Intimacy in the Days of Social Distancing

This time offers us an opportunity to deepen our connection and compassion, even while we’re keeping physically apart.

If you’ve ever been to one of my classes, this will be a familiar topic: I love talking about intimacy and how people create the exquisite trusting, vulnerable space where they can connect and explore together.

Sometimes intimacy gets confused with physical contact: being intimate is a common euphemism for having sex. But what if intimacy is about more than physical closeness and sharing of bodies? What if it isn’t just about sex?

Intimacy is familiarity

It is creating a foundation of trust and vulnerability, setting boundaries that keep partners safe, and allowing for degrees of depth in relationship and partnership. Intimacy is shared between lovers but also among family members, friends, and colleagues.

Some questions to ask yourself to evaluate your varied degrees of intimacy: what do you feel comfortable talking about with your best friend or with your parents? What is appropriate to share at work or among acquaintances? How close is too close to be next to a family member, a friend, a neighbor, a stranger?

Social distancing is an exercise in intimacy

Suddenly, we are aware of other humans in ways we weren’t before. We notice who is around us and evaluate how close we want to be. We are being asked (okay, told) to maintain a two meter boundary in terms of physical distance and restrict public activity to essential errands. This is no longer about the “comfort zone” we prefer to maintain in lines, at the ATM, or on the subway; it’s about public health.

From another perspective, the coronavirus crisis is inviting us to get closer with our communities: sharing song and celebration of first responders in a city-wide balcony chorus, pooling supplies (who’s got toilet paper?!), looking out for the elderly and those who need support. We are learning about our neighbors’ situations in greater detail. We might even be seeing more of our neighbors as we are all home all the time!

Ultimately, we are all more vulnerable. We are concerned and wondering what the next days and weeks will bring. Viruses have no regard for borders, nationality, age, financial status, or health. Thus, we are called to care for one another and keep our communities healthy by staying away from each other.

Inside of relationships, we have an opportunity to hold each other in the uncertainty of this situation. Partners may be reacting differently in terms of news consumption, prepping ( Hamsterkauf, hamster shopping, is my new favorite German word), and willingness to go outside. We might be worried about careers, parents, children, retirement funds, etc. All of this is normal and okay. The key is to be able to keep lines of communication open and to honor each individual’s response as they process current events.

Let us ask ourselves:
How can we hold each other?
How can we nurture feelings of security and safety?
How can we listen to one another’s fears?
How can we feel safe to share our own?

Being generous and nurturing

My invitation to anyone reading this is to open their ears and hearts to each other. Let love in to your listening, no matter who you are in conversation with. Notice what might be unsaid. Notice undercurrents of concern or even relief--introverts like me could perceive this like a state-sanctioned indulgence of a heart’s desire to cancel plans and stay home with favorite people. Nurture yourself as well as your partner(s), family, friends, and community.

If you are in relationship or living with people (lovers, family, roomies, etc.), please be gentle with one another as well as with yourself. Now may be an excellent time to declutter your space, but maybe not the best moment to tell everyone else they need to do so, too. Take time alone and together to do all those “rainy day” things that never happen: board games, puzzles, long walks in the woods, writing your novel, learning Spanish. If you’re with your lover, make some time to play and explore. Your chance to try that fantasy may be today!

Ultimately, stay safe. Hold each other. Reach out for help when you need to, play when you can. We can get through this together, at a reasonable distance.

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Originally published at on March 20, 2020.



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