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On the Forms of Intimacy

Updated: Feb 9, 2021

By Quido Haskovec

There are two types of intimacy a person can experience in their lifetime. One is heavy and the other is light. The distinction is vital, paramount to the experience of a human interacting with others of the same kind, as it allows us to understand better what we want out of the relationships we have, or if there even is anything to be gained. The reader with a keen mind and deep devotion to literature might notice that this distinction is quite akin to the one that Milan Kundera (1987) makes in his unbearably beautiful book The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and such a reader would be right. If you did not notice personally, go and read it.

The light intimacy is the one that is much more common: It is all-pervasive in our lives and in fact our society as we know it could not function without it. It has two forms itself; physical and social. Light physical intimacy is the reassuring presence of other bodies - packed - in the train travelling towards Holborn station, but it is also the feeling of a strange tongue twisting inside of your mouth after a particularly adventurous night out spent in the noble company of hard drugs and harder liquor, or it can be the smile of a person that notices you singing out loud while waiting for coffee inside the local shop of yet another gentrified coffee chain. This type of intimacy gives you the reassurance that your body exists, that other people can perceive it and also that they do have a certain attitude towards it. One desires it not particularly because one cares about the attitude the others have of one’s body, but because these brief encounters allow one to grasp the decisive physicality of one’s existence. The mind might be independent of the body or it might not be, it does not change much as we still have to take the body into account.

The light social intimacy on the other hand reassures us that our mind is not something existing in a vacuum, it gives us the much-needed proof that the mind is something that is relevant outside of itself. This usually happens with people in our routine everyday lives, when I walk into a lecture theater and have a brief conversation about how terrible waking up before 9am is with a fellow student who has long dark hair but whose name I do not know, when you have a conversation with your mother about what it means to have a successful life which will inevitably turn into bitter emotions, when the man selling you cigarettes points out how nice the weather is, even though the sun is not shining, and you are convinced that he is a person of very low standards (or just spent his life living in Britain). But it can also happen in multiple other scenarios, in which you do not even have to meet the person or know how he looks: That is when an anonymous commenter drops the three fire emojis below your latest Instagram post or when you are watching a movie which will make you cry. I might even be so bold as to make the meta claim that you have developed this type of intimacy with myself, if you have read so far.

Notice that the light intimacy is happening in only one direction, despite the fact that there are two or more people involved in the act that leads to it. The intimacy arises because You, the infinitely egoistical individual that in actuality cares solely about yourself, need to be reassured and use other people for that purpose. That is why I have decided to call this type of intimacy light, because it does not ask for anything in return, the person experiencing it does it only for themselves. That does not necessarily mean that the other person does not get anything out of the interaction, yet that does not matter, as they will only gain it due to their own endeavor. We just carve specific shapes out of the interactions we have with other people, in order to hopelessly try and solve the puzzle of our very own individuality. The lightness comes in because nothing holds us down.

The heavy intimacy is on the other hand heavy exactly because it asks for something in return, it holds us down and ties us closer to the people we share the intimacy with. When I experience this type of intimacy it is not about me in the context of other human beings, but rather it is about the reassurance in the particular relationship I have with the person I share the moment with. It is heavy because if I share this type of intimacy with another person it means that I can no longer consider just myself, but I have to consider the other person as well. It is something that grows like an extremely rare and exotic flower, which is maintained with heavy work and expenditure of many resources by all sides involved. It can be shared with a family member, a lover, a friend.

It was right after my fourteen-day, state-imposed quarantine, when I had decisively entered a nearby park with the decisive intent of getting back into a decisive shape. While I was doing my pushups and just sweating in general, my eyes were glued to an elderly couple playing table tennis a couple of meters away, below the noble-looking pine trees. After their lighthearted match, which was accompanied by perpetual smiles and banter, they sat on a green bench in order to rest. After a while one of them got up, I do not remember which one of them it was and it could have been either of them, and gave a back massage to the other one. I have met this couple every single time I have come back to the park, playing their very own table tennis championships, while the stadium was empty and no one else was watching. A heavy intimacy, if I have ever seen one.

I have created this distinction to remind myself that light intimacy is not always enough, and now I may have reminded you as well. Do with this reminder what you may, but it is never a wrong time to pick up the phone and call your loved ones or to invite them out for a socially distanced game of table-tennis.

Book mentioned: Kundera, M., & Heim, M. H. (1987). The unbearable lightness of being. New York: Harper & Row.

Quido Haskovec is a staff writer at the Clare Market Review.

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