Who do you call when you feel like burning the world? Who do you open up to when you are tired and feel like running away from everything? Who do you cry to when you are deeply dissatisfied with the state of affairs? Who wouldn’t you mind sharing every thought and emotion as they come, till late into the night? Who can you be bare in front of? Who can you cry in front of, trusting they will understand, and care?
If they aren’t family, they are most likely your intimate friend(s).
What is intimacy in friendship?
Intimacy in friendship is a profoundly close and vulnerable relationship between two friends. An intimate friend is someone you trust and feel safe around. You will most likely have shared experiences, mutual values, common worldviews, and a desire to communicate with each other in a completely honest, transparent, and exhaustive manner.
There is no fear of judgment or betrayal between two intimate friends. You will often feel comfortable and even enthused to share your thoughts, feelings, and secrets with them. You are there for each other even when the skies are falling, and you know that you can always count on each other for support.
Friends who have built intimacy with one another over the years might even be closer to each other than their significant other. This is because intimate friends go through different phases in life together. For example, an intimate friend maybe by your side during college, throughout your first relationship, and even outlast your career. (Some intimate friendships last a lifetime and grow more valuable as the years go by).
The main difference between a friend and an intimate friend is the level of intimacy that exists between you. Friends may share some common interests and enjoy spending time with you, but they may not feel comfortable sharing their deepest thoughts and feelings with you. Intimate friends, on the other hand, feel comfortable sharing almost everything with you.
(Intimate friends are more or less extensions of each other, and they can feel that strong sense of connection. And, it is important to say that this sort of friendship is rare.)
“A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself.”– Jim Morrison
What are the characteristics of intimacy (in friends)?
To consider a friendship intimate, there needs to be some critical characteristics or elements in place. Some of those characteristics include;
Intimacy requires a high level of trust between the people involved. Both parties must feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with each other, without fear of judgement, rejection, betrayal, or blackmail. They should also be able to trust each other with their assets, opportunities, and family (parents, siblings, spouse, and kids).
Intimacy also requires a willingness to be vulnerable with each other. This means both parties should be willing to let their guards down, take off the mask, and simply share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences, without any filter – even if it is negative, shameful, or difficult.
Intimacy is also about acceptance. Intimate friends don’t judge each other harshly. They accept each other for who they are, flaws and all. They are not ashamed of each other. They also don’t try to change each other. In fact, intimate friends encourage each other to open the curtain whenever they sense it closing, and nudge each other to embrace who they are, and even become better versions of themselves.
Despite the closeness, intimacy also requires huge respect to exist. This means regarding and honouring the other person’s feelings, opinions, and decisions. That’s not to say they agree with everything the other says or does, but that they regard the other person’s view, and consider that they may have genuine reason for speaking or acting in certain ways.
Intimacy is often built on shared experiences. These can be anything from shared interests to shared life events. The bonds that are shared are often hard to describe with mere words and often influence both parties beyond the conscious level.
It is also important to note that sometimes, you may consider someone an intimate friend, whilst, in reality, they are not really there for you. This is why it is important to take things slow. To open up gradually, and trust with little at first. Giving it time to blossom is important, as time often reveals people’s true character and intentions. I’ll recommend you give a minimum of 3 years.
“What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.”– Aristotle
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What are the types of intimacy?
There are many different types of intimacy, but they can generally be categorized into four main types:
This is the most obvious type of intimacy, and it can also be the most problematic one. It involves physical contact in the form of holding hands, hugging, kissing, and in some cases sex. It is important to note that this type of intimacy can be prominent or minimal depending on the gender of the friends, and their cultural background. In our society and culture, two female friends tend to be more physically intimate than two male friends, and often without the sex.
This type of intimacy involves sharing your thoughts, feelings, and experiences with a friend. It is the ability to be vulnerable with someone else and to feel safe and accepted. Again, due to stereotypes in our societies, females tend to explore this type of intimacy more than men. Most men only get to explore this sort of intimacy when they eventually get married to a lady who they feel safe with.
This type of intimacy involves sharing your ideas, thoughts, and interests with another person without worries. It is the ability to have stimulating conversations, arguments, and disagreements, and to learn from each other. From my experience, book lovers, artists, and entrepreneurs often relish this sort of intimacy more than any other group of people.
This type of intimacy involves sharing your beliefs and values with another person. It is the ability to connect with each other on a deeper level through your shared faith or spirituality. In a religious country like Nigeria, it is not hard to see this sort of intimacy; especially between religious leaders and their followers.
What are the benefits of intimacy?
Intimacy helps you connect with your friends on a deeper level. This in turn makes you feel supported, understood, and loved. All these bring about many other benefits for you and your friends. Here are some of the most important ones:
Increased happiness and well-being:
Intimate friendships have been linked to increased happiness and well-being. This is because intimate friends provide support, love, and understanding. They are there for you when you need them, and they make you feel good about yourself.
Reduced stress and anxiety:
Intimate friends provide room to not only vent your feelings but to get support and encouragement. Feeling heard and supported, reduces the feeling of stress and anxiety. An intimate friend, detached from the problem, may be able to offer better insight or a different perspective and let us know everything will be okay. Other times they may simply assure us that they are a safety net we can fall back on if things go south.
Improved mental and physical health:
Intimate friendships have also been linked to improved physical and mental health because they provide us with social support.
Studies have shown that people with strong social ties, including intimate friendships, tend to live longer than those who do not. This is mainly because intimate friends help reduce mental stress and loneliness, which are linked to a lot of chronic illnesses.
“Friends are those rare people who ask how we are and then wait to hear the answer.”— Ed Cunningham
What is an example of intimacy in a friendship? And what are some acts of intimacy?
There are many different acts of intimacy that can be shared between friends. Some examples include:
Sharing personal thoughts and feelings.
This can be anything from talking about your hopes and dreams to sharing your fears and insecurities. It could be over texts, a call, or face-to-face. I do this a lot with my best friend. I often tell him about my frustrations, and desires, without fear of being seen as silly, creepy, or insane.
Giving and receiving emotional support.
This involves being there for each other when you are going through a tough time and offering words of encouragement and comfort. I got a lot of these when I lost my dad. I would spend over an hour on a call with my intimate friends, just rambling about random stuff, and sometimes, how I am feeling. And, they would listen and offer encouragement.
Celebrating each other’s successes.
This means being genuinely happy for your friend when they achieve something they have been working hard for. An intimate friend would make sure you appreciate the moment by highlighting the magnitude of your achievement no matter how small you had considered it earlier. They expel the imposter syndrome and break the curse of the silver medalist (aka, Upward Comparison).
Just spending time together.
This can be anything from going out for drinks to just hanging out at home and talking or listening to some music. Intimate friends find something fun to do and enjoy each other’s presence. You and your intimate friend may just visit the beach, and observe the people, as the day goes by without any judgment or attachment. Relishing each moment together as it goes by.
Depending on the nature of your friendship, and your cultural background, you could hug your intimate friend or kiss them on the cheek to express your love or care as the case may be.
Sometimes, going the extra mile to get them a thoughtful gift may be a way to show that you care for your intimate friend. Though it is important to note that not everyone feels comfortable being gifted or surprised, and some friends may not react as excited as you expect, simply because it is not their love language. So, try knowing more about your friends before gifting, especially when there’s no occasion.
Acts of service.
This could be anything from doing the dishes to helping your friend move. Yeah, having an intimate friend is not always roses and rainbows, sometimes you need to lift heavy objects and sweat under the sun just to get a little more intimate with them. Nothing feels satisfying as having accomplished a feat together.
Words of affirmation.
This is telling your friend how much you appreciate them, how much they mean to you, or how much you think they are amazing people deserving of all the love, happiness, and good things in life. Words of affirmation from an intimate friend are particularly potent during tough times. Make sure they are true and genuine. Also, try not to overdo it, else it might come off as fake or patronising.
If you spend time with people, you tend to like them more. Intimate friends spend time with each other and ensure they are present not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.
How do you build intimacy in a friendship?
Before you start trying to build intimacy in a friendship, it is important to ensure the friend is neither toxic nor abusive, and that they too are willing to put in the time and effort. Remember, it is very difficult to lift a couch all by yourself, but with the help of another, it is relatively easy.
Below are some tips on how to build intimacy in a friendship:
Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Your friends will appreciate you for who you are. If they don’t, then they are not the perfect people to build intimacy with. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should stick with unhealthy habits, but you should not try to pretend in order to fit in. If you need some time to work on yourself, great. But, never pretend as it only causes issues in the long run.
Vulnerability is a key part of intimacy. It means being willing to show your friends your weaknesses and mistakes. It can be scary, but it is also one of the most rewarding things you can do in a friendship, as it helps you learn more about yourself and your friends. Also, keep in mind that an intimate friend may not spare you the truth, but will rather help you if it is something you need help with.
Honesty is the foundation of any good relationship. Be honest with your friends about your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. When you lie – either by omission or commission – you break your friend’s trust, and without trust, you can not have a healthy friendship, not to mention an intimate one.
Give and accept support.
Be there for your friends when they need you. Listen to them when they’re going through a tough time and offer your support. If you ghost or betray your friends when they need you drastically, they most likely won’t forget even though they might forgive. And, if the pattern continues – if you still fail to support them during another incident – they might start drifting from you.
Also, accepting your friends’ support when you are in need also shows your friends that you value them, and make them like you more. This is called the Benjamin Franklin effect in psychology.
Everyone makes mistakes. Be willing to forgive your friends when they make mistakes. However, this does not mean you should allow toxic or abusive patterns to flourish. People seldom make mistakes three times in a role. Perhaps, they are undermining you; and you deserve better.
Let your friends know how much you appreciate them. Tell them how much they mean to you and how much you value their friendship. Keep in mind that they are not telepaths, so your words and actions need to clearly reflect your thoughts and emotions towards them as overtly as possible.
Spend time together.
The more time you spend with someone, the more likely you are to develop a sense of intimacy with them. This is known as the mere-exposure effect in psychology and is something you should leverage when trying to build an intimate friendship. Make an effort to see your friends regularly and do things together that you both enjoy. You can/should involve them in coming up with the plan so it doesn’t clash with their schedule.
When you are with your friends, be present. This means putting away your phone and giving them your full attention. Listen to what they have to say and really try to understand them. If you happen to be chatting via the phone, try not to take too long before replying to their messages.
Everyone is different. Accept your friends for who they are, even if they are different from you. This means accepting their flaws and their quirks. This does not mean you shouldn’t call out your friends when they do something wrong, or encourage them to improve in certain areas of their lives. It just means you shouldn’t judge them harshly, but should try to support them the way you can, rather than making them feel bad for their shortcomings.
It takes time to build intimacy. Don’t expect to become intimate friends overnight. Just be patient and let the relationship develop naturally.
It took me years, but I think I’ve finally understood it. Life was never meant to be done alone. It’s like a football match. First, you’ve got to identify your team members, as well as the goal. Then, you’ve got to learn to trust and work with other team members; it doesn’t matter if you are the best or worse player. And, just as footballers have no fear of discussing their strategy and next moves with team players, and sometimes develop secret sign languages, so also intimate friends understand the mission.
So, I think the first step in building intimate friendships is understanding what team you are in, and being extra careful in curating the people you let into the team.
“Rare as is true love, true friendship is rarer.”– Jean de La Fontaine
A Self-Help Writer And Editor Who Keeps It Simple (Yet Elegant)