July 21, 2006

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Intimacy is no longer a common experience

Someone’s done a study recently, which indicates that we confide in fewer people than we used to. Now we have something like three confidants as opposed to the previous four. Sadly, this sounds about right.

This seems believable to me because of the prevalence of Internet “intimacies” in contrast to the face-to-face meetings of yesteryear. Now, we have chat rooms and instant messaging and other venues for communication. But are they really avenues of connection?

One friend told me of his early chatroom efforts back in the days when they were a rarity. He is a clinical psychologist, interested in others. So, in the early days of the Internet, he met a person who seemed to be for real, asking challenging questions. Finally, this person asked my friend if he was indeed a psychologist and, when he said he was, he continued the conversation.

The caller said he was a rather well-known author of science-fiction novels. He asked if the psychological insights he included in his fictions seemed possible and, when my friend said they were dubious, he corrected them.

Over the years, my friend came to know this fellow better, going to dinner with him and his entourage in Las Vegas and Los Angeles whenever he was there on business. Every time the author publishes a new novel, he sends my friend an autographed copy, and now the two are friends of long standing. So, in retrospect, the Internet chat room kind of intimacy paid off.

But what about today, when the Internet chat room and other connections are no longer new? It seems to me that intimacy has indeed lessened, and not only because of the Internet. We need only to consider the reluctance of the young to commit to marriage or raising children to realize that this is true. We seem to live in a time when people are actually afraid of each other and distrustful of long-term relationships.

For one thing, stability is an issue. Most of us do not stay in one place, one job, one set of friends, for long. We tend to go “onward and upward” to the next high, whatever that may be. We don’t expect to spend time complicating or nurturing any part of our lives. That is not the expectation of society, and as a result, it’s not ours.

The result is, we realize too late what’s important in a life that’s entirely too short for most of us. We find that giving in to the natural urges of youthful attraction or the submission to the aggravations of raising kids when we’re young are entirely correct. We learn that the career or the other expectations we had are not the pinnacles of success we thought they were, but rather obstacles to real happiness.

Slowing down may not seem to be an option here, but it may well be a necessity. We need to reassess what we’re doing, and with whom, in the time allotted to us. “Carpe diem” (“seize the day”) is not just a slogan proposed by Robin Williams in a movie.

We should identify those with whom we can be truly intimate—lovers, family or friends—and share our lives with them. In return, we will be present for them, and all of us will profit from the exchange.
Not only that, we’ll be grateful. That’s what God does for us.†

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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