The opposite of loneliness is not togetherness, it’s intimacy ― Richard Bach

I’ve never read Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and probably even mocked it back in the day, when it came out. It just sounded so silly. But here is a very wise quote from its author. Of course. Doesn’t everyone know the feeling of being lonely in a crowd? (Does everyone? Or is this more of an introvert thing?) You needn’t be alone to be lonely.

Intimacy is the opposite of loneliness, I get that. But that takes me only halfway to enlightenment. The trouble is, I can’t put my finger on what intimacy is. It’s one of those words that I understand on a cellular level, but struggle to define.

Merriam-Webster online defines intimacy as the state of being intimate, and defines the intimate as:

1 a : intrinsic, essential

b : belonging to or characterizing one’s deepest nature

2 : marked by very close association, contact, or familiarity<intimate knowledge of the law>

3 a : marked by a warm friendship developing through long association <intimate friends>

b : suggesting informal warmth or privacy <intimate clubs>

4 : of a very personal or private nature <intimate secrets>

Yes, OK. All of that is correct. Strictly speaking.

And yet all this together doesn’t capture the way intimacy feels. Can anything?

True intimacy between two people is a little bit more than all that. It has je ne sais quois. True intimacy is fearless, but also careful. It’s uncensored. And intuitive. It’s trusting. It can’t be forced or rushed. When you have reached it, you can see it in each other’s eyes and feel it even across miles.

Intimacy is often equated with sex, but we all know that the two don’t always go together. Sex is a lot easier to find than intimacy. And sex without intimacy can be very lonely indeed. (Or fun sometimes. Depends on what you’re after.)

Togetherness can lead to intimacy, but it also can lead just to familiarity. Familiarity is nice and comfortable but only an approximation of intimacy. A sketchy shadow of it. It is intimacy with habits, perhaps, rather than with heart and mind. Familiarity just requires showing up.

Intimacy requires more but I’m not sure what. I’m not even sure exactly what it is, except that I know it when I feel it.

What is intimacy? Help me out here. Intimacy is when _____

(P.S. I guess I’d better read Jonathan Livingston Seagull.)

Silhouette of man and woman is available at Shutterstock.



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    Last reviewed: 15 Oct 2012

APA Reference
Dembling, S. (2012). Intimacy Is Good, But What Is Intimacy?. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 28, 2015, from



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