Intimacy Be Dammed!

September 2, 2011

Intimacy is such an elusive concept.  One minute you think you have it and the next it’s gone.  It feels so good when you’ve got it.  You just want to sink into it and bask in its comfort and safety.  But, watch out!  When it departs, it can leave a hole in your heart a mile deep and wide.  Where did it go?  Here are two real-life examples to illustrate what I am talking about:

Scenario 1:  A woman takes her boyfriend of two years on a trip to meet her family.  Upon their return home he breaks up with her.

Scenario 2:  Man A is attracted to Man B.  Man B responds up to a point until he meets a woman 20 years his junior and begins to spend the majority of his personal time with her.

The Dam Analogy

In both cases, a give-and-take process occurred.  One person gave, the other received and vice-versa.  In a mutually beneficial relationship, the give-and-take process maintains enough of a balance to be rewarding for both individuals.  Intimacies are disclosed comfortably and freely.     

I liken intimacy to a lovely, warm shower—water flows on us cleansing all our fears and inhibitions, even if for a moment, so we can be totally present to and vulnerable with the other person.  However, when our feelings for that other person turn intense, the flow of water can become so fierce and overpowering that it causes disruption. 

Here’s where my dam analogy comes in.  Knowing certain parts of a dam may help make my point.  A spillway is the section of a dam designed to pass water from upstream to downstream.  Many spillways have floodgates designed to control the flow through the spillway.  The spillway can be gradually eroded by water flow.  When erosion occurs, water may encounter cavities in the spillway, or if there is turbulence, water may flow over the spillway.  Either could lead to the dam’s failure.

The level of intimacy we expose in relationships is reflected by the thoughts and feelings we share.  Some of those thoughts may be the most trivial, while others our deepest, darkest secrets.  We begin by testing the waters with one thought, almost like opening a floodgate partway.  If received in a way we find acceptable, another thought or feeling is shared and then another.  The intensity increases—just like water when a dam’s floodgates are open all the way.   

We All Have Our Limits 

In Scenario #1, the woman took the risk of introducing her family to her boyfriend.  She knew that any unresolved issues among family members or dysfunction within the family constellation would be exposed, but she believed that two years of building a relationship with her boyfriend would allow them to withstand any discomfort either one might encounter.  Her floodgates were wide open; water roared down the spillway. 

For reasons we are not equipped to identify, the boyfriend couldn’t keep his gates open. He couldn’t reciprocate the woman’s open gate policy.  What he saw or felt immediately before, during or after the trip triggered him to close his gates.  Bam!  No discussion, no exploration of what happened—just the jolting slam of floodgates closing.  When they returned home, he bolted.

Shocked and in a state of emergency because of the unexpected turn of events, the woman now had to seal her gates, but the rapidity of the water in her dam made it difficult and exhausting.  The clarity she had about the relationship before the trip was shattered.  The effort to close her gates felt Herculean.    

In Scenario #2, Man A and Man B were exploring an intimate relationship.  The gates were open, maybe only part-way, but open nonetheless.  Perhaps Man A’s gates were opening a little wider when Man B turned in another direction.  This left Man A struggling to close his gates in the midst of gushing water that had been slowly gaining momentum.  We can only guess that Man B had been stemming the flow of water in his dam before he closed his gates.

What Happened?

It would be easy and also unfair to cast judgment on any of these individuals.  What happened in both scenarios has happened countless times throughout history and continues to happen around the world.  What is relevant to all of us is the exploration of boundaries around intimacy. 

All four of these individuals deserve credit.  They invested in an intimate relationship.  Somewhere along the way the boyfriend in Scenario #1 and Man B in Scenario #2 couldn’t go any further.  It became too scary.  What they may have felt being asked of them—no matter whether real or illusory—couldn’t be given at that point in time.  In fact, whatever got stirred up felt so scary, they had to reject the relationship outright. 

As for the woman in Scenario #1 and Man A in Scenario #2, they were drawn to these relationships to learn more about themselves.  It was good the woman brought her boyfriend to meet her family.  She discovered the limits of her relationship sooner than she would have liked, but had she continued the relationship, it was inevitable she would have confronted them down the road.  Man A did the same.  These discoveries are painful but infinitely valuable.  If heeded, the lesson learned in each one will not be repeated.         

Intimate relationships that end or are altered abruptly merit further exploration.  Issues residing in the shadow parts of ourselves are probably the reason why relationships become untenable.  If these issues aren’t examined and dealt with, they stay with us like dusty, dirty piles of untended clutter.  More importantly, they keep us from being intimate with ourselves—the most valuable relationship of all.

Intimacy is a tricky business.  Making sure the efficacy our spillway is maintained and gauging when and how wide to open our floodgates takes practice.  Perhaps by taking more time to test the waters, we can get a better idea of how to manage them.  When we can manage them effectively, we can be intimate with those who value us as much as we value ourselves.  Is it time to inspect your dam?

Bev Hitchins © 2011

2 Responses to “Intimacy Be Dammed!”


  1. I have clients and associates that would find the article helpful. Is it ok to forward the article without getting into trouble? Usually the articles are sent out to the public as a newsletter or an rss feed. I am not changing it or hiding the author, simple sending and saying “this might be of interest to you.”.


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