Sunday, September 12, 2010

intimacy, and how to get more of it

Many moons ago I went to a talk at the 92nd Street Y Tribeca on what science can teach you about falling in love. And the presenter, Robert Epstein, brought audience members on stage (myself and my friend included), asked them a bunch of benchmarking questions about the stranger they were with ("How close do you feel to this person? How much in love with this person are you? How attracted are you to this person?") and then put them/us through a series of exercises that they had shown drew people together.

And while it was hard to honestly answer questions about a total stranger in front of a room full of total strangers, I have to say that the exercises (if not the mortification of going through them together publicly) did draw me closer to the random stranger on stage with me.

As part of the takeaway from the event, they gave us a copy of the magazine in which the presenter's article appeared, and I recently unearthed it from my kitchen table. You can get a snapshot of the article here, on Scientific American's website, or you can google Robert Epstein and see what you get.

Here, however, are some highlights that I think are interesting, useful, and totally applicable right now -- not just with a romantic partner, but with anyone with whom you want to feel more intimate.

Ten things that make us feel more intimate:

1. Arousal -- not just sex, you dirty birds. Any kind of physical exertion or exposure to dangerous situations increases intimacy, say researchers. So if you want to get close, take your date on the Cyclone at Coney Island. He'll either love you on the spot or never want to see you again.

2. Proximity and Familiarity. When you let someone repeatedly invade your personal space, that increases feelings of closeness. Because, well, you're close.

3. Similarity. Sure, opposites attract, but likes ignite! (I made that up.) Personally, I'm discovering that going out with guys whose parents are still together (as mine are) is making a difference in our relationships. And shared values, senses of humor, and attractiveness keep the playing fields even.

4. Humor. This one's obvious, I think.

5. Novelty. Doing something new makes us more vulnerable, and vulnerability leads more quickly to intimacy. One of the things I do when planning a date is trying to go somewhere I've never been before. (Which, even in a city of six gajillion restaurants, can be surprisingly difficult!)

6. Removing Inhibitions. Yeah, ok, a glass of wine helps, but a bottle of wine doesn't. People who have difficulty being vulnerable and opening up often misuse alcohol in pursuit of that feeling of intimacy. So watch out!

7. Kindness, Accommodation, and Forgiveness. "Feelings of love can emerge quickly when someone deliberately changes his or her behavior -- say, by giving up smoking or drinking -- to accommodate our needs." I find it adorable when I tell guys I don't eat meat and they then order something vegetarian when we have dinner together -- even though I make it clear that they're free to eat whatever they want!

8. Touch and Sexuality. The obvious caveat applies here -- while touch and sensuality bring people closer together, people (mostly women, unfortunately) have a tendency to confuse sex with love. The author recommends even just getting very near to someone without actually connecting -- kind of a romantic I'm Not Touching You.

9. Self-Disclosure. People tend to bond when they share secrets. I love asking guys I go out with to tell me a secret. The only trick is coming up with one I'm willing to share. A recent date of mine once said, when I asked him if I could ask him a question, "You can ask me anything you want; you just have to be willing to answer it yourself."

10. Commitment. "People whose commitments are shaky interpret their partners' behavior more negatively, for one thing, and that can be deadly over time." I totally get this. When a guy makes it clear to me that he likes me, it's easier for me to forgive his not calling when he says he will. (See #7)

So go ahead, try these out and see how they play out. Grab your man/woman/dog/postal worker/neighbor's cousin's milkman/random stranger on the street and try these with him or her.*

*just kidding! try them with someone you know and actually want to have more intimacy with. duh.

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