In Softening to Love workshops, I sometimes find it useful to compare three approaches to close relationship:fusion, isolation and intimacy.Each approach can be seen as a way of dealing with two human hungers:the yearning for oneness and the yearning to be ourselves.However, only one of the three manages to balance these hungers of the human heart.
Fusion emphasizes oneness at the expense of individuality.It attempts to overcome the wound of separation by making two people one - and often results in some interesting battles over which one of us we're going to become.Personal boundaries get blurred.We focus energy on controlling each other.Ironically, in these efforts to control, we wind up strangling the very closeness we're trying to achieve.
Isolation emphasizes individuality and neglects connection. We attempt to protect and enhance the self by building walls – barriers that keep us from touching deeply.We keep ourselves hidden.We keep others at bay.The irony here is that disconnection does not keep us safe; nor does it help us build a strong, resilient self.Flourishing selfhood requires nutrients only available in the rich and stimulating stew of interpersonal life.
Intimacy, as an approach to relationship, embraces oneness and uniqueness. It honors our hunger to connect, as well as our need to be who we are.In this approach, we open to each other and touch each other at many levels, without intruding or controlling.We invest energy in two tasks:knowing and being known.In the trenches of intimate interaction, we do our very best to reveal ourselves, gently and honestly.We do our very best to see one another – gently, without illusion.
Whenever I get stuck, grappling with the goofiness and messiness of relationship, I remember my commitment to the path of knowing and being known.This path invites me to let go of control and to drop barriers.It challenges me to show up, to pay attention and to tell the truth. It orients me, like a north star, toward deeper connection.