Alright, since you opened this post to read about creating instant intimacy I’ve got a question to ask you.
Yes, you! and this question applies to every single person regardless of their gender.
Let’s call it a 4 AM question!
“Lets say you just got back from a long night out, It’s nearly 4 am on the clock, Saturday dusk turning into Sunday dawn and you just happen to find yourself locked out of your place. Obviously no locksmiths are available at this hour in Ireland and it’s also a bit cold (you know how mornings in Ireland usually are, regardless of summer months). So the question is, who can you call?”
Before you start brainstorming trying to think of other ways to get into your house I must remind you, the point of my question isn’t the practicalities of solving the problem of gaining entry to getting in or even the likelihood of such problem occurring, although you may think, hey I always have my super secret spare key hidden under that pot in my front porch, ok I get it, but rather my question is a litmus test of the relationships you have in your life.
Let me break down my question because its essentially asking these three questions:
#1. Do you have connections with high-quality people that you can rely on? Your thousands of “E-Friends” on social media that you have never even met don’t count.
#2. If you have real connections, are they alive? Meaning you can call them up in an emergency and it would not be the first time in 8 months that you have reached out to them!
#3. If they are alive then are they in close proximity to your location? Obviously your childhood friend from school that immigrated to Australia last year or your best buddy from your hometown living in a different county hundreds of kilometer away wont be much of a help here…
I can imagine most people would say something like:
“Well……. I guess I could ask Tom, Dick & Harry whom I work with they lives close. That probably makes the most sense and they’d probably do it.”
Its important to remember the point of the question isn’t who would do it. Most people would do it. It’s about how comfortable you would feel asking that person. What is the strength of this relationship that you wouldn’t worry that it’s a burden on them to respond to your urgent need in situation you found yourself in?
There’s a very good reason I have thought about creating instant intimacy in such depth. As an avid traveler who has stayed in many countries around the globe some short and some for extended periods of time, I ask myself the 4 am question all the time. The quality of my connections in a place is what tips it over from a place where I live VS a place that I call home.
Some of you might even think of the big “Why” word. Why is intimacy of any kind important?
Wouldn’t it be great if we could fast-forward our lives to the very end of our days so we can recognise the most important things we missed out on throughout the course of our lives, hen after a solid understating of that we can reverse it all the way back to our early days so we could live a life rich in connections and full of intimacy.
People, especially men (i admit being gender bias here) wished that they hadn’t worked so hard and had invested more in their relationships. They wished that they had stayed in touch with their friends and had given those friendships the effort and time that they deserved. They wished that they had the courage to express themselves and many developed illnesses as a result of not doing so and that brings me to my next point.
The quality and quantity of individual social relationships has been linked not only to mental health but also to both morbidity and mortality. People are more likely to live longer if they have stronger relationships, There are dozens of other studies correlating loneliness with greater risk of cardiovascular disease, higher susceptibility to sickness, higher blood pressure, and increased pain
#Humans are hard-wired to want connections
We are strongly programmed psychologically to need to belong to a community, we have known this fact for a long time.
Although, the mental health benefits of having like-minded friends are well documented, but did you know that having strong social relationships has the equivalent effect on your life satisfaction as if you had doubled your income?
This conversation on the importance of creating and maintaining intimacy is even more relevant today, in a world where we confuse Instagram followers or Facebook friends with real friends. Whether we want to or not, the digital world is rapidly changing the way we connect, which makes it even more important for us to be intentional about creating connections with real intimacy.
If you are someone who finds yourself frequently reaching for your phone to find a sense of connection only to feel a sense of emptiness after a dozen left swipes and endless scrolling on feeds, then this article is tailored for you in mind
The holy grail is the quality of relationships that matters far more than the quantity of relationships and Relationship intimacy is key…
#My own challenge
Since I started working on creating ello.ie, the challenge that I ended up setting for myself was that I would take a mixture of public transport everywhere and try to create an intimate connection within every single journey. Armed with a rather generous travel allowance I took over 100+ taxi rides and even more travel was done using bus as a default choice of transport where possible.
Throughout my journey I met people all shapes and sizes in Cork — from 18-year-olds to 70-year-olds, from pale skin colors to dark and everything in between. And sometimes, to keep me on my toes, I would do a shared ride with my acquaintances, just to see if I could create the same intimacy with three, four, or five people in the car. I never knew what I was going to get. All I knew was that my city Cork was bursting with ambition, interesting life stories and at the same time… well, loneliness.
More than hundreds of journeys later in multiple areas or even cities like Dublin and beyond I extending my challenge to include coffee shops like costa and starbucks, I learned that creating intimacy is actually easier than we think.
#How to create instant intimacy with almost anyone
Alright, so the practical challenge or i’d rather say the hardest part for most people is how to start? Whether we want to create a familiar community, a friend, or a life partner, most people simply don’t have the knowledge and skills to initiate a connection. So the opportunities pass us by, and we are doomed to the limited social networks of our work and recreational activities or even worse, still swiping on new people while not building active connections by saying ello to the ones we already matched with.
#There are infinite books on how to create romantic intimacy, this article isn’t one of them.
Lets be clear about my objective goat and that is how to start a connection and convert any conversation into one where you actually break past the superficial persona of a stranger and discover the real person underneath it all. It’s about turning your entire world into your community and creating the potential for every person to be in your friend.
So it turns out, before any change can occur, the first step is simply to want to.
#Rule 1: Be intentional
Let’s be realistic, we’re not always in the mood to interact with others. Sometimes, it takes a little internal pep talk to get us going, You must put yourself in the right mood and be the person someone would want to meet and spend time with.
TIP: Have zero expectations and be curious.
This almost never happens without conscious intention. Most of our intimate connections are co-jointed with expectations. A society we live in today does not condition us to create random intimacy with strangers, but only with people who fulfill certain roles in our lives such as our partners, friends & family. These predefined roles also come with pre-defined expectations, pun intended.
We forget to stay curious, instead we get distracted and allow interactions to play out and pass us by. The gap between what we expect from them and how they fulfill these roles is what causes the gap in intimacy. Smart people can always sense when you have an agenda so therefore it detracts them from their natural ability to open up to you.
So, don’t just talk to the cute guy or a girl at your coffee shop (or if you do, do it without expectations) talk to the older man or a woman who comes in to read every day, talk to the young mother who looks like she is in need of a banter, talk to the hippy girl drawing in her notebook. You never know who you might meet. I once had a two-hour conversation about concrete and I wasn’t bored for even a second, I kid you not!
#Rule 2: Breaking the ice
I admit, this is probably the scariest part for most people and the greatest hurdle to overcome. Yes, there will be awkward moments and no, the world will not end i promise. Like exercising a muscle, it also gets much easier over time, this is the very muscle most of us Irish don’t have!.
#Make eye contact and smile.
Most of us go through our daily lives with unconscious barriers — headphones plugged in that say, “Go away, i am busy so don’t bother trying talking to me”, distant or blank stares that say “I don’t really see you, for me you do not exist” and more often than not, eyes transfixed on our smartphones that say, “This mindless feed from my four thousand seven hundred and eighty three E-friends that i never met is far more interesting than anything or anyone in real life.”
The easiest way to break that first barrier is simply to look up, make eye contact, and smile. Without exception, eye contact is the first point of connection. It’s simple, timeless and extremely underrated. If it’s powerful enough to make you fall in love, it’s certainly powerful enough for you to make a friend or two.
Trust me babies do this all the time and will often hold eye contact with you for a much longer time than adults feel comfortable doing.
So, practice with them if it makes you super uncomfortable to start with an adult.
First, observe something specific about them then ask a question about it. You smiled, they smiled, now what? It wont progress any further if you wont follow up with a question! One of the easiest ways to open a conversation is to notice something specific about that person and ask a question about it. It can be a book they’re carrying, something they’re wearing, somewhere they’re going, or something they’re looking at.
If you continue to practice, you might progress to more intimate openers in no time.
“I love your tattoo, what does it mean?”
“You’ve got an interesting look, where are you from?”
I recommend not using the opener like “How are you?” “Whats the story?” “Howdy” “How are things?” “Whats the craic?” all those generic terms and I’ll explain more below what that is.
#Either ask for or offer a favor
Ask for directions, ask for the time, ask for someone to help you reach something, or ask someone to help you hold something for a second. Not only is it a lot less awkward than most other openers I wrote above but it’s also actually known to deepen relationships.
The reverse works as well. You can ask someone who looks lost if they need directions or offer to help a stranger lift something they are struggling with.
#Follow up with “feeling” questions rather than fact based questions
After you get their initial response, it’s best to follow up with a question about how they feel about something instead of a fact-based question.
Because “Feeling” questions like “What makes you happy?” or “What are you passionate about?” will have a much higher potential of creating intimacy than a fact-based question like “What do you do in life?”.
If that seems way too awkward in the beginning, ask “What do you love best about Cork, Dublin or whatever county you happen to be in?”. They will usually fill in the why, and that will give you a pretty good insight into what they love doing.
“My favorite places are the coffee shops in the City Centre because there are a lot of pubs and clubs nearby and there is always some local gig playing.” “Oh, what kind of music are you passionate about?”
“What is your favorite music, book, cuisine, movie, netflix show etc.?”
“What do you do for fun in your free time?”
“Tell me about your culture/where you are from” even though this is a fact based question, it is often linked to strong emotions.
The quicker you can drive the conversation into something they love or hate, the better chance you have at creating intimacy.
Favorite books and music also tend to have a deep emotional connection for most people and can often be linked to significant life events.
#Don’t start a conversation by asking small talk questions
What you don’t talk about is just as important as what you do talk about. I know this for a fact that small talk questions are almost designed to kill intimacy.
Aside from the fact that they are almost always fact based, the biggest problem with common small talk questions is that people have generic canned responses for them so their response is automatic without giving any thought and they are not engaging in this specific conversation with you.
If you meet a pretty girl in a club, she has likely been asked a few hundred times that night, “How’s your night going?” or some other variations of “How are you?” “you alright?” “looking well” “are you enjoying yorself?” “you look lovely” including “whats the story?/craic etc.
It’s hard to drive a conversation to somewhere different if the response is simply “good!” “yes” “ok” “thanks” “grand” “not much”
Instead, try asking them something different!
Challenge yourself to ask them a question they might not have been asked that night. It doesn’t have to be something hard. An example could be:
Do you come here often? What do you think of this place?
“What’s been your favorite part of your night?”
“If you were a DJ what song would you play next”
“Describe your night in two words ”
#Rule 3: Connection
No, I really mean it.
Listen without trying to formulate a response.
Listen without trying to make an impression.
Listen to understand their story.
Listen to what they care about.
I know it’s difficult, and anyone who says otherwise is a down right liar. Most people will reveal things they care about pretty quickly and you should follow their lead.
Try making the first three responses you make about the other person and what they just told you.
“Friends are those rare people who ask how we are, and then wait to hear the answer.”― Ed Cunningham
#Identify their passion and talk about it
We all remember things that create a strong emotional response. So people are more likely to engage more deeply with you and remember you if they were talking to you about something they’re passionate about.
If you were listening, you should be able to identify it as most people will pretty quickly reveal their passion. Ask questions about it.
This is my favorite part. Passion is energizing and it’s a joy to listen to. It’ll make your life easier because they can do all the talking but you’ll also find yourself in a more upbeat mood after the conversation.
#You can be their mirror
By being their mirror I mean you reflect something meaningful back to them that they may not have been aware of. Typically, it’s to describe more subtle things back to them, to make them see that they are brave, passionate, considerate, determined and so on.
Trying to be a mirror forces you to really pay attention and find something about them you respect. This is a bit of an art but it’s a really powerful thing to do. It says to the person, “Hey, I see you and you are capable of far greater things than you believe you are, there is a greatness within you.”
Everyone has something about them that they don’t see. Make them see themselves in a different way.
#Make them smile
If you have a good sense of humor, strangers are the best people to be yourself with. They won’t judge and even if some do, who cares? does it really matter?
So, go ahead, be the sarcastic, funny self you always hear in your own head. They will remember you for it.
#Be willing to be vulnerable
Obviously, exercise this one in the right situations and as the conversation calls for. If someone is struggling with loneliness after just moving to a new place, you can express times when you felt the same when you first moved. Having shared emotions or experiences is a very bonding experience.
Phase 4: Conversion
If you’ve successfully made a connection, the next challenge is to try to continue the relationship outside of the coffee shop, bus or park that you met them at. You may not want to do this with everyone, but here are some tips if you do.
#Try linking the conversation to a location or activity
If someone says they love coffee, ask them what and where their favorite coffee shop is. They will say Costa, Starbucks or some local coffee shop then you can respond by saying, “Oh, I’ve never been there before! Would you like to go with me?”
If you say, “I love rock climbing” and they have never done that before, you can say, “Oh, I’d be more than happy to take you. I know this great place for beginners.” just make sure whatever you say can be backed up regardless of whether they do or do not take up on your offer.
#Watch out and listen for opportunities
If someone says, “I’ve always wanted to…”, that’s your turn to say, “That sounds like fun! I’d do that with you if you want.”
If someone tells you about their favorite book/song/movie/show, that’s your job to say, “Hey, I’d love to read/hear/watch that. Would you mind texting it to me?”
When was the last time you wanted help?
Did you ask for help? I am sure you did!
And the last time you were in love?
Did you express your love? If you did its safe to say you got plenty of it returned your way.
just like that when you want anything from the universe, anything from yourself or others, you must first ask.
Moreover, by this point, you’ve figured out their deepest darkest secrets, so now is the time for you to come right out and ask something like:
“Hey, I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. Can we continue it another day?”
Seriously, the worse they can do is say “No” and it is literally impossible to die of embarrassment.
So how did it work out for me?
Well… I had a ball!
Working through this challenge basically improved every aspect of my life. The ability to create intimacy with strangers meant that I could navigate silent yet boring situations by turning them into heartwarming meaningful conversations. I got introduced to the most obscure experiences while I learned a lot about people and different cultures. Some people randomly gave me discounts some even invited me to their homes.
But more importantly, it taught me a lot about myself and how I want to navigate.
Although, there are many days when it feels easier to plug in my headphones on the plane. To read my book and forget the eye contact. I had one of these days recently.
I was completely jet-lagged from a trip back from Dubai and was stuck in Heathrow for 8 hours. All I wanted was a coffee and to disappear into my own world. I was searching for a power outlet when two Airlingus employees saw my eyes scanning and asked me what I needed. After establishing that I had to wait 8 hours for the next flight home, they struck up a conversation.
They did everything I had always tried to do — they made me laugh, they made me feel interesting, they made me feel beautiful, and they made me bare my soul. They surprised me and put me in a good mood despite myself. (A big thank you to Eileen, and Moira, you were great)
After my encounter, I couldn’t help smiling. I knew that somehow, I had attracted that encounter to me. I had created a friendlier world, and it had embraced me.
I hope that you too take the step to connect with people around you because there is something magical about knowing deep inside you that the world around you is a friendly place.
There is trust, warmth, laughter, and friendship everywhere there are people. That you can fall into the world and it will catch you.