Ah, Valentine’s Day. For better or for worse, this time of year always brings out some of the most polarizing feelings within people.. And for good reason. Our culture is obsessed with romantic love, to the point that all other kinds of love are seen as secondary and unimportant. Things seemed so much simpler when we were kids and Valentine’s Day meant sharing chocolate with our classmates and maybe receiving (and giving) cards featuring our favorite cartoon characters with generic sayings on them. 

As adults, Valentine’s Day hangs as an omen, reminding us that singleness is a scarlet letter that we should be eager to shed as soon as possible. 

In recent years, there have been a few attempts to “reframe” and rework Valentine’s Day to something more inclusive, but it doesn’t always resonate for everyone.

So in the spirit of one of the most controversial days of the year, it’s important that we look at one of the core values of the day: intimacy. How can we channel the spirit of the day to remind ourselves of the power of intimacy, and what are ways that we can create deeper connections with ourselves and possibly our loved ones, beyond a significant other? 

Here’s the reminder that you’ve been needing that Valentine’s Day isn’t the only day to celebrate and practice fostering intimacy in our lives.

There are actually four kinds of intimacy that we can experience: emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical.

What is intimacy?

Intimacy can be defined in a variety of ways, but we can think about it as the ways that we foster a connection with ourselves and other people. 

There are actually four kinds of intimacy that we can experience: emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical. As Well + Good writes, “Truly connecting with someone calls upon a combination of the four types of intimacy, and most of those don’t involve any type of touching…”

Which, kind of crumbles the myth that intimacy can only be valid if it’s done between romantic (*ahem* usually heterosexual, monogamous) partners.

In connecting to traditionally romantic holidays, this feels especially resonant. Sex can be an intimate act with yourself or between partners. But it’s not the only place that we can experience or express intimacy. Even within the context of a sexual relationship, intimacy can be nerve-wracking or even intimidating. But learning to claim it, in your own terms, can transform your relationships — romantic partners included — for the better.

How can intimacy be expressed?

In thinking about how we can express intimacy, it’s important that we challenge ourselves to widen the definition of how that expression can happen.

And a lot of that will come from knowing yourself well enough to know what intimate expressions feel the best for you, in both giving and receiving. 

The thing that makes an act intimate or not depends on how it fits within your own personal definition of it. So perhaps you see acts as intimate because of who they involve—if they’re something that you do with a close friend, family member, or romantic or sexual partner? 

The challenges with Valentine’s Day comes in the kinds of intimacy that are seen as valid and true. We’re inundated with images of sexual connection and romance, but this leaves out so many of us. Where is there room for us to express intimacy within our friendships? Our family structures, blood-related or chosen? How do we bring intimacy out of the confines of romantic and sexual relationships, and fit it into the structure of the other relationships in our lives?

We are worthy of receiving forms of intimacy, even if it is being given from ourselves. 

It’s also important to note: we do not need to express these forms of intimacy to other people for them to be valid. In fact, prioritizing time to reinforce these things for ourselves can help to bring about the kind of love, healing, and appreciation that we’re actually seeking. 

We are worthy of receiving forms of intimacy, even if it is being given from ourselves. 

With that out of the way, let’s examine some ways that you can express the different kinds of intimacy beyond the physical:

Expressing Emotional Intimacy

Expressing emotional intimacy can come in many forms.

Perhaps it’s in the way that you hold space for friends who are having a hard time and need additional support. Emotional intimacy can also come in the form of writing someone a thank you note for something kind that they did for you, or in surprising you with a treat of something that you like “just because.”

You can also hold emotional intimacy for yourself as well. This can be via prioritizing self-healing tasks like journaling or cooking yourself a favorite meal. But this can also tie into forms of mental intimacy.

Expressing Spiritual Intimacy

Spiritual intimacy can bring connotations of religion, but it doesn’t have to be rooted in that. 

Spirituality can be how we connect to the world around us. Perhaps you’re already familiar with this through meditating, chanting, attending church or reading a spiritual text often.

With a loved one, we can share the experience of spiritual intimacy by inviting them to do it with us. 

We can also share moments of spiritual intimacy by making time to connect on a spiritual level with those in our lives. Are there opportunities that you can share by asking deeper questions together? What do you consider a spiritual experience? Can it be manifested together through having intentional time together in person without electronics or being glued to our cell phones or social media?

Sometimes an act of spiritual intimacy can also come in the form of being present; maintaining eye contact or sharing what you love about the other person can help to create an environment of spiritual intimacy.

Expressing Mental Intimacy

Mental intimacy can seem like the least emotionally-deep but that couldn’t be further from the case. Mental intimacy can be an important part of fostering connections with others in our lives, and in connecting to ourselves with the world around us.

Earlier, we talked about ways that emotional intimacy can be expressed for ourselves. But connecting it to emotional intimacy, there’s a clear thread of maintaining our mental health that brings this back to ourselves.

How are you caring for your mental health — not just in times of crisis, but to maintain your current state and have more moments of feeling good about yourself?

This can come in checking in with yourself to breathe deeply and ask yourself, “How am I feeling right now? Is this how I want to be feeling? If not, is there anything that I can do to start shifting my mood?”

Showing yourself mental intimacy can also come in the form of learning, outside of a correlation of work and productivity, but simply because it’s centered on a topic that interests you. 

Are there hobbies that you love that mentally stimulate and challenge you to think differently? How can you make time to do that activity again, even if it’s just for ten, twenty, or thirty minutes this week?

Creating intimacy is a mindset, not just something reserved for Valentine’s Day

At the end of the day, these are merely suggestions to what intimacy can look like. It’s up to you to decide what resonates with you and what you want to adapt to your own life.

So if that means that you want to mix and match these forms of intimacy for yourself, you’re welcome to do that. Don’t feel the need to apply them only as they’re suggested in your own life.

Even when Valentine’s Day has come and gone, we can always use the energy of the day to inspire us to bring more opportunities to create intimacy all year long — with ourselves, our partners, and our loved ones alike.

You deserve it.

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