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A New Definition of Intimacy

Ladybugs are frequent messengers in my life, often showing up at moments when I really think I am headed in the complete wrong direction and really need to becoming willing to open up and ask someone for help. (photo by Marcy Schrum)

I like to make up my own definitions to words.

Sometimes I do this because the definitions in the dictionary don’t seem to fit. Sometimes I do this because I don’t understand what the dictionary is talking about.

Sometimes I do this because when I read the definition, I feel it is giving me the end result – what the word’s outcome will be, but there is no detail about the steps to get there.

And sometimes I do this because definitions in general often seem very theoretical, and I typically do a lot better with practical application.

So not, “how can I use this word in a sentence?,” but rather, “How can I use this word in my daily life?”

The word “intimacy” is a great example in all these areas.

According to a vast variety of dictionary definitions for this word, intimacy means each of the following.

  1. Closeness. Clearly a result of intimacy – what intimacy can provide. But how can I get there?
  2. An intimate act. Really? Okay, I know what they’re talking about. But don’t use the actual word I’m trying to understand in the definition for that word….grrr.
  3. Knowledge of a subject. See #1 here.
  4. An intimate remark. See #2 here.

The one and only definition I found online that I feel any resonance comes from a fellow Psych Central blogger, who writes “intimacy means deeply knowing another person and being deeply known.”

But still, there are steps missing – for me at least. And here, you have to understand that while I always got all As in observation, I routinely get all Fs in application, at least when it comes to intimate relationships.

As proof, I present this fact: 

Only this past year – year 47 for me – did I at last learn how to really open up to a close friend and cry in their presence (or over the phone) and ask them for their time to just listen so I won’t feel so alone.

So when I say I need details of how to apply the word “intimacy” in my life, I really do mean it. Perhaps at this point you are wondering what my deal is with this particular word. What makes it such a focal point in my life right now?

When my longtime love and I split back in November, intimacy or lack thereof was a major trigger. We couldn’t agree on what it means or how to apply it. I wanted more. He wanted less. Or we just wanted it in different ways – ways that felt safer to each of us – ways that were very different.

We wanted to give intimacy in the same ways we wanted to receive intimacy, which as you can imagine didn’t go well for either of us. Finally, after years and then months and then weeks and then days of wrangling, circular discussions, and sometimes outright attempts at debate, it was time to admit defeat and move along.

It was at this point I finally discovered my personal definition for the word “intimacy.”

It is – wait for it – “willingness.”

Willingness, to me at least, is intimacy in action. It is how I express my intention to become closer to someone else, to get to know another being better, to permit them to draw closer to me and get to know me better.

Perhaps “openness” would work just as well here, but I prefer willingness for the simple reason that I need very detailed steps, and in my world, willingness comes first, then openness, and then (at least in theory at this point) intimacy.

Today’s Takeaway: Have you ever experienced a split with someone you care for – a friend, partner, family member, anyone – because there was an intimacy mismatch? How did you figure out what wasn’t working? How did you heal? I would love to hear your stories!

A New Definition of Intimacy

Shannon Cutts

Freelance writer. Author. Cockatiel, redfoot tortoise & box turtle mama.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2019). A New Definition of Intimacy. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 8 Feb 2019
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