Possibly the simplest definition of intimacy is this: knowing another and being known. Intensity is defined as strength, power, or force- in relationship terms, it’s getting a surge of whatever makes a person feel good. Intimacy is developed over time, with patience, with love, with understanding, with compassion, with sacrifice. Intensity happens quickly and fades quickly- it is not long lasting. Those that trade it for intimacy will find themselves dissatisfied and using people like objects.
The implications of this are profound. It has changed the way I look at relationships. I have been a “thrill-seeker.” Oh no, you never would see me cliff-diving, jumping out of airplanes, or swimming with sharks. I learned to seek intensity in subtle ways- especially with people. I would feed off of the praise of others; I would pursue the “high” of new connections; I would live for recognition. I became aware of this through support, seeing my own counselor, and study. You see, I made a major error- I substituted intensity for intimacy.
They are not the same thing.
This concept is important in understanding Addiction, Bipolar, Personality Disorders, and just plain ol’ dysfunctional relationship patterns. For instance, with addiction, a person adapts to the world and copes using a substance or person or thing as if it were a relationship- gaining comfort, support, investing time and energy, and to soothe pain. I commonly hear addicts say that their addiction became their best friend. Of course, the problem with relying on an intense “high” to feel better is that our brains weren’t made to sustain constant highs. Our brains will normalize to constant surges of feel-good intensity (aka, dopamine highs), and then we naturally begin to feel depressed when we don’t have this now “normal” high. The classic term for this is ‘tolerance.’
Healthy relationships don’t run on constant highs. Hear me out: good, healthy relationships can give the greatest satisfaction and offer wonderful highs. But this is not all the time. They require consistency, work, patience, suffering, and perseverance. This goes way beyond just romantic relationships. Running after intensity leaves a person “high and dry,” trying to be satisfied in ways they were not created to be fulfilled. The substitute kills. The real thing fulfills.