Open, But Not Intimate
When I was in high school, there was a girl. I'm pretty sure I loved this girl. Her effortless smile, forgiving nature, soft speech, and gentle introspection was a wonderful contrast to my angsty, brooding, tortured sixteen year old musician persona. Of course, I hadn't thought about it that deeply at the time. But I knew it intuitively.
She and I became friends right about the time I got a drivers license. I was a chubby kid, but had recently lost a bunch of weight. With a new (old) Nissan Rogue to my name and a slimmer figure to traverse the world in, I had a new brand of confidence. She was the first girl who had ever expressed interest in me before I showed any in her. So we went on some dates. We never called them dates. But they were dates. After several of them, we arrived at one of those pivot moments - one of those moments that you know you need to define what's going on. Never having been in a situation like that, I panicked, and ghosted her. I got less responsive to texts, acted busy when I ran into her around town, and gradually let myself fizzle out of her picture and her out of mine. A few months later, I missed her, reached out, we reconnected, and that cycle would repeat; it would repeat several times over for the next three years or so.
Her house was about twenty minutes outside of town off of a rural back road. So when taking her back home after one of our "dates", I consistently took the opportunity to skip the turn onto that road and take her on an hour long excursion through central Texas. She didn't like John Mayer, but she'd listen to his music with me, and let me explain in great detail why his music was so meaningful to me. She would listen to my stories, my theories, and philosophies attentively. I was a mess, and she liked it. She would laugh every time I got too serious, squint her eyes in empathy when I got honest, and above all, just listen to me - hear me out. I didn't like myself very much at the time, but she saw something beautiful and vibrant in me that I didn't.
She and I never officially dated. We got close a few times, but each attempt was squandered by my uncertainty. Looking back on the relationship (or lack thereof) I had with this girl, I realized something pretty telling about the way that I do intimacy; I don't. I was extremely open with her. She knew every fact there was to know about me. She could tell when I was hungry, when I needed space, and when I was having a hard time in my head. But she didn't know my heart. She didn't know the intangible me. And it wasn't for lack of trying on her part. She repeatedly put in effort to get me to reveal my heart to her.
Ultimately, I didn't want her to know me. I wanted her to admire me. I shared everything with her that was admirable. Whether it was news about my music career to bolster my coolness, a controversial philosophical concept I had adopted to come across as deep and mysterious, or a brokenness of mine to show her how relatable I could be, everything I shared with her about myself was interwoven with an agenda. I want you to think something of me. None of it was explicitly untrue, but it was all highly calculated. I was open with her. She knew all there was to know. But it was always a fairly one way conversation.
I knew she saw something beautiful in me. Unknowingly, I didn't like that. The problem with having beautiful potential is the having to live up to it part. It was much easier to be a character than to be a person. Being the beautiful person she knew I was capable of being would invite responsibility into my life. I wouldn't get to brood anymore. I wouldn't get to recluse or disappear when I wanted to. I would have to be present and accounted for. There was a slim, difficult to identify line that separated openness and intimacy, and I never crossed it. It was too terrifying.
We all stand on one side of this line in every relationship we have in our lives, from romantic partners, to parents, to friends to siblings. In the age of social media in particular, we are quick to share information about ourselves while remaining hesitant to share our identities with one another. Artists are great examples of this. It's why famous musicians who can so eloquently pour their heart out in the form of lyrics can't manage to maintain a relationship. Information is openness. It may be interesting, but it's soul-less. Intimacy however, is acceptance. Intimacy is adopting the responsibility that comes with being the person somebody else believes you can be.
Ultimately, to be intimate is to accept the invitation to be loved. Openness will earn you the invitation, but until you accept it, you will not experience a meaningful connection with someone. The risk for intimacy is equal to the reward. The question is really just if you would rather take the risk of not living up to it, or the guarantee of never having to. I think you probably know the answer.