dropped my heart on the floor and walked over it, right out the door.

It’s taken me a long time to realize that he probably stopped wanting my deepest heart years before we actually went our separate ways. The idea of intimacy dissolved almost instantaneously, along with my sense of identity and self-worth, the day that he left me. Whatever I thought we had suddenly seemed like a lie, and it was so convincing. So, so convincing. I believed his lie for years. And at the end, I questioned whether any of it was ever as real as I imaged at all. Did he love me? Was giving myself to him worth it?

Ever since then, I’ve been tentative in my willingness to submit my most intimate self to romantic partners. Beyond my body, beyond my professional and educational motivations, beyond my attempts at creativity and craftiness, I have found it incredibly hard to reach into my back pocket and show my partners the plain face of my demons: my tendency toward depression, my ever-present pessimism/nihilism, my near-obsessive monitoring of political news, my tendency to catastrophize the aforementioned political news, my emotional eating and over-eating habits, my intermittent feelings of disgust toward my female body, my constant feeling of staring headlong into the void waiting for this all to be over despite my fear of death and infinity. I’m scared to show any of it, all of it–and that’s just scratching the surface.

I only write about my darkness here because nobody knows me, nobody knows my name. It feels better to shine some sunlight on it here, rather than keeping it contained within myself indefinitely. And even then, I feel dumb as hell. I have it so good in this life. I have people in my life who would probably love me deeper and more wholly if they knew these things about me. Maybe they’d reveal something similar, in a gesture toward camaraderie. Maybe that’s what I’m afraid of.

This problem is so cliche it hurts sometimes. I am not alone in this, nor is this a special kind of problem. Sometimes I laugh at myself for how complicated I make things. I think to myself, “You’ve had your heart ripped out and torn to shreds, yet here you are. You’ve survived it. You can do it again if you have to.” And, yes, it’s true. I really could open my heart again and bare all again. In the end, if it ends up broken or shattered or bruised, I know I can collect the pieces in my cosmic wicker basket and weave it back together again.

Seems like now would be a good time to get back into therapy, hm? There’s another relationship I stepped away from once I felt like I was bearing too much of myself too quickly. It’s been three months at least since I last went. I’m sure he’d be happy to see me.




6 thoughts on “The Fear of Intimacy, or How I Know I Still Need Therapy

  1. theacquiescentsoul says:

    You use the word “intimacy” the way I use the word “vulnerability”.
    I recently wrote about relationships being the most difficult things we do. I’m an ex-cop, I’ve worked hours on end and thankless jobs, I’ve overcome some major adversity in life, but when it comes to a relationship, I am completely and utterly inept. I struggle trusting anyone with the things I hate most about myself.

    This post is incredibly familiar! Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lily 🌷 says:

    If I had your talent, I could have written that post, except that I don’t think I have ever been truly open honest and vulnerable to any man. Perhaps that is because my choice of partners has been so poor ? I don’t know, but I do know that I recognise this and identify with it very strongly. Thanks for writing it . Lily 🌷xx

    Liked by 1 person

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