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I caught up with a friend over coffee recently, and we eventually got around to what was going on in our love life. The last time we saw each other, he was wrestling with the desire to have kids of his own one day and his relationship with a wonderful woman whose kids are older and isn’t interested in having any more, and I was with the same partner I’d been with for eight years, which recently ended.

What happened, he wondered.  intimacy

Among other things, I told him, we’d flat-lined on intimacy.

“Only women talk about intimacy,” he answered, adding that his girlfriend (they are still together) has told him she also wants more intimacy.

It reminded me of a conversation my then-partner and I had  a few months before we split, in which I expressed the same thing.

“What is intimacy?” he asked me.

As I sat on my friend’s cozy couch, I wondered if my friend was indeed right, that only women talk in terns of intimacy. Are women the only ones who understand intimacy and have a higher need for it? Or, do women tend to overanalyze relationships?

According to the dictionary, intimacy means a “close or warm friendship or understanding; personal relationship,” “a feeling of being intimate and belonging together” and “sexual relations.” All of those descriptions seem somewhat vague, making me realize that what I was asking for wasn’t more sex (we were doing just fine), getting warmer (we were affectionate although there was no PDA) or belonging together (we didn’t live together but we were committed to the relationship). What I wanted was a feeling of “we” instead of “you and I” — an expansion of the idea of belonging together — but I’m not sure that’s universally understood when people talk about increasing intimacy. But that was what I wanted, and I wish I had expressed it that way as opposed to the vague idea of intimacy.

Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher acknowledges that men and women define intimacy differently:

To women, intimacy is talking face-to-face — a behavior that probably evolved millions of years ago when ancestral females spent their days holding their infants up in front of them, soothing them with words. Men, however, often regard intimacy as working or playing side-by-side. Sure, they might discuss a bad week at work, even troubles in their love lives. But rarely do they share their secret dreams and darkest fears. (When they do, they often use “joke speak,” camouflaging their feelings with humor.) And men almost never look deeply into each other’s eyes. tweet

Beyond differences in how they define intimacy, men tend to score higher on a Fear-of-Intimacy Scale. One therapist observes that men who have had previous relationship trauma, have OCD, paranoid or depressive symptoms, or who have secret addictions often fear going deeper in relationships.

Others say society doesn’t support men’s vulnerability:

Because men are taught to be competitive, strong, never cry and not show emotion they may either buy into this wholeheartedly or consider all intimacy creating activities as weak and stupid or they may feel like a fraud for having feelings and sensitivity at all. Men will carry feelings of inadequacy to the grave rather than admit how they really feel. tweet

I have known some men who have deep friendships with other men, not just sports or drinking buddies but men with whom they can reveal their true selves, warts and all (and I always gravitate toward men like that). Clearly, some men are able to be intimate with other men although those men are few. Sociologist Lisa Wade has found that “adult, white, heterosexual men have the fewest friends. Moreover, the friendships they have, if they’re with other men, provide less emotional support and involve lower levels of self-disclosure and trust than other types of friendships.”
Men, she says, want the same level of intimacy as women do and define it the same way: “emotional support, disclosure and having someone to take care of them.” But they aren’t getting it.
To get it, guys will have to be willing to “confess their insecurities, be kind to others, have empathy and sometimes sacrifice their own self-interest,” she says. In other words, take risks with other men.
If they’re able to do that, just think how it will also improve relationships between men and women (let alone be happier).
    • Men, are you able to be intimate with men?
    • With women?
    • Women, have you had trouble finding men who can be intimate?
    • How do you define intimacy?

Photo ©rumrunner/Fotolia.com



3 Responses to “Do men have trouble with intimacy?”

  1. sonface says:

    Defining intimacy as “we” instead of “you and I” is a good start. But it leaves so much out. There remain the relational dynamics over who is going to decide what “we” really means. Humans always vie for control, and it’s my experience that “comprise” only happens when one gets pushed harder than one can push back. What to do about that?

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles

      Is this like Clinton trying to define what “is” is? Now my head hurts! I think any relationship requires compromise. It’s OK as long as it’s not one person doing all the compromising.

      • sonface says:

        Look deep enough into any relationship and you will discover that one “partner” “compromises” far more than the other.

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