Happy Friday y’all! When we think about intimacy, we typically define it as a closeness or familiarity with someone else. This week’s questions all touched on intimacy in one way or another as we dive deep into how sex, friendships, and dating play a role in our lives. We hope you love reading this week’s blog as much as we loved writing it!
Q: I got to know a friend mainly because they were constantly in some emotional crisis, and I was there to provide support for them. They’ve been doing better lately, which is great, but now I find myself with nothing to talk to them about. How can I move on from being the “helper” in their life to actually forging a proper friendship?
A: First, I want to recognize the kindness you’ve shown to your friend because it can be really hard to support someone who is constantly in crisis. Being emotionally available for someone else can take a lot of our own energy. Doing so shows how well-intentioned and caring you are.
If you want to forge a proper friendship with them, gauge what their interests are and see if those interests align with your own. Try talking about classes, hobbies, or activities that you’d both like to try, while sharing more about yourself. It’s is a great way to bond, and it isn’t centered solely around their emotional needs. (Asking about day-to-day stuff also shows your interest in their life outside of the crises.) Maybe you have more in common with your friend than you originally knew because you were in the “helper” role. This shift will help expand your relationship past only talking or hanging out with one another when they need someone to lean on.
Additionally, if you want to enter a new phase of your relationship, set boundaries for the future around how often they vent to you and communicate with them about what your expectations are for your friendship. Addressing your feelings head on can also help to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that your friendship doesn’t stay in this unilaterally dependent relationship. If you feel you are not getting the same effort back from them, or that they are not interested in a different dynamic than what you already have, then you can evaluate whether this relationship is serving you and what next steps to take.
You should also reflect on what your friendship with this person means to you! It is often said that a person comes into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. This friend might have come into your life because you were meant to learn something from showing them such empathy or supporting them at a crucial time. They might be a friend for a season, especially if you realize that you don’t have much in common. That said, all relationships, whether brief or lasting, can be valuable. They impact who we are and how we see the world moving forward.
On the other hand, maybe this is an opportunity to create a friendship built on more equal footing. From what you shared, it sounds like you want a genuine friendship and your past support has created a strong foundation, so go for it! If they value your friendship too, then they will put in the effort.
Q: I feel afraid to think about someone romantically unless I am able to keep them at a distance. Is this normal, why does this happen, and how do I stop this?
A: Big mood.
I hesitate to use the word normal, because what is normal really?
In fact, this way of thinking is more common than you might have guessed. One popular theory of relationship dynamics is the attachment theory. It suggests that our experiences in childhood affect the way we relate to others and are categorized into four attachment styles. Those styles are:
Secure attachment. People with secure attachments are comfortable with vulnerability and intimacy and are also comfortable being by themselves.
Anxious/preoccupied attachment. People with this style crave closeness to others person beyond usual reassurance, communication, and support. It might look like fear of abandonment, codependency, difficulty setting boundaries or not feeling comfortable alone.
Avoidant/dismissive attachment. This style is the opposite of anxious attachment. It’s a strong sense of independence and not needing anyone. Independence is good, but avoidant attachment comes with its problems too (never communicating when they’re upset, not reaching out for help when they need it, and thinking closeness in a relationship is clinginess, to name a few).
Disorganized/fearful-avoidant. This style is a mix of the last two. A person with this attachment style craves intimacy, and yet fears and avoids it. It might look like being hot and cold with those around them.
The book Attached estimates that about 50% of the population is securely attached, 25% are avoidant, and 20% are anxious, and around 5% are disorganized.
Based on what you submitted, you might have a disorganized or avoidant attachment style. It sounds like you do want a romantic experience but have those feelings for people who are unavailable, preventing you from truly being vulnerable.
Two things I want to emphasize:
While the relationship between child and caregiver/parent/guardian is important, it is not the only type of relationship that can affect us. I believe that friends, other authority figures like teachers and coaches, and previous partnerships can affect our attachment styles. I also believe that things beyond childhood can impact attachment styles.
These are summaries and generalizations. It takes a good amount of time to figure out your own attachment style, where it came from and how to address it. Please don’t go slapping labels on others or internalize any labels yourself.
So, I wouldn’t say your habit of crushing on people who are at a distance is normal or abnormal; it just is. But it might be preventing you fully experiencing a loving and healthy relationship. Think of it as something to manage, versus something you need to stop altogether. The thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that manifest into our attachment styles may never go away, but by recognizing what has shaped our attachment styles, we can manage them.
I haven’t delved into this book completely, but Attached has become popular by helping people understand their attachment styles. It might also take additional work, like therapy, to see what else might be contributing to liking people from afar.
For now, I would suggest slow changes in behavior. If your crush is a person that you see in class but don’t talk to much, maybe you could start by saying hi, or complimenting something they’re wearing or said in class. Small steps can help us tolerate the stress of certain situations. There are wonderful things on the other side of fear.
Q: I feel like I’m an okay communicator, but I have trouble doing it during sex. Even if I know what I want to say, I don’t know how to get my words out in the moment. How can I be more comfortable communicating during sex?
A: This is such a great question! If you are having sex with or being physically/emotionally intimate with someone, then you should be comfortable enough to talk to them about it. If you don’t feel safe or comfortable with communicating during sex, take a quick moment to reflect on whether you actually want to be intimate with your partner(s), as they should want to center your pleasure and joy along with their own.
If you don’t always know what to say or how to say it, choose a word or hand gesture to use during sex to pause the proceedings and create space for you to better communicate what you want to say or what your comfort level is in the moment. Communication is key to ensure that sex is fun, enjoyable, and safe for everyone involved, so make sure that you are talking to your partner(s). This can also be an ongoing conversation about what’s pleasurable to you, because people’s wants, needs, and desires can change. Voicing what you want around sex and intimacy should be the standard for having fun and safe sexual experiences, so be confident in yourself!
I agree with Tyler. Fear around communicating during sex can come from fear of upsetting the person or “killing the mood.” But sex should be something enjoyed by all parties involved. Is the experience the best it could be if you don’t voice your wants and boundaries?
It helps to think about things you would like to happen during sex and let that be known at the beginning of any sexual encounter. Have some go-to phrases that you can use instead of having to think of one on the spot. Here are some examples:
“Before we start, I’m into XYZ. Are you into that also?”
If they aren’t into everything that you’re into, your next question could be “What do you want to do instead?”
I also recommend asking your partner(s) to communicate with you, so the burden isn’t just on you. To set that expectation, you could say: “Hey, I think it’s important that we’re on the same page. Can we check in with each other before we do a new act?”
Communication also includes active listening, so make sure you listen for responses that let you know if your partner is enjoying themselves. It’s helpful to offer reassurance and check in multiple times during sex. We break all of these steps down with examples of what you could say in the consent campaign.
Don’t be afraid to slow down or stop what you’re doing if you think it’spreventing you from communicating in a way that makes the sex safe and consensual. If people get disappointed at you voicing your boundaries, that’s something they have to deal with. You deserve to have someone who respects your boundaries.
I know you said that you have no problem communicating, but if you want to get more comfortable with asking for what you want during sex, I would also practice communicating in different ‘scary’ situations. Maybe youhaven’t always been honest with your friend about their behavior. Maybe youdon’t really speak up in class. These could be perfect opportunities to practice communicating in situations that don’talways feel comfortable. Be safe, have fun, hope it helps.
A friendly reminder that our next installment will be the penultimate installment of Dear Tyler and Jay for the semester! There’s still time to submit your questions, so use the link below to ask us what’s on your mind and how you can foster intimate relationships in your life. There are also a ton of opportunities to show your support for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, so you can take a look at this month’s calendar of events and email HopkinsGBVP@jh.edu for any questions!
Note: DT&J is intended to educate and spark discussion. The advice offered is intended for informational purposes only, and is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, financial, medical, legal, or other professional advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological, or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. If you need help getting started, you can email email@example.com.