Intimacy and freedom

Depending on how you know me, I’m either quite a standoffish sort of person, or a very physically affectionate sort of person. I’m not keen on making any kind of bodily contact with people I don’t know well. This is partly because I don’t do much casually or lightly, and I don’t make gestures that are not meant.

I’ve commented before that I am uneasy about the culture of physical contact in the Pagan community. Being a fellow Pagan does not mean that I welcome your hands on my body, or your lips on any part of my face. We need to respect each other’s boundaries, not assume we’re all equally loved up and available, and not create a culture in which body contact becomes necessary social currency. There are few things I find more abhorrent around physical contact than people doing it because they feel like they have to, in order to fit in.

I’m not offended by physical contact, if it is meant. By this, I mean contact inspired by care, affection or desire. There is something very real and human about reaching out to someone from that sort of emotion. We don’t always judge perfectly how the other person will take it. I don’t measure people at all by the mistakes they make. I measure people by what they do when they find out they’ve got it wrong. The person who genuinely likes me, cares for me or finds me attractive, will respect my boundaries if I need to gently assert them. I’ve had rounds of that along the way. There may be some awkwardness, some embarrassment, but desire, affection and attraction are all underpinned by care, and that always wins through. I’m an odd and damaged person, the people who care about me care enough to work around that and to find out what I need.

Then there’s that other thing. People who put hands and lips on, not out of love or desire, but for some other reason. For power and control. To assert themselves over my body, space and mind. To demonstrate that they are flamboyant, exuberant types. Because they think the culture requires it of them. I am unsure, but these are my best guesses. That contact isn’t meant, and it feels very different.

A while ago, there was someone in my life in the habit of pouncing on me and kissing my cheeks. I don’t kiss unless I mean it and very few people kiss me, and I prefer it that way. I found this habit of cheek kissing unsettling, and I eventually found the confidence to say so. The response was to be told that it meant nothing, and said person kisses everyone. That was actually worse. Not just an invasion into my space, but a misuse of an intimacy. The person in question could not understand what was so unsettling to me, and I have come to realise what an impoverished emotional experience that represents.

Kissing is an intimacy. When you turn it into common currency, you devalue it. Like anything else, if you do it carelessly, meaninglessly, you make it that bit harder to have the depth when it is intended. If you say ‘I love’ over the slightest trivia that amuses you, what do you have left when you find your soul-mate?

Boundaries are not just about keeping people out. They are also about what you hold on the inside. The line between intimacy and casual acquaintance holds so much inside of it. Within the boundary, there is trust and openness, emotional honesty, there is meaningful affection. Your body, your kisses, your embraces are far more meaningful gifts if they are only given carefully and deliberately. That which is not given with care tends not to elicit care, either. The better I get at asserting my boundaries, the more able I am to see the treasures that can be kept on the inside of those lines. There is incredible power in deliberate limitation, in the consciousness that goes with choosing a limit. All too often we mistake freedom for being without boundaries, but I think increasingly that freedom is more readily found on the inside of the most carefully drawn lines.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

9 responses to “Intimacy and freedom

  • gaiamethod

    I completely agree!!! I have found this in the healing community too and I ever felt comfortable with it. Like you I like my boundaries and i only hug someone if they are special to me, like my children, my good friends, etc. But this ‘social’ kissing and hugging I always found to be contrived, or like you say, a power game. It is very much the the energy of the person and their intent that tells you what you need to know. I like my boundaries! 🙂

  • MBZA

    Hi Nimue, and solstice greetings.

    I found your post very interesting. Possibly because I made a different psychological journey: I grew up in a culture where anything more demonstrative than a brief handshake was awkward, and have gradually become comfortable with any (reasonable) physical gesture of greeting, including kissing, as long as it feels natural in the given context. It doesn’t bother me that a kiss, hug etc. seems intimate because I would rather extend intimacy to everyone than hold an attitude of separation from others.

    Your thought that ‘there is incredible power in deliberate limitation’ seems to echo the philosophy of many religious mystics, such as the Hindu ascetics and the Christian St Augustine. Of course you know your own needs best, and it makes sense particularly if you have suffered any form of personal invasion in the past that maintaining clear boundaries is part of your strength. But I wonder if it’s important to distinguish between the obvious truth that it’s often necessary to ‘draw lines’ to protect your own personal space and integrity – I totally agree that that’s part of freedom – and the trap of putting unnecessary restrictions on our behaviour that have ultimately been imposed by upbringing, religion or past experiences.

    By the way, I acknowledge that as I’m a man, my experience of personal space etc. will be different from a woman’s.

    • Nimue Brown

      I’m very wary about anything that is put on us from the outside as a ‘right way’ of doing things. Not least because it tends not to work. I have some friends who are massively tactile people and very expressive with each other – it works for them, so, that’s cool. There is a very important freedom and self expresson that comes with being allowed to draw your lines exactly where you need them. Forced contact and forced isolation are equally unhelpful, I think, and both can be really damaging.

  • literaryvittles

    I enjoyed reading your musings about this. Having grown up in the United States – a culture obsessed with the concept of the “personal bubble”- it was quite a shock for me when I traveled to Argentina, because it is customary there to greet acquaintances by kissing them on both cheeks. I never got completely used to it, but I understood that the intent behind it was affectionate and friendly, so I didn’t mind it on the whole.

  • locksley2010

    I’ll admit it, I’m a hugger.
    Mainly because I come from a performing background, although when I do it, it is for genuine affection; no power games at all. In the few cases where I’ve gone to hug someone and they aren’t comfy with physical contact, I give them a nod and a “See you later”.

  • Potia

    I’m a hugger. I enjoy giving and receiving hugs and it’s a facet of the pagan community I enjoy Saying that I have also become much more aware in recent years that there can be many reasons for people not being comfortable with hugs regardless of their level of knowledge and connection with you. Knowing people with fybromyalgia has taught me that to them giving or accepting a hug might include physical pain just from the contact. Developing my understanding of the autistic spectrum has taught me that such physical social interactions can range from being incredibly stressful to a sensory need. I think, I hope, I’ve become much more sensitive to people’s reactions to the offer of a hug. I know I don’t mind at all if someone says no to one.

    • Nimue Brown

      Thanks for that! There’s so much we do not know about each other, all the time, and starting from a place of respectful carefulness can make so much difference, and makes it possible to share something that works for all parties.

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