How to Overcome Your Fear of Intimacy
In The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams reveals the secret of flying. Just launch yourself toward the ground, and miss.
"All it requires is simply the ability to throw yourself forward with all your weight, and the willingness not to mind that it's going to hurt...if you fail to miss the ground. Most people fail to miss the ground, and if they are really trying properly, the likelihood is that they will fail to miss it fairly hard."
This is the best advice I know for coping with fear of intimacy. Avoidance and control can't keep our hearts from falling, or cushion the landing. Why not try throwing yourself forward, being willing not to mind that it's going to hurt? Please note: "Being willing not to mind" isn't the same as genuinely not minding. You'll mind the risks of intimacy—count on it. Be willing anyway.
How? Simply allow your feelings—all of them—into full consciousness. Articulate your emotions. Write about them in a journal, tell them to a friend, confess them to your priest, therapist, cab driver. Feel the full extent of your love, your thirst, your passion, without holding back or grasping at anything or anyone (especially not the object of your affection). The next suggestion will show you how.
Good Idea #2: Go "Woo-hoo"
Author Melody Beattie took up skydiving and was scared senseless. Another diver told her, "When you get to the door and jump, say 'Woo-hoo!' You can't have a bad time if you do."
This phrase works as well when you're falling emotionally as when you're falling physically. When fear hits, when you want to grasp or hide, shout "Woo-hoo!" instead. While there is never—not ever—a sure foundation beneath our feet, the willingness to celebrate what we really feel can turn falling into flying. You don't need an airplane to practice woo-hoo skills. For instance: I'm writing these words at 2:15 in the morning because writing, like other intimate pursuits, often occurs at night. As I type each word, I come to care about how it will be read—about you, there, reading it. Caring is scaring. It makes me want to stop right now, or spend years composing something flawlessly literate. Unfortunately, my deadline was yesterday, and Shakespeare I ain't, so...woo-hoo!
Now it's 2:20 a.m. My writing partner, a fat, aged beagle named Cookie, snores contentedly at my feet. I'm revisited by a worry that was born the day I fell in love with his puppy self: the dread of the moment that snuffly breathing stops. This is my cue to throw myself forward, drop deeper into my affection for this ridiculous dog. Tomorrow I will let Cookie teach me to roll in the grass, to howl in ecstasy at the sight of good food. Of any food, actually. Woo-hoo!
It's 2:30 a.m. Upstairs, my son, Adam, is dreaming dreams I'll never quite understand, because his brain is different from mine. Shortly before his birth, I learned that he has Down syndrome, which put mothering him well above skydiving in my Book of Fears. I yelled a lot during Adam's birth. Eighteen years later, I'm still yelling "Woo-hoo!" And so far, the only consequence of that particular plunge is love.
Which takes me to my final point.
What I really panic about nowadays isn't falling; it's landing. But even that concern is fading because I've realized there are only two possible landings for someone who embraces intimacy, and both are beautiful.
The first possibility is that your beloved will love you back. Then you won't land; you'll just fall deeper into intimacy, together. This is how bald eagles prepare to mate—by locking talons and free-falling like rocks—which is deeply insane and makes me proud to call the eagle my country's national bird.
The other possibility is that you'll throw yourself forward, yell "Woo-hoo!," and smash into rejection. Will it hurt? Indescribably. But if you still refuse to bury your broken heart, or force someone to "fix" it—if you just experience the crash landing in all its gory glory, you'll create a miracle.
A Jewish friend told me this story: A man asks his rabbi, "Why does God write the law on our hearts? Why not in our hearts? It's the inside of my heart that needs God." The rabbi answered, "God never forces anything into a human heart. He writes the word on our hearts so that when our hearts break, God falls in." Whatever you hold sacred, you'll find that an unguarded broken heart is the ideal instrument for absorbing it.
If you fall into intimacy without resistance, despite your alarm, either you will fall into love, which is exquisite, or love will fall into you, which is more exquisite still. Do it enough, and you may just lose your fear of falling. You'll get better at missing the ground, at keeping a crushed heart open so that love can find all the broken pieces. And the next time you feel that vertiginous sensation of the floor disappearing, even as your reflexes tell you to duck and grab, you'll hear an even deeper instinct saying, "Fall in! Fall in!"
More Insight from Martha Beck