Happy belated Valentine’s Day! I hope all of you had a splendid time, as evidenced by the humblebrags I see on Facebook. I’m not suffering from sour grapes – I had a wonderful weekend myself. Insecure couples are more likely to show off about their relationship on Facebook (which is not something I’m immune to, by the way), and I am heartened by people’s displays of affection as much as I smirk at the sociocultural phenomenon that is Valentine’s Day.
My good friends have recently been in budding courtships, and now that I’m exclusively dating my crush (! *throws confetti*), I’ll have to live vicariously through their lives. I take joy in my friends’ conquests and mourn for them when they feel defeated. The beginnings of relationships can be very unsettling. It’s always frustrating when someone seems interested in you but are closed off in other ways. I often wish I could get closer, get under someone’s skin – know who they really are. I like companionship and fun times, but I also crave a deeper connection. What can I do to earn their trust and feel closer to them?
I found this book, The Seven Levels of Intimacy. It provides a framework for the progression of intimacy in relationships. I present you the seven levels:
- Hopes & Dreams
- Faults, Fears, And Failures
- Legitimate Needs
So this is the kind of small talk that occurs with strangers. Think, “How’s it going?” “It’s going well!” “Can’t complain!” Just standard filler conversation to create a first pass at a connection. Pickup lines pretty much fall into this category too, since they are rinse-and-repeat lines that don’t really mean anything.
This is when you discuss things like current events or the weather, or repeat some inane account of what you did over the weekend, or what you learned on Reddit about psychotropics. There are also higher-level personal facts, like telling people where you’re from or what you do for a living. But these things remain facts – they may suggest proclivities but isn’t a true revelation of one’s personal stand. However, it does provide a bridge to the next level of intimacy – opinion. While the facts of our lives say something about who we are, our opinions say something about how we’ve responded to the facts of our lives.
Opinions are when you reveal more of your personal position. This is where controversy can brew, and where budding relationships begin to strengthen or be doomed. A lot of everyday conversations tease with opinions but surface back up to cliches and facts – imagine a scenario where someone presents an uncomfortable opinion, and others either dismiss it with a joke or change the subject to go back to the non-offensive realm of cliches and facts. We can learn to agree to disagree with other people’s opinions, allowing others to be themselves and seeking common ground.
4. Hopes & Dreams
“If you truly want to be intimate with the people you love, you need to know what drives them.” Our hopes and dreams say something about how we want to lead our lives and the persons we are striving to become. Knowing what drives the people we love enables us to empathize better with why people do the things they do. Our hopes and dreams are what gives us purpose, and knowing what drives someone helps you to align your behavior better with their goals.
“Our feelings are the raw emotional nerve endings that often reveal our brokenness, our humanity, our need to be held, listened to, and loved.”
Expressing one’s feelings tactfully is a learned skill, as is receiving other people’s feelings with delicacy. It’s understandably hard to express feelings because it indicates an personal investment in an issue, but I do find it remarkable that people have difficulty expressing positive feelings like gratitude or concern. Like in the new TV series Fresh Off The Boat about a family of Asian-American immigrants, my family “showed their love through criticism and micromanagement” instead of explicitly conveying that they care. My present relationships have been so much stronger for sharing my feelings, positive and negative, that I would truly recommend it. It’s beautiful and liberating to have nothing to hide, especially when what you want to share is that you care.
The other thing about feelings is that male friendships often don’t reach this level of intimacy, since talking about feelings between men is too homoerotic for most.
According to the Male Deficit Model, friendships between men function and falter within strict pragmatic categories: “convenience friends,” for example, exchange helpful favors but don’t interact much otherwise; “mentor friends,” who connect primarily through one man’s tutelage of the other; or “activity friends.” (Men’s Journal)
Men often rely solely on their partners for emotional support, making break-ups a hard stop to not only sexual but also emotional intimacy. Being a platonic female friend thus places a greater burden on you when your male friends are freshly single. I know that I provide a great deal of support to my close male friends, and in return they are articulate about the value I bring to their lives.
6. Faults, Fears, and Failures
When we reveal our faults, fears, and failures, we are exposing our woundedness to others. We share our flaws, hoping to be accepted despite our brokenness. When we listen empathetically to someone confessing their missteps, we offer them the gift of forgiveness, and that they don’t have to be perfect to be loved. This level of intimacy doesn’t come easily. There have been three instances in the past 12 months where my newly-minted close friends first revealed to me things they are deeply insecure about, and I can’t help but have a little inner yelp of delight when people place their trust in me. I am happy that we’ve broken new ground and to be a trusted confidante.
I’m dorky enough that in those instances, I immediately whip out this summary of The Seven Levels bookmarked on my phone’s browser and be like, “Hey, look where we are! Level 6!” Then we have a moment. ^.^
Getting to this stage of intimacy is also the goal of the now-famed 36 questions meant to develop interpersonal closeness. Asking “when did you last cry in front of another person or by yourself?” is pretty vulnerability-inducing.
In my first post about serial dating, I mentioned this idea of “dishing out an appropriate amount of vulnerability” as a technique I developed. In order to do this, I had to have an understanding of two things – what I was vulnerable about, and feeling comfortable with my weaknesses. Most people know what they are vulnerable about but aren’t comfortable about it.
If you’ve read a few of my posts, by now it would be apparent that I’m a pretty open person, and I’ve learned to be comfortable with who I am. (I credit years of reading self-help books when I was a teenager. I even wrote a paper on the impact of self-help literature on identity. You can check out my 18 year old writing here.) I wouldn’t say I was manipulating the guys I went on dates with. Just because I am well-informed on the mechanism behind developing intimacy doesn’t necessarily mean I’m a deceptive manipulator, especially if I offer up some of myself along the way.
7. Legitimate Needs
To me, this is the realm of a really high-level bonding. You help each other identify and fulfill the needs that enable you to thrive, and not just survive.
“Through the acceptance of each other’s different and sometimes opposing opinions (third level), the revelation of our hopes and dreams (fourth level), the honoring of each other’s unique feelings (fifth level), and the awareness of each other’s faults, fears and failures (sixth level), we have learned a variety of ways to revere and celebrate the individuality of our partner.”
Once you’ve gone through levels 1 through 6 with someone, you’re well-equipped to build a complementary lifestyle that helps each of you to become the best version of yourselves.