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A Broad View of Intimacy

written by Cassie Robinson 15 February 2011

Cassie Robinson, University of East London MAPP graduate is also a trained designer, entrepreneur (NESTA creative pioneer), and coach who specializes in networked and people-centred innovation. As a member of Our Intimate Lives, Cassie is looking to grow conversations around sexuality, relationships, and positive psychology. Full bio.

Cassie's articles are here.

While Valentine’s Day reminds us of the romantic love that can occur between couples, the concept of intimacy can be overlooked. Intimacy suggests a closeness that defies easy categorization. Rather than referring simply to the paradigm of the sexually romantic couple, intimacy is a profound and far-reaching lens through which we can understand the self, the power of creative expression, and participation and giving in community. Moreover, intimacy is an inspiring way of connecting these aspects of human experience.

What is Intimacy?

Professor Lynn Jamieson at the University of Edinburgh has proposed that intimacy implies a very special “sort of knowing, loving and being close to another person.” It depends on a particular kind of self-disclosure. Intimacy commonly refers to a close association between two people who share a privileged knowledge of each other, and an overall attitude of loving, sharing, and caring. Intimacy here is a broad term, going beyond sexuality and inclusive of all relationships in which such privileged knowledge is exchanged, for example, between strangers, between a parent and a child, between friends, between a care giver and patient, or within the wider community among collaborating active citizens.

Intimacy is Eudaimonic

Goodbye, Grandpa

Goodbye, Grandpa

Eudaimonia, originally termed “the good spirit” by Aristotle, encompasses notions of well-being with potential for change. Eudaimonia stretches the notion of well-being beyond the pursuit of happiness to encompass the actualization of projects and goals. Eudaimonic intimacy is transformative in both the personal and the social sense. Closeness with others results in the positive generation of growth and meaning. The opportunity to match one’s deepest values to one’s actual life practices produces a well-being not confined to the thrill of romance or the high of sexual pleasure.

Child-baby hug

Child-baby hug

As we think about the well-being associated with intimacy, we need to consider not only positive emotions of high intensity but also those that are associated with depth. Keltner and Haidt emphasize that although at present there is no known taxonomy of positive emotions, they can be clustered into four categories:

  • Resources (happiness and contentment)
  • Social relations (love and compassion)
  • Distress reduction (relief)
  • Knowledge (amusement and interest)

Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build model postulates that positive emotions increase the breadth of one’s attention and thinking. Joy leads to play, and interest leads to exploration. Positive emotions also build durable personal resources including social connections. The resources that are built by the broadened thought–action repertoires are enduring, even though the positive emotions are temporary.

Intimacy in the Public Domain

Multi-generational Community

Multi-generational community

While intimacy is typically associated with private life, eudaimonia offers a way of bringing the rich experience of closeness and vulnerability into the public domain. Intimacy is part of public life. Open discussion about intimacy is multi-dimensional and difficult to pigeon-hole. How can we harness and channel the energy of intimate experiences into objectives that benefit the wider community? Eudaimonia is directly related to social innovation, presuming that the individual is not an isolated atom but part of a greater whole. Interconnectedness is a route to balance and satisfaction.

Often images of romantic love emphasize self-interest, consumption, and greed. The dangers and risks associated with sexuality, such as sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy, are highlighted at the expense of the positive links between sexuality and well-being.

However the application of the term intimacy can be expanded beyond the scope of the self, and can lead people to craft new and imaginative ways of investing in community. There are no rules for how the connection between intimacy, creative expression, and community can be made. Intimacy is an enabling energy. All people possess the right and the power to realize their own visions of how to live more intimate and fulfilling lives.

Here’s a visual tool to help you think about how you experience the connections between intimacy, creativity, and community in your life.

Intimacy in a Broader Context

Intimacy in a Broader Context




Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56, 218-226.

Jamieson, L. (2010). Changing Intimacy in the Twentieth Century: Seeking and Forming Couple Relationship. In L. Abrams & C. Brown (Eds.), A History of Everyday Life in Twentieth Century Scotland , pp. 76-102. Edinburgh University Press.

Keltner, D., & Haidt, J. (2001). Social functions of emotions. In T. Mayne & G. A. Bonanno (Eds.), Emotions: Current Issues and Future Directions (Emotions and Social Behavior) New York: Guilford Press. (pp. 192-213).

Hug in the water courtesy of Lemuel Cantos
Love my Dad courtesy of Yvette T
Goodbye Grandpa courtesy of a4gpa
Child holding baby courtesy of Juhan Sonin
Northern Constabulary Pipe Band – Drum Majors (Present, Future and Past) courtesy of conner395
Intimacy in a Broad Context courtesy of Our Intimate Lives and Cassie Robinson

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