Advice, Lifestyle

Building emotional intimacy

An emotional connection is what ties every personal connection together. It’s what makes or breaks a true relationship in any form, whether it be friends, partners, siblings, etc. 

However, college can disrupt this ability to emotionally connect. Making new friends can be an arduous task, especially when we don’t want to force a connection, yet are eager to open up. For me, the key to flourishing in foreign environments heavily depends on the relationships I have with others — where I can grow but simultaneously be supported. But the only way to solidify that connection into a firm relationship is to be emotionally intimate.

Emotional intimacy sounds more profound than it has to be. Think of it as something you already have with the people you call your best friends — a relationship where you both share deep trust and love for one another. If you feel accepted for who you are by those around you, if you’re able to be open and vulnerable and talk about harder topics with them, then that’s emotional intimacy in action. 

emotion intimacy in college
Three friends laughing. Kendall O’Brien gives her advice on building emotional intimacy, especially while navigating a tricky college landscape. COURTESY OF PRISCILLA DU PREEZ VIA UNSPLASH

It is imperative to understand that this bond revolves around truth. And by truth, I mean showing someone “your truth” — your true colors, strengths and weaknesses, highs and lows, whatever you want to call it. It means everything when you’re able to open up about yourself, yet still feel safe. 

Unfortunately, this notion of being stripped down to “your truth” and being able to be perfectly vulnerable with one another all the time is an idealistic fantasy. The uncertainties of showing your insecurities can still arise with someone you feel comfortable with, and that’s totally fine. You don’t need to share everything you feel. Emotional intimacy is about having a choice — it’s never required. 

Ways to bond are subjective — what works for me may not work for you. But there are a few things to do that can help you ease into the emotional intimacy process and develop a solid relationship with others

Do meaningful activities together

Do something you’re both interested in. A shared interest gives you and the other person a common ground and easy transition into a thoughtful conversation.

Provide emotional support

By being someone’s rock, you can create a sheltered space for them to open up to you. This also gives you the opportunity to tell them their feelings are validated.

Listen to what they have to say

Emotional intimacy works both ways, and now it’s their turn to be your emotional support. 

Offer compliments

Saying things like “I constantly learn from you” or “You treat people beautifully” will help lift them up and make them feel wanted. If you don’t admire their character, then there’s no point in establishing a solid relationship.

Be honest and assertive

No relationship should be built on lies. Of course, there is a fine line between being honest and being blunt, and it’s important to be honest about your own flaws rather than theirs. An example of this is apologizing when you’re wrong. 

Give space

Emotional intimacy can be built even when we’re separated. Giving space and time can strengthen, rather than weaken, an intimate bond. Ever miss someone’s presence so badly you feel the need to communicate your feelings to them? That’s a perfect example of how it’s not always essential to consistently spend time together.

There’s this innate need to have instant chemistry with someone, but sometimes that magnetic pull isn’t there in the beginning, and that’s okay. Not having that instantaneous connection with someone who’s similar to you is completely normal. It takes time to form an emotional connection, but that shouldn’t discourage you from pursuing that relationship. 

Life works in strange ways. That person you felt unsure about may just need to feel seen to fully open up. You won’t know until you muster up the courage to be yourself and take that first step towards emotional intimacy.

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