Three Pre-Requisites for Intimacy
My last roommate, Divya, and I were talking about relationships a few weeks ago. During that conversation, I was vibing with her about three pre-requisites I discovered, to even be capable of an intimate, committed relationship.
First, I accepted my best self and quit trying to be my "ideal" self. No happy person can fulfill a false persona for an indefinite period of time. Eventually, with your partner, your true self will shine through. Consequently, it's practical to just be yourself from the beginning so there are no surprises.
Doing so is not easy, even though "being yourself" is proverbial wisdom. In society and culture we're surrounded by messages that talk about how to be an "ideal" lover, worker, and partner instead of ourselves. Fashion magazines, books (like Neil Strauss's "The Game"), blog posts on LinkedIn, etc. have checklists on how to be an ideal person to others. We're constantly nudged into being someone else, often subliminally. That makes it hard to "just be yourself."
Accepting my best self required me to stop trying to be the center of every social network, and constantly trying to be everyone's friend. It also required me to place less emphasis on being the best consultant at my company and considering myself a success only if I gained admission to the most prestigious graduate schools in the country.
Second, I allowed myself to feel deserving of love. After all, if you can't accept love it's basically impossible to give it. About 2 and a half years ago, everything in life was going well - I had a good salary, a good enough GMAT score, and lots of fun times with friends - but I felt guilty about it, especially about relationships. I didn't feel like I was worthy of being loved. In retrospect, pursuing extrinsic things (i.e., career, money, social status) was probably something I was doing so that I would feel accomplished enough to deserve love. I was in a terrible mental state and was driving myself to be crazier by the day.
I was lucky though, a few close friends and my family pulled me back and just gave me love without me even asking for it. They told me I was worthy of love (from other people and from God). They gave me books to read so that I could re-wire my brain. Everyone has a different process for realizing that they were worthy of being loved, and I was lucky to have a lot of support through it.
These two realizations have to come early on (or before) a relationship. My third realization came after starting a relationship with Robyn.
Third, I started to find joy in making sacrifices for my partner. Not just compromise or acceptance in sacrifice, but joy. Relationships (of any flavor) don't work without sacrifice. If they're not joyful, they aren't additive to the energy of the relationship, they're subtractive. Given the choice, why not be joyful about sacrifice? For Robyn and I, finding in joy in sacrifice was a virtuous sacrifice for our relationship.
Here's an example. I'm very messy about having clothes strewn about in my apartment. Robyn isn't ever upset with me about it, but she's definitely not amused by messy clothes. Knowing that she would rather have laundry taken care of neatly, I started to make an effort to put my clothes where they belong. This is something Robyn presumably appreciated so it made me happy. Because it made me happy, it became a habit, which made Robyn even more happy. Now, we're in an upward spiral of sacrifice and appreciation in more than just the realm of laundry. None of it would've happened, however, if either of us didn't find joy in the smallest of sacrifices.
To have intimacy, I discovered at least three pre-requisites: accepting yourself, accepting love, and finding joy in sacrifice for others.
The funny thing is, they have very little to do with "knowing what you want", "trying out lots of people", finding "the one" or other externally-focused cliches. Rather, these three truths I've discovered have to do entirely with changing yourself.