The Search for Spiritual Friendship (7): Commitment vs. Intimacy

I was surfing the blogosphere a few days ago when I stumbled upon a post about friendship. I don’t really remember much of what it said (I don’t think it was very good, but I can’t remember either way) but I do remember a figure from the post. It was an isosceles triangle and on either side, excluding the base, there was a word. One side said “commitment”, the other said “intimacy”.

The point of the triangle was that you can’t have a successful relationship with too much of one side and not enough of the other. In order to do friendship (or really any relationship) well, you need the level of commitment to equal the level of intimacy.

I thought about this in my own life and times when this wasn’t the case. It’s not been the case often – sometimes because I’m not feeling it and sometimes because the other party isn’t – but it was never something I could figure out until seeing this triangle.

The hardest part about building a relationship is knowing how to up the commitment and intimacy at a similar rate. If there’s too much intimacy but not enough commitment on the part of one or more people, the relationship becomes stifling. If it’s too much commitment but not enough intimacy, something I’ve felt in the past, the relationship can feel taxing. But it’s hard to determine how to move both things up at a similar pace.

When this becomes a big issue for me, I tend to step back. Sometimes I do it consciously but other times I do it completely unaware of what I’m doing. This past week I totally disengaged from a friend I had recently seen. It wasn’t because I was upset or anything, it’s just that I, probably subconsciously, didn’t want to over-commit without an equal level of intimacy.

The thing is, most relationships can survive even with this inequality. It’s not a set formula. One person can feel more intimacy than commitment and it can totally work out. It’s when this inequality is excessive that things start to get crazy. When I look back at failed friendships, the theme tends to be that I assumed too much intimacy in the relationship without there being much foundation/commitment. And when I look at friendships that I’ve had to distance myself from, it’s been because I’ve felt forced to commit to a relationship in which I didn’t feel a great sense of intimacy.

The commitment vs. intimacy problem is just  that – a problem – and I don’t know that there’s any easy solution or anyway to regulate it when you’re first beginning to be friends with someone. It’s easy to tackle once it’s become a major problem but, when it’s slowly building up, it’s hard to deal with.

The problem with my solution is that it requires distance and sometimes distance just creates different problems. That’s not always the case. Sometimes distance works well. And in my experience, distance has always been pretty good. In fact, the problem with distance isn’t the distance itself, but the reunion. I don’t mind being distant from some people if it means we can always inhabit this liminal space. It’s the point when I have to go back and confront the situation, when I have to choose committed intimacy or nothing at all, that I’m not a huge fan of.

All of this makes it a little hard to create friendships. Constantly desiring to back away isn’t necessarily the best way to make lasting relationships. So I don’t really know what to do. I kind of want to fast-forward to the part where I’m already best friends with everyone I want to be best friends with (I’m looking at you Tina Fey!) without dealing with this sometimes messy ‘commitment vs. intimacy’ part.

As always, such is life. And such is the search for spiritual friendships.

DJP

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