Suffer Intimacy

For years, I specialized in superficial relationships– friends from work or school “knew” me well enough, but I made it sure it stayed light.  I was scared of conflict, and I had a bucket-full of secrets about the weird way I ate oranges or how I had to exercise on weekend mornings.  I kept other people at an arm’s length, because I was terrified of their feelings and my own. Keep that shit away from me, please, because I don’t know what to do when the ca-ca hits the fan.  (And it always hits the fan.)

And that life strategy worked until it stopped working, and I realized because I’m smart with the help of lots of therapy that my loneliness and depression might be connected to the quality of my relationships.


Ok. Fine.

Eventually, I learned to handle conflict better and now lots of people (Jeff, Sadie and Simon) know how weird I am about eating oranges and I am more comfortable with lots of feelings being expressed in my presence.  I may not be an intimacy pro, but I have some muscles built up that at least makes it possible for me to allow people to get close to me.

But the terror is still there.

Like last night, for example.  Sadie was having lots of big emotions, which were manifested in crying, defiance, being a wee bit too rough with Simon, and then throwing couch pillows on the floor and refusing to go to bed.  I think we can all agree that’s fairly standard for a three-year old who’s been cooped up for almost 2 straight weeks with her parents and brother.

In response to Sadie’s big emotions, I had my own reactions.  Mostly, I felt that old squeamishness creep in that still shows up whenever anyone else around me is having lots of feelings.  Intellectually, I know that I want my kids to be free to safely show emotions (throwing pillow couches: fine; smacking Simon’s head: not fine), but everything inside of me can’t wait until it’s over.

Because it scares me. I feel out of control– I certainly can’t control her, and I can’t control my reactions either.  I feel rage when Sadie won’t just come sit down and have delicious Costco rotisserie chicken with us.  We. Are. Eating. As. A Family. Damnit. 

Then, as we limped through bathtime, I was enraged all over again when she wouldn’t pull the drain stopper out. Why can’t she just do that for me?  My back is killing me and I really need her to just do this one thing.

So it was one of those nights.  Sadie was acting age appropriately, and I was flailing around alternating between rage and shame for feeling so much rage about a three-year old’s antics.

Once I was alone on my bed at the end of the night, I remembered a peculiar guy named Peter I used see at recovery meetings.  He anachronistically wore a tie-dyed hat with a pin that said, “Suffer Intimacy”.  While I was scared to death of colorfully-clad Peter, I loved to stare at this pin.

Because being intimate feels like suffering to me.  Having an intimate relationship with Sadie is going to be extremely painful: we will hurt each other (we actually already do).  We will disappoint each other, we will say the wrong things, we will have bad habits, and we will see each other’s ugly parts.  Some of it will suck a big one.

I let myself visualize what it would be like to have a distant, superficial relationship with Sadie– would it be easier? Would we clash less? Would it be like the difference between flirting with a guy at the bar whose morning breath (or anything else) you will never know and marrying your co-worker whose morning breath (and open heart) greets you every morning?

Of course, I want close relationships, but I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you how scary it feels and how sometimes (like last night) I wonder if I am capable.

Can I suffer intimacy?


42 thoughts on “Suffer Intimacy

  1. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?? I am sitting here watching When A Man Loves A Woman and I AM NOT LYING everybody hurts is playing and I am hysterically crying. I don’t know if I can suffer intimacy. I don’t know. Some days I try, but truthfully I’ve put together a life where I don’t have to confront it all that often. I’m screwed emotionally. I’m going to get a kit kat and think about this.

  2. Wow. This knocked me off my feet. It’s rare to read something so full of honesty. It really is. It’s also profoundly touching because I think most of us struggle with intimacy in some way or another—or at least I do. It’s scary. I’m not sure if I’ve examined it all as thoroughly as you have (because it’s obvious that you have …and good for you) but I probably need to. Well done. (and my two cents are that you are ready and capable for the intimacy. Just understanding what is going on and being able to look at it and mull it around says that to me!)

    • I keep thinking if I was “good” at intimacy, then those hard nights wouldn’t be so hard. I would be more “centered” or “detached” and less insane-feeling. I don’t hear much about this, but it seriously plagues me on those day-after-the-hard-nights.

      Thank you for your two cents– it’s worth at least a dollar! Don’t discount.

  3. Oh, I so feel for you! And you can “suffer” intimacy and you can also delight in it – especially with your family who can watch you eat citrus fruit in strange ways and love you despite it. Small children really test our patience (and our backs!) and it’s so easy to just lose your temper with them and want to run fast and far away. But it doesn’t seem like a fear of intimacy to me. Parenting is gruelling and emotional test, but we’ve also never felt love like this quite before. But I can see how it would touch off your past issues. Wow. I’m rambling now. Just want to give you a hug and tell you everything you’re feeling is in the range of normal.

    • THANK YOU. I try not to write with expectations that something in the comments will “fix” me or “normalize” me, but it means so much when someone like you can both relate and comfort. It’s priceless. Thank you.

  4. One of my biggest fears is that I will end up with a superficial relationship with my daughter because of my issue with intimacy. At this point I only care about my family though. I had a good friend encourage me to open up to intimacy in my friendships and the result was so painful that I’m done with that for good. And I am truly much happier. I’m not sure intimacy needs to be suffered with people who aren’t worth it. For me, the only people who are worth it are my spouse and children.

    • I have had similar experiences with friends. Most of the time it works out ok, but the bad ones….they left a mark or two. Thank you for articulating this– I am scared we’ll end up distant and superficial because of My intimacy issues. Yep. That’s it.

  5. I think you can “suffer intimacy.” That being said, there is no doubt in my mind that you are capable of close relationships. There is no way in the world you could write something as beautiful and raw and honest as this post if you weren’t. I have two sisters, so I know well that the mother/daughter relationship is among the most fraught, complex, and ultimately special relationships that exist. Of course you will clash and hurt each other, but you will also love each other in a way that no one else can. I think it’s good that you think things like this, and write things like this. You care and you feel deeply, and the importance of that can’t possibly be overstated.

    • I guess that’s true. If nothing else, I know that I care and want to be fully present and healthy and close. I want it and I feel great fear. No sin in that, I guess. Thanks for sharing. I didn’t realize you were one of three sisters. That’s intense!!!

  6. It’s really hard for me to let my kids in when I’m struggling with either my own past and PTSD . . . I feel distant and removed sometimes (okay OFTEN), from them but also from myself. I go somewhere in my mind. Far away. Stuck . . . drifting . . . lost. But what I’m finding is that as long as I let them, my children bring me back–they literally grab hold of me and they insist on taking that intimacy they need from me. And sometimes–often–when I allow that to happen, I feel. I feel. And in feeling, I’m alive. That is the reward of suffering intimacy. It hurts. But it can be a really good kind of hurt.

    • That’s exactly it. It’s like a PTSD fugue state and I don’t know how to parent from those places. And weirdly, sometimes stuff they kids to spark something in me that seems like PTSD….of course kids should act like that but in other contexts, the adults should not have been acting as they were. Hence, I get a little turned around.

  7. Intimacy is really scary. I’ve been letting more people in and letting myself out a little more lately and the results are wonderful and very uncomfortable. I am a mom with “a large personal space” as I often tell my children. It feels awful to say out loud but it’s the absolute truth. I need a little warning when people are going to get close. Or loud. Or messy. And if everyone could manage all of those things the way I would like to see them, it would just be so much easier. For me. I would also like the freedom to be all of those things whenever I like without any reaction. Or better yet…affirmation. I like affirmation. So there’s my crazy. Thanks for broaching this topic so honestly.

    • Sometimes when I am sitting next to Sadie in a booth or on a bench and we are eating she won’t stop touching me all over I feel like I am going to scream, because I need personal space while I eat….like a freaking animal. It’s better when I tell her what I need than wait until I blow. But man, it’s hard. It feels like I should let her hang on me.

  8. Amen, sister! I struggle, struggle and struggle some more with this one. Great point about what it would be like to have a distant, superficial relationship with Sadie. It makes me think about the same thing with my little man. Love hurts, but is it like working out? No pain, no gain. I’ve never gotten deep enough to find out.

  9. I’m grateful to be in this life work of intimacy with you. Today I’m feeling hope that the path is wide and I’m not alone. I’m telling myself that intimacy is scary for everyone, especially when we’re not using anything (usually) to numb ourselves of the fear. Beautiful post!

    • Good point. I guess if I was addicted to painkillers or something I could have popped a few and glided through the evening. AS it was, there was no killing the pain and no gliding. And honestly, that’s a good thing.

  10. I have decided that you are the one who has been watching me all these years LoL and are now deemed my hero!! Nobody can understand the chaos inside until they’ve lived with it, gotten to know it, and politely told it to kiss your ass!!! Kudos on a terrific blog =)

  11. I’m convinced parenting has taken every pre-conceived notion I had about my life, my self, my relationships and had a good laugh. I have to remind myself daily that “he’s just being 4.” It doesn’t always work. I fail sometimes. I often wish I could peek into the homes of those people who wrote Love and Logic or 1-2-3 Magic and find out if it REALLY was as easy as they made it seem and they never, ever lost their cool, raising perfectly normal, healthy children who behaved beautifully. I’m not drinking their Kool-Aid that it was as rosy as they claimed. And on the small chance it was, I wonder how truly intimate those relationships are/were?

    In my experience, the foundation of these relationships is such that they let in as much hurt (more?) as they do joy. It’s not just platitudes. Children don’t give us much choice in the matter (unless you’re just a really sucky or absentee parent) of what kind of relationship we have. Sadie and Simon make you capable because they’ve already done the choosing for you. Yeah, there are sucky days, but there are and will be good ones too.

    • Definitely and our good moments are more numerous than the awful ones, but sometimes those awful ones strike at my tenderest spot and I think, “OH GOOD LORD, now what???”

  12. Loved your somewhat brutally honest blog. My comment comes by way of Pema Chodron. “Feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.”

    • How is this that I am bawling at this beautiful comment? I love this reframe of my frailty. Thank you very much. Teachers come in the strangest guises. I should read some Pema.

  13. you can suffer the intimacy and you will. nothing about relationships is easy. things you want to say, you don’t. things you don’t want to say, you do. there’s resentment over stuff that can’t be helped. it’s all just being human. you’re one of us. and that’s okay. xo
    especially since i don’t have to smell your breath in the morning. 😉

  14. You know what they say – admitting the issue means you are ready to tackle it! The mother-child relationship is for sure combative at times. But Sadie will probably lead you to the intimacy. I might worry more if you weren’t scared!

  15. With other people, I’m a watcher and hanger back. The one who can give you a brutally honest opinion you may not want to hear. To be intimate with somebody’s emotions though? That shit is tough. And kids? They just spew emotions. Huge emotions. It was tough when they were younger, but it is easier now. I was lucky though – boys are a little more contained on the emotional stuff.

  16. The relationships we have with our children are complicated. I actually do understand my emotions, as do my younger children, but my son does not. At all. I don’t necessarily think being good or bad at intimacy makes the hard days any less hard.

  17. The thing that they don’t tell you is that when you become a mother, you create a relationship over which, for several years, you have no control — and that is terrifying.

    My odd numbered children (1 & 3) have personalities more closely intertwined with mine than my even numbered children (2 & 4). The “odds” have always been more dependent on me and have a harder time seperating themselves from me. They are more anxious, more needy, and more prone to making me insane with their needs. My “evens” are more independent and just go with the flow better than the “odds.”

    Do I love any of them less? Absolutely not. But I’m not going to lie, I have a stronger range of feelings for my “odds” because they push me to my absolute limit. They challenge me, they make me stretch, and I fail miserably with them. I don’t fail as much with my “evens” and sometimes hanging with one or both of them without my “odds” feels like a vacation.

    I’ve never done anything as hard as parenting. Some days are just bad. But I wake up every day and try again. Heck, I even smile at them when I see them first thing because no matter how bad the previous day, I’m glad to see them the next day.

    • This is such a loving response. Thank you. It sure helps me contextualize these scary and confusing feelings. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you and your experience.

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