The last time I had love, I wasn’t strong enough for it yet. I tried to stuff the love in all my empty spaces; that isn’t what love is for.
Intimacy in any of its forms is fickle. It isn’t meant to fill your holes, but we all try sometimes anyway. Mostly, it just makes new holes of its own.
When you aren’t strong enough yet, love can hurt you and intimacy seems like it can fix you. Can I take what one person did, what I did, and shove it aside to make room for something else? Can a bandaid fix what needs stitches?
I know it is easy to say you want love: that you have love to give and you think you deserve it right back in the exact form you think you need. But the tricky part about the deep intimacy that is real love is that it doesn’t always happen at the right time, it’s not always good, and it’s standing amongst a group of a lot of imposters. If you wear the right costume, you can fool anyone into thinking you’re someone else.
You go into dark rooms. You walk out into the morning light.
You brush up against a warm body in a nightclub. You ignore the unlabeled number in your phone log once the sun comes up.
You watch an almost stranger eat food across the table from you. You sip on your drink. You wonder if this person likes you back, if your legs brushing underneath the wood means anything or if it’s just proximity. You wonder, too quickly, if this could morph into love. Like love is the yeast you add to dough to make it rise.
I’ve never liked calling myself a romantic — it seems fake, forced. I’m nostalgic at the very least and hopeful at the very best but romance seems to equate itself with roses I don’t want and ideas of heteronormativity that have long since bored me. Yes, The Notebook makes me cry but that’s not my story and I don’t want it to be.
So I often sit across from or next to people I barely know in an effort to get to know them. Intimacy requires sharing parts of yourself in unnatural ways, trying to articulate your essence in a manner that sounds appealing while also making sure you’re paying enough attention to the other person. There are a lot of moving parts and sometimes we like to force them to fit together, like two legos that, sorry baby, come from different sets.
Haven’t you ever sat alone in your empty room trying to will the black screen of your phone to light up? Text me back!!!! you scream into the void. Why won’t they text me back? Is it something I said? Is it something I did? Should I have played coy longer? Should I have pretended I didn’t want to talk to them at all? It’s like trying to play a game of chess, but one of the queens is lost, but god damn it you really want to play.
So you do it. You play even though you’re missing some of the pieces and you haven’t had a win in years. Intimacy, it seems, is worth the risk.
And so it goes.
You watch another stranger across the table from you. This time they’re drinking a beer and it’s so cold their hand has made a frosty mark on the glass like when you were a kid and wrote I love you on the fogged up mirror after a shower. You think about when you were six and started showering for the first time and felt so grown up and measured life with the simplicity of the hot water you looked forward to every night. It’s dark in this bar and the table is too big for legs to touch, so you listen to this person talk and imagine what it might be like to kiss them and know you could never tell them about the time when you were six and wrote I love you on the fogged up mirror. They talk about monogamy, then polyamory, then what it might be like take part in an orgy at Burning Man. You wonder why intimacy doesn’t work the same for everyone. You wonder which kind will finally work for you.
You think about the date you went on last week where the guy bought a round of tequila shots and it felt romantic. Anyone can be romantic. Can romance exist if the person never talks to you again? Is romance intimacy?
I have no interest in being romantic but I do want to be intimate. One requires no vulnerability while the other requires you to open yourself in ways you may never have before. Intimacy terrifies me but reaps the greatest rewards. You can discover parts of yourself that might have been hidden. Even when intimacy fails or even when it ends in confusion, sadness, rejection — you have learned, you have grown.
My pieces haven’t fit with someone else’s pieces yet and that’s okay. Like learning to care for a plant, I need to figure out how much water, how much sunlight, how much love I can truly give to another person. And in the same sense, I’m still learning how much I can receive too.
Intimacy doesn’t always lead to love; actually, most of the time it doesn’t. Love is that rare gem that comes around only a few times or never at all. But experimenting with intimacy allows us to see more clearly. It’s like going on a hike that you know will end up on a secluded beach with crystal blue water and white driftwood and a rainbow collection of pebbles, but the trek there is full of branches and shadowy trails and feels longer than it should.
But when you finally get there, it’s like you’re seeing for the very first time.
This is the title essay of my first collection which was self-published (support your girl!!) and is available here.