If this hasn’t been made clear by now, I will say it again. Giving advice and telling people how to live their lives isn’t really my thing.
I can’t say how you can achieve intimacy. I can share how I achieved intimacy with my husband, despite a number of bad experiences. I can explain some of the challenges and frustrations, and maybe that can be applied to some other person’s situation (with great caution).
The first step, for me, was trusting myself again. Calling it the first step is somewhat misleading, because it’s not the case that I completed one step, moved to the next, and to the next, etc. All of these things overlapped.
Learning how to trust myself again probably took the most time, and it’s something I still struggle with, especially with new people. HW says I always describe new people the same way, “She seems nice!” and he’s exactly right. I always think everybody is nice, until I don’t, and by then it’s already a problem. After that happened a number of times, I started to doubt my ability to identify truly good people. I started to wonder if maybe it was me, maybe I was choosing the wrong people, and maybe that was something I would never be able to change.
I had to look back on everything that had happened and work out what I needed to take responsibility for and distinguish that from what someone else had to take responsibility for (although God knows and I know they never will). That can be a painful process. I want to be clear I am not a fan of victim-blaming, and that’s not what I did. I wrote the other day about someone I love doing that and how awful it is, and I’m learning, over time, to apply that same logic to my own situation. When someone does something bad, it is not our fault, in any way, shape or form. It’s just not.
Looking back this way was something I mostly did on my own, and something HW was not enthusiastic about in the beginning. He worried, with much justification, that I would use it as an excuse to beat myself up. He was not wrong, and I took his advice to heart, as much as I could, and made sure I did it a little bit at a time, over an extended period, taking breaks as needed.* Sometimes I shared what I thought about with HW, sometimes I wrote about it to myself, and in fact I started putting together a timeline before I realized that would not be a healthy way to approach things, because it would misprioritize things and the focus would shift to recollecting what happened in a specific, logical order, and not what really mattered.
That is not to say HW wasn’t involved in any of this. He was a huge part of learning how to trust myself again. One big thing he did, was never make it about him. It was never personal. He understood what I had gone through and understood it would take time for me to process and heal, and it would take me some time to reach the level of intimacy I wanted. He was also always, always on my side, and continues to be, no matter what. That definitely makes things easier.
Simultaneously, I started thinking about what intimacy meant to me, and what level of intimacy I wanted. I have always been an open person, a person who desires a deep level of intimacy, but again, that caused a lot of problems in the past. My desire to feel deeply connected to people left me open and vulnerable, and other people took advantage of that, possibly because part of my desire to be completely vulnerable didn’t come from a healthy place. I was afraid I could be hurt again, and I had to weigh, in my own mind, whether achieving my desired level of intimacy was worth taking that risk. I decided it was.
The other major factors were time and experience. HW and I already had a certain level of intimacy, because he was already my best friend, and that was a great starting point for us. It was something we could always go back to, something we could both trust. We started there, and a little bit at a time, we opened up to each other.**
We don’t have the perfect level of intimacy now, and we don’t have the perfect relationship now, but we know what we want, and we work for it every day, because we want to. I can’t imagine any other way to do it.
*Bar exams and child birth count as breaks in some cases.
**I should mention I was not the only one who had some bad experiences. HW was really put through the ringer too, more than once, and he had some things that needed letting go.