Most people we meet are passing through. They’re the person we chat to on the bus or the work colleague we sat next to for two years but never really clicked with. It’s the person we meet every week on a night out but never find out anything personal about.
And I’m not just talking last names or where they live, I’m talking about intimacy. There are some people whose conversation and connection to you runs deeper, whether you know all about their lives or not.
Some people just spark joy.
And some don’t. There’s nothing wrong with them, and there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s just that the line which marks acquaintance and intimacy never gets crossed.
They’ll never see more than one pane of your Johari’s Window and you probably won’t theirs either.
It’s the same when you’re trawling through dating apps looking for new people to get to know better.
Infinite possibilities exist within those tiny finger motions which choose left or right swipes.
What I’ve learnt through my eighteen months of being polyamorous is very few people end up really sparking joy for me. And even less of those will be people I also spark joy for.
Connection is a beautiful thing I no longer take for granted.
There’s nothing wrong with the other 90% of people I chat to. There’s nothing wrong with me.
But true connection and intimacy is a gift from the universe. It doesn’t happen every day, or even every month.
You might meet someone every week and chat every day. You could have mind blowing sex or really enjoy their company. They mean something to you and you to them. And yet that intimacy isn’t enough to carry through into a true lasting connection.
So what’s the magic formula?
How do some friendships and relationships turn into long lasting mutually enjoyable connections (whether the ‘sex’ and ‘partner’ level ends) and some fizzle away?
I’m going to borrow a little from Tuckman’s group dynamics theory here.
He believed there were four stages of group development — forming, storming, norming, and performing. Many people believe for a group to fully integrate and perform need they need to go through a storming stage.
Think about it.
How many of your most fruitful team experiences involved an element of conflict or power balancing before they found their optimum level?
There’s a similar formula in play when you connect to individuals
A connection that hasn’t made its way through the stages may not be as successful as one which has. Or you might not reach the level of deep connection and intimacy you seek with a particular person without first moving through the phases.
The first spark of interest comes from many different areas. It can be physical, emotional, intellectual. It can even be practical as in “Hey, we’re both alone, live close to one another, and are looking for the exact same form of intimacy. Let’s see if we can make it work.”
Whatever that initial eyebrow raise is, it encourages you to look more closely at the other person.
This is the rapport building stage. It’s the time when you exclaim “hey I also love cake” and swap song recommendations and life stories.
It’s a make-or-break point because often, however hard you try, you can’t find what you need to sustain interest in the other person. Maybe it’s because you’re offering cheese and the other person is into chocolate. You have chocolate but you thought they were really after cheese.
There can be an imbalance. One side can be fully engaged and the other not able to light the candle wick.
Sometimes the good intentions break off to dust and then the attraction stage sparks again and both parties begin to try to re-buddy. This can be through lack of other options or it can be because suddenly the chocolate became clear hiding behind the cheese.
Either way, you can bounce between Attraction and Attempting to Buddy for a good while. It may not be worth your while.
Don’t try and be something to someone simply because you saw what you were looking for within them.
For people with attachment difficulties sometimes the Buddying stage can feel too much like Bonding before it’s time and they may withdraw on and off.
This is based on Tuckman’s Storming but doesn’t have to involve personal conflict dynamics. Often it is a disagreement or a reviewing of new information. However, this isn’t the only form this challenge stage can take.
When starting a connection both people have expectations. Some of these are based on an ideal rather than necessarily conversations had in real life. I am the world’s worst for filling in the gaps and creating a back story for a new person. When the reality doesn’t create the character I created from my own head I can have an inner challenge and need to redraw the parameters.
The challenge can also be something you went through together or a difficult time or problem one helped the other with. (Later down the line, this can be reversed. Relationships work better with equal emotional saviours)
Very often the challenge is the point in which you realise, as a pair, your needs aren’t perfectly matching.
It can also be a power struggle, with both parties looking to assert dominance.
The mismatch might be so significant it can’t be worked through, but it if can you reach…
Having acknowledged the differences within the original expectations you had and the reality, you reach this stage.
Maybe things weren’t as originally anticipated, but what’s left is still enough to build an intimate connection on.
Sometimes this means moving from potential relationship to friendship, often this means finding a level of time commitment which works or accepting the time commitment on offer. (This works both ways, either as accepting what the person is able to give or acknowledging and meeting the expectations of a greater need than you originally prepared for.)
Understanding and accepting the truth of that person is part of truly being able to form intimacy with them.
Once you’ve reached a level of understanding you can begin to deepen the buddying and bond emotionally.
When you buddied, you connected in a more superficial way, you were excited by them and built a great rapport. But once you reach bonding stage, you’re able to get to know that person in a deeper more sustainable way. Sharing personal information feels comfortable and safe.
Some people mistakenly try to reach this bonding stage too soon which creates confusion and conflict. Those who are particularly good at fast tracking to the bonding stage (such as narcissists) create artificial challenge by dipping in and out of communication to create unrest and emotional attachment from the other person.
This is where you meet that deep satisfying level of intimacy with the other person. Your friendship/ partnership feels secure and gives emotional satisfaction to both parties.
Real connection, however that occurs, is something to truly cherish.
But it’s ok if most of the people you talk to or interact with never make it that far. Love and intimacy are infinite, but time sadly isn’t.
Hold onto your emotionally intimate relationships with both hands and allow those which don’t last the distance to float into the wind.