My Life

Oct 24, 2001

Oct 24, [Elton John, "Can You Feel The Love Tonight"]

The trouble with intimacy is that it means vulnerability. Everyone wants

intimacy but few of us are very good at vulnerability We pay lip service

to "openness" and "trust," but usually these are mask

words which we use to hide ourselves and to keep others at bay. Get too

close to me and I’ll beat you over the heard with my openness and trust.

With the vocabulary provided by Freud and his followers, and the time provided

by increased leisure and life expectancy, our generation is the first in

history to set out self-consciously and in massive numbers to search for

the joys of intimacy. But there is no evidence that we have much progressed

over our predecessors in our skills at vulnerability. We attempt to make

bricks, despite the biblical lesson on the subject, without straw.

How much authentic vulnerability — as opposed to the synthetic kind acquired

on encounter weekends — have you observed on the expressway to intimacy?

The vulnerable person is strong enough to risk getting hurt — not pointlessly,

not irrationally, not as an inverted defense mechanism, but as part of a

reasonable if not altogether rational risk. He can give himself to another

human being not like a dive bomber crashing into an aircraft carrier or

like a Mack truck crumpling a Volkswagen, but rather in a gentle and subtle

process by which the other is incited, indeed seduced, to give himself in


How many such people do you know?

The vulnerable person takes a chance on having his heart broken. He strips

himself of his defenses in the hope that when the other sees him as he is,

the other will find him irresistible. In such a defenseless position, he

can very easily be hurt, badly hurt.

Furthermore, he will be hurt. The lesson of all our experience is

that the vulnerable person does indeed have his heart broken, he is indeed

ridiculed, rejected, made a fool of. Sometimes the pain of such a heartbreak

is healed as reconciliation restores the violated intimacy. But only the

most naive believe that all stories have happy endings. Some broken hearts

remain broken.

Yet the deadly paradox of intimacy is that either we strip away our defenses

in a continuing process or we build them up in a similar process. We either

let the other get closer to us and thus get closer to him or we push each

other away. There is no middle ground. When push comes to shove, most of

us push instead of surrendering.

In our pseudosophisitcation we try to persuade ourselves that we are no

longer troubled by the shame of physical nudity. It is an act that normally

does not work. But physical nakedness is a symbol — indeed a "sacrament"

— of psychological nakedness. We are "shamed" when we take off

our clothes because we have nothing left under which to hide, nothing to

protect our weaknesses and deficiencies, we are defenseless, easily hurt.

Psychic nakedness is much more terrifying — and hence much less frequently

attempted. For if the other can see us as we are, then we are open to being

destroyed by him.

So we hedge our bets and protect our own apparent worthlessness. The cynical

"Why take the chance?" — rarely spoken but more a barrage of

words claiming that we are not afraid. It is all the other people who claim

to be "open and trusting" who are kidding themselves.

The theologians used to call this fear of the other "original sin."

The name may be out of fashion, but reality is not. Blessed be he who does

not take chances for he will not be hurt. Woe to him who risks giving his

whole self, for he surely will be hurt.

But then it may be worth it. And the name of that thought, according to

the old theologians, was Grace.

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