One is the most intimate number
A blazing orange and pink sunset. Barefoot on the beach. The steady beat of gentle Gulf coast waves lapping against the white sand. Warm hands clasped, fingers entwined. Voices quietly sharing a memory, an idea, a dream…
A tight embrace. Fingers running through hair. Tears staining darker blue against a tailored shirt. A staggered, stuttering voice confessing an old hurt that lingers…
Two heads close together, leaning in. An unexpected remark that breaks a moment… then, naked eye contact and the delight of irrepressible laughter over a private joke.
What does intimacy mean to you?
Most of us tend to think of intimacy as a relationship, our level of connection and knowing with another. We have different types of intimate relationships… with our lovers, spouses, with our parents, children, with friends and even coworkers… each relationship has its own definition of intimacy. We might measure that by how much we trust the other, how much emotional connection we feel, how comfortable we are in the presence of the other to be a wholly relaxed and open version of ourselves. And these measures are important – they help us gauge how much we let others into our circle, how deep into our heart and minds. It is the yardstick by which we build our community, our sense of belonging in our chosen society.
But how does this yardstick measure up when it’s just you?
Trusting yourself seems obvious and yet it’s one of the most difficult aspects of our self worth to conquer. We might trust our skill with a particular talent, such as drawing or dancing. We might trust our ability to negotiate a raise, persuade our coworkers to support a project, learn a new language or navigate a map. But how often do we trust our core selves – our intuition and our emotions that frame our every thought? To do this, you must believe in yourself. You must manage the gremlins who regularly work at convincing you that you are not smart enough, not pretty enough, not good enough… not smart, pretty or good enough for what? For the others.
This lack of trust in ourselves and reliance on others leads us to shut down our emotional connection with our core. When our gremlins are at play, and we are not feeling smart, pretty or good enough. We hurt. It’s not comfortable. It’s not pleasant. And we shut it down. We avoid those feelings by distracting ourselves with the busy-ness of everyday life, with the tasks and projects we know we can manage, like selling a project idea or becoming fluent in French. Or laundry. There’s always laundry to be done. We dull the pain through distraction and minimize the emotional connection between our body, soul and mind. It’s too complex, sometimes too painful and sometimes even too joyful. That’s a lot to manage. So much easier to try to maintain an even keel.
But what’s the cost at which we avoid ourselves?
There are countless articles that say “loneliness” and “aloneness” are different. I posit that you can not reach a state of aloneness without first understanding loneliness. And to understand loneliness, you must allow it to happen. You must sit tight on the cold, hard sand while the waves crash over you from twenty feet high and threaten to drown you. The walls of water come so hard and fast you can not see them, you are swallowed by them. You draw deep breaths, then gasp as water stops your nose and chokes you. You wonder why there is no one else reaching an arm out to pull you out of the thundering waves and save you. You hurt because no one is there. You hurt because you do not understand why. You are not feeling smart or pretty or good enough. Just lonely. But as you sit there and take the waves, you are taking the pain. You are absorbing the waves, feeling them, and then letting them go. The waves wash over you and away from you. After a time, the water is not so suffocating. The waves are not coming down as sharp and hard. You can breathe a little more steadily. You can see them coming and anticipate your next breath. You can feel a thin stream of sunlight penetrate the waves of water and warm your face. Just a little. You may sit a little longer, you may take your time getting your breath back and clearing your nostrils of the saltiness. When you are ready, you stand up. You wring out your clothes. Some of you may even throw the clothes off – who needs dripping wet reminders of what’s past, anyway?
But you’re not lonely now. You’re alone. You saw inside parts of yourself that you avoided for such a long time. Parts those gremlins had you convinced would lead to complete affirmation that you are not smart or pretty or good enough. And after looking hard and deep at what makes you who you are, at what you love, who you love and how you love, you realize that you are ok. Those gremlins are wrong and you are all those things – smart enough, pretty enough, good enough. Smart, pretty and good enough for whom? For you. You’re alone, and you’re ok.
Every now and then, you may find yourself back on the cold sand, sitting under those pounding waves as the gremlins thrash about. Each time may get a bit easier, the waves a little less punishing, the length of the beating a little shorter. And each time you walk away with a new layer of your soul revealed. To yourself. And a new layer of your soul to love.
Because one isn’t the loneliness number. It’s the most intimate number.
Natalie Hahn O’Flaherty is a principal at Dirty Girls Consulting, offering programs that support women. Women work differently, think differently, and it is up to us to develop this difference into our strength. We explore breaking free of traditional standards, accomplishing professional and personal goals to create an authentic, fully loved life. Read more Dirty Girl Consulting blogs here.