The teenage years are when we typically develop a taste for intimacy. This can take many forms. The most obvious is the burning desire to get laid, a common thread running through popular American teen movies, from John Hughes classics like Weird Science to American Pie.
Teens crave physical and sexual intimacy, but they also crave emotional and psychological intimacy. As a teenager, I wanted to get laid, and be intimate with a girl’s body, but I also wanted to be intimate with her heart and her mind. A girlfriend wasn’t just a “fuck buddy” but someone I could potentially get to know more deeply than anyone else, even deeper perhaps than social convention allowed for.
I was a hopeless romantic as a teenager. I read lots of poetry and novels. I wrote love letters. I listened to Billie Holiday. I felt that ordinary life was hollow and superficial and wanted to find something deeper and more meaningful. I was lonely. I craved intimacy. I felt special, set apart from the crowd, but really I was just a typical teenager.
Although I wasn’t explicitly aware of it at the time, most of my emotional and intellectual energy revolved around the idea of intimacy. My best friend and my girlfriend were my male and female “intimacy buddies”. We could explore deep feelings and ideas together. Marijuana was another “intimacy buddy”. It allowed me to be intimate with myself, with my senses and the inner workings of my mind.
Reading great writers and listening to great music afforded me a special intimacy with the great minds and souls of the past. Clubbing and raving on Ecstasy and LSD afforded me intimacy with strangers and a collective “hive mind”. Meditation retreats and long country walks deepened my intimacy with nature and silence.
Very soon it became clear to me that the world is divided between those who are open to intimacy and those who are closed. One of the questions that has haunted me throughout my psychotherapy career is why? Some people suffer because they cannot satisfy their buried desire for intimacy, but others seem to get along just fine without it. Why? There is no simple answer. Perhaps we are just born that way.
People clearly vary when it comes to the degree of emotional and psychological intimacy they can bear, but they also vary when it comes to spiritual intimacy. Some people heed the Delphic inscription Know Thyself and make it their life’s goal and mission. Some people burn with a holy desire to Know God and to be as intimate with Him who is “closer than your jugular vein” as Brother Lawrence and Thomas Traherne were. Some even smoke weed or drink ayahuasca to help them. Most people, however, are either indifferent or disapproving of this quixotic behaviour.
Socrates famously said, “the unexamined life is not worth living”. He was talking about an intellectual intimacy with life, which he, as a member of the class of teens and adults who are open to intimacy, could not imagine a meaningful life without. For those of us who value intimacy on all levels, and not just on the intellectual, philosophical level, I say rather, “the distant life is not worth living”.