Talk is Not Intimacy. The Tyranny of Words.
I am not a morning person. To me, the wee hours are like The Bad Ex: unpleasant, defensive, and best avoided.
And yet by sheer force of will and habit and the tyranny of children wee’er than the hours, I rise early.
Like 5.30 am early. The ugly early.
And lo, he said, ‘let there be caffeine’.
So I’m always astonished when my sister or a friend says something like “but I’m not a morning person like you are…”
My head swivels around, exorcist-style, to locate this saintly ‘you’. When I realize I am that you, I inevitably have a whatchutalkingaboutWillis? moment.
(I had the same reaction when my sister told me “…but I don’t enjoy dating the way you do…“)
My point (and there is one):
I’m working against my body’s impetus.
My natural inclination is to stay up late(ish) and get up around 8ish. My most productive working hours are 9-11 in the morning and 9-11 at night.
That’s not how my life works. My kids wake at inhumane hours and five days a week there are bells that ring and expectations of attendance accompany those sounds. The other two days there are expectations of waffles or pancakes.
So I just get up, drink lots of coffee, and try to make it all knit together while eagerly anticipating the future when my children become surly teenagers who resent the sound of my breath and my presence but sleep past 7am.
Or can pour milk in their cereal unassisted.
MIRACLES. HEAVEN. SLEEP.
Now, just as I work against my body’s natural inclination with (lack of) sleep, I do this in The Interpersonal Thing, too.
I say: I’m a talker. Words are my foreplay. Talk to me, baby.
While this is true, it is not the whole story. Often, I’m silencing one of my languages at the expense of the other.
Body is quiet so words can speak.
I remember when I realized this: it was just after I realized I was In Love, probably for the first time. We were swimming in each other. Our physical boundaries were porous. While we had astonishing, wide-ranging conversations and enjoyed a profound intellectual tension and communion, we were connected by touch and presence and being more than with words.
At the time, I had two room-mates. One day, I came skipping into the living room and landed on the sofa, right between them. They both shifted away from me so that our bubbles remained intact.
Another time, my bestest guy friend (my first boyfriend) from high school was visiting us. He was sitting on the sofa and I sat beside him, thigh-to-thigh and leaned into him. He stiffened.
Neither of these things were calculated. They were instinctual: I was so used to being right up close with someone – my new love – that I forgot in most relationships closeness is brokered with words rather than bodies.
I remember that stiffness, the moving away, the distance, and the chatter – and I treasure relationships where spaces contract and breach is welcome.
Like with my children, to whom intimacy is touch.
Which is not to say that we don’t talk. Of course we talk. We talk a lot. My eldest daughter, Sophie, is almost six, and she tells me that her favourite part of the day is our talking-time. We read stories together and I tuck the girls into their beds in their rooms. I sit with Lola, the little one (she’s three) and we talk while I rub her back and hold her close.
Then I get into bed with Sophie, wrap my arms around her and press her cheek to mine, and we talk while I stroke her hair. She tells me every detail of her life and all the things she’s thinking about and all the dramas in class and daycare and of course Hannah Montana, who has a talking horse.
And she always sighs and says, Mama, I love our talks.
I love our talks, too.
But more is being said than could ever be told with words alone.
I’m acutely conscious that right now, in this shimmering, evancescent, temporary moment, I have my children’s permission to touch them, kiss them, cuddle them, hold them, be with them, close to them.
And that is intensely precious to me on so many levels.
Our physical bond is the foil to my overwhelmingly word-centric world. Most of the time I privilege verbs over body – so much so that I’ll despair over a man who can’t seem to connect with me with words even if he’s telling me sweet things with his actions, his body, his daily presence and unremitting tenderness. I’ll assume he’s not verbally and emotionally fluent because I’ve unlearned his language.
And I know when I started locking down my physicality and unleashing my language.
The tween years.
The exact moment when I started becoming conscious that my body could – and was – sending messages was the moment I started restraining it.
Started fencing off space.
Started closing down emotional, physical signals.
Stopped being affectionate with adults and even same-age friends.
Stopped touching people.
Started talking on the phone. For HOURS.
This is no coincidence. I know this with my body and when I’m not careful, my tongue thinks for me:
Now. I do understand that some tsk-tsk-ing might be in order. I’m not necessarily advocating sex as an ice-breaker (mostly. maybe).
But what this accidental truth tells me is that intimacy is not just words.
Words are sometimes a fence, fencing, sparring, defence.
Body is my first language. We have our physical selves, our hunger for touch, and our ability to effectively communicate needs, wants and desires long before we come into words. (Just ask an infant or her exhausted parent.)
All of this is to say that naturally I’m a late-riser and a body-talker. Yet I bow to the demands of my life and get my ass out of bed early so I can talk (and write) pretty all day.
So when I read this, astonishment, horror, recognition:
Historically, women’s sexuality and intellect have never been integrated. Women’s bodies were controlled, and their sexuality was constrained, in order to avoid their corrupting impact on men’s virtue. Femininity, associated with purity, sacrifice and frailty, was a characteristic of the morally successful woman. Her evil twin, the succubus (whore, slut, concubine, witch) was the earthy sensual, and frankly lusty woman who had traded respectability for sexual exuberance. Vigorous sexuality was the exclusive domain of men. Women have continuously sought to disentangle themselves from the patriarchal split between virtue and lust, and are still fighting this injustice. When we privilege speech and underplay the body, we collude in keeping women confined. - Esther Perel, Mating in Captivity (emphasis mine)