Sex and Intimacy Are Not the Same
Sex is great… However, it isn’t what I’m looking for anymore, at least not in and of itself.
I think one-night stands get a bum rap.
I mean, sure, if done wrong they can be a nightmare.
Deception, manipulation, lack of contraception, false promises of a further relationship — there are a lot of ways to fuck it up, but when done correctly and with care, a one night stand is almost a magical thing.
There’s an honesty to it. You can be your truest selves because, come sunrise, it really won’t matter anymore. You’re as two ships passing in the night, and that can be enough.
One night stands have been a longtime source of some of my wildest experiences as well as my funniest stories. However, it’s time that I leave them behind, and the reason is as simple as it is complicated.
I don’t yearn for sex anymore, I yearn for intimacy — and the two are far from synonymous.
I began to really recognize the difference between the two in the beginning of 2015, because of The Teacher.
I met The Teacher back in 2012 through some sort of terrible online dating site. We were and are very different people. She came from the South while I grew up in Brooklyn; she was a few years older and far more educated than I; and her religion was a very important part of her character, while I’m an atheist.
We had so little in common it’s a surprise we ever clicked at all — but what we shared was a passion for books and an immediate, disarming warmth for each other.
The Teacher is the only woman I’ve ever been involved with who I’m still close with, and we’ve dated intermittently since. While we never became anything too serious or committed, we always found our way back into the other’s life during moments of big change. Though we spent years on and off going out to dinner or going to the park, it took nearly three years for us to actually have sex for the first time.
That’s not to say we didn’t try, but our living situations made it difficult to find a moment alone.
Her teaching job left her exhausted on the nights she wasn’t busy, and I was often occupied doing… whatever it is 21-year-olds do. (Drinking, probably.)
On a Friday night in early 2015, I was at a bar in Midtown, Manhattan. Years of working an office job I really couldn’t stand were starting to wear on me. Stress and anxiety exuded from every pore. Insomnia was hitting hard and fast, and my tense mental state put a strain on my relationships that left me feeling more lonely and isolated than I’d been in a long time.
My coworker offered to buy me a drink to help me “unwind.”
Boy, did I unwind. I couldn’t have been less wound if I tried. The thread was off the fucking spool.
I was reeling from my sixth or seventh shot of whiskey when I got a text from The Teacher, who I’d hadn’t heard from in a few weeks.
My roommate’s gone until Sunday. Come over.
I did my best to excuse myself quickly and politely without saying “Sorry bro, I’m gonna miss my train to the bone zone” and was soon on my way to see The Teacher.
Anxiety has a bizarre effect on your senses. The lights of the city were much more intensely bright than they were normally.
The ambient noise of Manhattan was a cacophony, an inescapable wall of sound that was entirely overwhelming. The tall gray buildings in the dead of night swallowed up the sky.
As I walked into her home I was tense and exhausted and I could feel myself trembling.
And there she was, smiling at me.
Before I could even lean in to kiss her, she grabbed my hand softly. I could see the worry in her eyes, and I knew she could see the exhaustion in mine. She gently pulled me over to her couch, and when I sat down, she sat in my lap facing me.
She wrapped her arms around my neck and said three little words: “Talk to me.”
For the next hour and a half I sat with the woman I’d wanted for ages in my lap, in next to nothing, her lips inches from mine. However, when her piercing green eyes looked into mine, all I wanted in that moment was to know her.
I told her how I was struggling at work and didn’t know what to do, and when her hand caressed my cheek it felt like sparks across my skin. She told me how she was doing with work and her writing, and when I pressed my forehead against hers I’d never felt so close to anyone. The outside world stopped being important for a few hours, like we’d broken free of time and space by being together.
We slept together later that night and it was amazing, but there was nothing quite like those few moments when we were the center of each other’s worlds.
Sex is an activity we can choose to do or not do — and the passion, the love, and the intimacy, those are all different qualities we can ascribe to it based on how it happens and who it’s with. Sex doesn’t have any inherent morality or intimacy, it’s solely about those involved.
Intimacy is the opposite. It’s all meaning, and the context in which it happens is almost wholly irrelevant. Intimacy is a connection where people reach out to someone and become more than just themselves, sometimes for a single moment and sometimes forever. I’ve had nights sharing a bed with close friends and one-on-one conversations more intimate than whole relationships I’ve gone through.
Sex is great. It’s a lot of fun, it’s passionate and I’m not half bad at it.
However, it just isn’t what I’m looking for anymore, at least not in and of itself.
While sex can be found, intimacy happens on its own. It can’t be forced or faked.
All we can do is be our truest selves and know that at the end of the day, the people we’ll grow to care for will gravitate to us naturally over time.