The Intimacy Equation

If you want a fulfilling life, you need fulfilling relationships. But what makes a relationship fulfilling? In a word, intimacy. Intimacy is the experience of feeling genuinely connected instead of separate, sensing that you and someone else are a part of something together.

Intimacy is what we all long for. You don’t want to just wait for it to magically appear. You want to be able to create it in any interaction. I see people everywhere reaching and grasping for contact, but very few know how to create fulfilling experiences with that contact once they get it.

The good news is that intimacy is not hard to create. I’ve distilled it down to a simple addition problem. Here’s how to put two simple components together to perform profound relational arithmetic . . .

You’ll see an article from me soon about this concept as part of a series I’ll be writing about Deep Dating. Look out for Deep Dating articles and workshops in the next few months. In the meanwhile, please share your thoughts with me about intimacy in the comments below.

If you’ve got other questions you’d like me to answer in these Ask Steve videos, please send them to

View Video Transcript
The Intimacy Equation
Steve Bearman
February 2, 2015

Intimacy is the experience of feeling connected with another because you are able to really see them. You’re able to really get what it’s like to be them and they can tell that you do and you’re able to really show what it’s like to be you and give someone else access to you and you can feel that somebody gets you. Then you feel connected. How you create intimacy is there’s these two things that you need and the first is that you’ve got to be real. You’ve gotta show your real self. If you’re hiding, if you’re pretending, if you’re faking it, if you’re just trying to make a good impression and impress somebody then that’s not you there so you may get, like, an interesting interaction with somebody but it’s not you that’s having the intersection and so it doesn’t end up being very ultimately satisfying. You’ve gotta be authentic. You’ve gotta learn to show your real self and open-ends, be messy and just be what you’re really like. The problem is that realness by itself is not enough to create intimacy because it can actually alienate other people. I mean if you go up to other people and you just tell them what it’s like for you at all moments and that you’ve never met this person before and now you’re sort of gushing to them about how amazing it is for you to be in their presence [laughs] or you’re broadcasting your suffering people will get scared away. They won’t be interested in actually hanging out with you. They’ll never get a chance to get to know you and that happens because there’s a certain set of fundamental social skills that you may be weak in that have to do with attunement. Attunement means I’m not just being myself with you but I’m also tuning into you, I’m paying attention to what is going on over there. I’m noting your facial expressions and how they change as I’m talking to you, you know, how you seem to feel about the proximity, how the distance between us, you know, am I too close, am I too far away? I’m responding to how you respond to me. That’s attunement. I’m trying to speak in a way that will be accessible to you so I’m imagining what it’s like for you to hear what I am saying. I’m taking your perspective. All these things are aspects of my trying to get your experience. So at the same time that I’m showing myself I’m also trying to understand what it’s like for you to be you. The balance between those two things allows intimacy to be possible. I’m aware of what’s going on over there and I’m also giving you the real me and so it makes it much more likely that you will be interested in what it is that I have to offer. You’ll receive it and then I’ll be able to get something about what it’s like to be you. You need those two components together so realness without attunement often alienates other people. Attunement without realness is often just kind of self-sacrificing; I’m just sort of noticing what’s going on over there. I’m putting all the attention on you but I’m just kinda keeping myself hidden. You need both.

About the Author

Steve Bearman, Ph.D., earned his doctorate in Psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He founded Interchange Counseling Institute in 2002 and is the lead teacher of Interchange's San Francisco-based year-long counseling and coaching training. When he's not counseling people, leading workshops, and advocating for social justice, Steve climbs mountains, adventures in the urban wilderness, explores the edges and limits of what's possible, deconstructs everything, and finds new ways to put it all back together.