By Michael Kimmel | Life Beyond Therapy
How do you grow a friendship? How do you encourage a brand-new romance? Are the basic underlying principles the same for both, or not?
Some people looking for love want to skip the friendship phase of getting to know someone and go right to sex. Recently, a good-looking man told me that sex is a good “screening tool” to see if someone would be a good boyfriend/girlfriend. His logic — if the sex is good, then this person might be worth getting to know. If the sex is bad … forget it.
I thought that this was so lame that I almost laughed at the guy who shared this with me, but sadly, he was serious. Instead of getting to know someone, seeing if he liked them as a person and then adding sex to the picture, he reversed the order. Not surprisingly, he later admitted that it wasn’t working very well for him. He was having lots of sex but making few friends and having very short “romances” (a few weeks’ max).
With Tinder, Grindr and all those “er” apps in both the LGBT and straight communities, it is increasingly popular to have sex with a perfect stranger to see if you like them. Sounds good in theory, but in actuality, it rarely has a happy ending. If the sex is great, you have a problem. You know them physically, but not emotionally or intellectually. If the sex is bad, you have a different problem. You know them physically and it didn’t work for you, so you may not give them a chance emotionally or intellectually.
In many ways, friendship is the basis for every good and lasting relationship. I feel a bit Pollyanna-ish as I write this, but in my 20 years as a psychotherapist, it is my experience that it’s true.
Why? The basic requirements of a good friendship and great romance are the same. Enjoying each other’s company, mutual respect, comfort with each other, acceptance of the other person’s positive and not-so-positive traits, common interests, and shared values are the key.
Now, let’s talk about the dreaded “I” word: intimacy. I have heard that word thrown around so much that it’s almost meaningless. “We’re not intimate anymore.” “Our intimate life has gone downhill.” “We never have sex, but we are still intimate with each other.”
What does intimacy mean, anyhow? I think it’s about closeness, allowing someone else to get close to you, to trust them, to let them see your less-than-wonderful sides, to be vulnerable with them, knowing they could hurt you. Intimacy is the foundation for friendship and romance.
It’s often terrifying to let someone in, whether a friend or lover. We’ve all been hurt before and carry those wounds. Part of us thinks: only an idiot would open their heart again after a mean friend/lover has betrayed them. There is truth to this, but if we close our heart forever, we’re destined to be alone and lonely.
Being vulnerable is the new frontier, says psychologist Brene Brown. (Check out her TED talks online.) I agree. To “grow” a friendship or a romance, we need to be open to intimacy, to vulnerability … but how do we do that?
After much thought and brainstorming, I am pleased to let you know that I have developed a workshop that answers that question:
On Saturday, Nov. 3, I am offering a 2 1/2 hour workshop: “Developing Intimate Relationships: Cultivating Friendship and Romance (for Men who love Men).” The workshop — co-sponsored by California Men’s Gatherings — will have two sections.
The first focuses on developing and sustaining friendships with other men. We’ll address questions including:
- Are you looking for more intimacy in your life with both friends and lovers?
- Do you feel lonely more often than you’d like to admit?
- Do you find it hard to trust other men? Would you like to change that?
The second section will focus on intimacy in romantic/sexual relationships and will address questions such as:
- How do you separate emotional from sexual/physical intimacy, or do you?
- In a romantic relationship, is your intimacy affected by jealousy and/or insecurity? What factors in your relationship deepen the intimacy? What factors lessen it?
The workshop is limited to 25 men, exploring these questions with a safe, supportive group of men. It will be held at the Diversionary Theatre. Cost is $20. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619-955-3311 if you have questions or to RSVP.
—Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBT clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com.