Dave: I am inviting you to continue the trip into the marital wonder underground. Perhaps you have noticed I am being a bit playfully ironic. There is a reason for the playful irony. I want you to understand that what I am writing about is not simple. Irony warns you there is difference, multiple possibilities. Irony is an invitation to reflect. Irony and metaphor are both language devices used to enhance meaning, to stimulate thinking in readers. The difference is that metaphor makes or invites a comparison or likeness, while irony suggests a hidden or an absent but possible sense. Irony amuses and irony irritates. Irony denies us our certainties. So that is why I like to introduce irony into my discussions of human experience. A few weeks ago I asked, “What is a child?” Now I will ask, “What is marriage?”, and I will supply some possible answers. When we talk about human experiences, earnestness is over-rated. Too much clarity leads away from what is most important. So let me offer you some ideas from my long term experience as psychiatrist converted into marriage and family therapist.
Marriage is or can be (select any five):
- A haven in a heartless world.
- A model for an intimate relationship between peers.
- A home for my whole self
- A nightmare.
- Therapeutic. Growth stimulating.
- A counter-therapeutic ordeal. Stultifying.
- A psychosomatic illness; relationship to the body may be changed.
- A mental illness: not curable by divorce or death (what are the disability benefits and how do you collect them?).
- Endlessly self-revealing: a place to meet yourself. A magnifying mirror.
- A way to get a Ph.D. in being a person.
- Feeling of one mind with another.
- An erotic playground.
- A gender battleground.
- An erotic mirage; a sexual wasteland.
- A community consisting of a master, a mistress and two slaves, making in all, two (Ambrose Bierce. (1910. The Devil’s Dictionary.).
- A high stakes game of “who will go crazy first?” (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Edward Albee, 1962).
So what about intimacy? What is intimacy? We can take the easy (or truthful) way out and say it is not definable, or we can play with possible definitions. Words are alive and filled with possibility. Narcissism and Intimacy (Solomon) is an excellent thoughtful book about marriage and marital therapy; it has twelve chapters. Five chapters discuss Narcissism in detail from several perspectives. Of interest, intimacy is mentioned three times (once in the title) but never defined. The point is that intimacy is a subjective experience not easily represented in a simple definition.
…The world goes away in relation to you.
…Defenses at rest.
…I am fully me in relation to you being fully you.
The intersubjective view of maturity: We have a need to recognize the other as like us, but distinct. I am the center of my universe, but I understand you to be the center of a different universe (Jessica Benjamin, Bonds of Love).