Being intimate is often thought of as being closely in touch with someone else, with the focus being very much on the other person and the space (or not!) between us. Sometimes we use 'being intimate' as a polite way of saying 'having sex.'
"Intimacy is the process of being in touch with or knowing oneself in the presence of a partner" David Schnarch
I like this quote from David Schnarch because it makes the point that intimacy is very much about being in relationship with yourself. If you are not able to know yourself, to really look, and to be honest with yourself, it is hard, if not impossible, to connect deeply to another person. 'Intimacy' can then degenerate into an exchange of 'I will if you will,' based on self-protection and seeking to have our needs met by someone else.
This is reminiscent of the kind of intimacy that exists between mothers and babies where a dependence from the baby engulfs the attention of the mother. The two essentially become one for the period of early baby-hood, merged together as one.
This merging is sometimes expressed as a romantic ideal, but it is a place of dependency and can provoke ongoing fears of being abandoned or swamped.
Mature adult intimacy has a very different nature. It requires us to know, and love, ourselves. It asks us to nurture our own way of being, to rely on ourselves emotionally, and to rise to the challenges life brings us. When we meet our partner from this place, we each accept that we are separate, and look to ourselves for validation and self-worth. We can then meet our partner as an equal. As Schnarch puts it:
"I will show myself to you, and in doing so will express my loneliness, yet transcend my aloneness"
If intimacy is something that you find challenging, working with a psychotherapist may be of benefit to understand and begin to transcend your past relationship patterns. This can also be a useful topic for couples work where you are not feeling met by each other. If you want to explore how you can increase intimacy with yourself and with others, then get in touch.