The Nonsexual Intimacy Meme
Intimacy is NOT necessarily about full sexual contact. Intimacy is all about two people forming a connection and bond between them. That involves becoming best friends, trusting each other, knowing each other, understanding each other. Intimacy is grown and developed, it can't be rushed.
Nonsexual forms of intimacy can add a great deal of depth and variety to fiction. On one end of the spectrum, they provide extra steps to support the journey from meeting a potential mate through romance, sex, and marriage. In the middle, they convey the import of family and professional connections, distinguishing those from more casual acquaintances. On the other end, they form much of the glue in primary relationships for people who don't base their ties on sexuality. Sex and romance are valuable, but they're not everything.
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- Hair care. Brushing, braiding, washing, cutting -- all of these involve a lot of careful touching in ways that many people enjoy. Hair braiding is a bonding experience in some cultures. In fact, grooming is a bonding technique for social primates in general. People without close ties to others often treat themselves to regular salon visits as a socially acceptable way to meet the need for touch and interaction.
- Shaving. This involves an unusually high level of trust, especially if the person is using a straight-edge razor or something else with an exposed blade rather than just a buzzer. Although it can apply to women, shaving is one of the few forms of physical intimacy that is most closely associated with men due to their facial hair. Initiaton into shaving is a major milestone for becoming a man, not just for boys during puberty but also for transsexuals during transition.
- Bathing. This varies by culture; in America most people bathe alone but some other cultures practice communal bathing. A bath is usually more intimate than a shower, although a public bath can be non-intimate and small shower stall can be intimate. It's also different when two people wash each other (an exchange of intimacy and affection) than when one person washes someone else (more of a caretaking or protective gesture).
- Feeding. A classic romantic motif involves lovers feeding each other, but it works as a way of providing and caring for someone in any context. Like bathing, it can also clue whether both parties are participating equally or one is taking care of the other (temporarily or regularly). This one has an existential flavor since survival depends on food supply.
- Seeing someone without their adaptive equipment on. This includes glasses, dentalware, prosthetic limbs, a wheelchair, etc. Adaptive equipment is part of one's presentation to the everyday world, and taking it off can be as intimate as removing clothing, for many people in many contexts.
- Holding Hands: There can be many reasons for this gesture. Physical closeness, offering comfort, or staying together in a crowd, all may have you reaching for someone.
- Undressing someone. This can be kind of a one-way experience if the recipient isn't awake, and is often awkward for both people if they are awake. Sometimes it happens because hands are out of commission, but a more common example is someone passing out drunk. Overheating is another good reason. Different circumstances can imply different levels of intimacy.
- Sharing secrets. This especially applies to talking about personal issues that aren't widely known. An exchange of secrets is a common ritual between "best friends" among girls and women, but appears elsewhere as well. Some things are only discussed among people with a common reference; veterans may be more comfortable discussing war memories with each other than civilians.
- Ordering for someone in a restaurant. Acquiring food, without asking the other person what to get, shows a knowledge of their needs and desires. Providing food is also a gesture of support and sustenance.
- Providing moral support at a major event. Helping someone get through a funeral, a trial, or other intense but not crisis situation is usually performed by a very dear friend. This is a situation where lovers or family members may be too close to the matter to be much use.
- Crying on someone. When you cry, you tend to let your guard down. Most of the people close to you will see you cry at some point, so that can be a milestone in a relationship. Actually crying on someone, letting them hold you, is even more intimate.
- Serving in a primary role for someone during a wedding. This includes the best man or maid of honor at a wedding, or stand-in for absent parents, etc. as well as the traditional family roles. One aspect of intimacy is sharing each other's lives, including ceremonies and transitions.
- Comforting someone after a bad breakup. Moments of great vulnerability can bring people closer. While this role sometimes falls to family, breakup repair more often goes to a woman's female friends or a man's male friends.
- Listening to someone's heartbeat or breathing. Close body contact, enough to carry soft personal sounds, tends to be comforting as well as connecting, as it touches on positive childhood memories for most people. It is shared between parent and child, sometimes between siblings, and later between lovers. Tight nonsexual partners may also do this.
- Putting someone to bed. Interestingly, this activity can happen among people who are just getting to know each other -- most often if someone passes out drunk, but exhaustion can have a similar effect. It's a gesture of caring to put someone to bed rather than leave them where they drop. A milder version involves draping a blanket or coat over a person asleep on a couch or the like.
- Sleeping in the same bed. This is an act of shared vulnerability and intimacy. Lovers customarily do this; so do some siblings or friends, especially as children. People may also be driven to share a bed, sleeping bag, etc. for warmth or lack of other accommodations in challenging circumstances.
- Watching someone sleep. There is more vulnerability on the part of the sleeper, and more intimacy from the watcher, when only one person is asleep. Parents often watch their children sleep. Lovers sometimes do this with each other, which can be cute or creepy. It's also a guard position, useful for showing that one character seeks to protect another.
- Waking someone up from a nightmare. A subtler form of rescue than more physical actions, this is still a gesture of protection and caring. It often leads to comfort afterwards. A typical courtesy between parent and child, or lovers, this can also be an early threshold for characters thrust together unexpectedly if one of them has sturdy daytime walls and a lot of issues. It is common, but often unspoken, among war buddies or veterans, many of whom have nightmares.
- Sharing clothes, jewelry, other personal items. This is common between siblings or close female friends. Sometimes roommates do it too. Wearing someone else's shirt or bathrobe is typical in romantic relationships, so can suggest a similar level of intimacy even in the absence of sex.
- Cleaning someone else's living space. This shows care and knowledge on the part of the cleaner, and trust on the part of the recipient. You have to know what NOT to throw away or move. It's typical of family members and roommates. Coworkers may clean each other's desk, office space, etc.
- Living together. This is a big step, even if it's just for a little while. Housemates are in each other's pockets; it's hard to keep secrets. Family members and lovers often live together, but housemates who are family-of-choice form a category of their own. If you don't want a romantic partner, a permanent housemate is a good choice for someone to share your life with.
- Childbirth. Attending the blessed event entails providing a lot of moral support for hours under high stress. It can create a bond with the baby as well as with the mother. When planned, this opportunity is only offered to the closest family members or friends, barring professionals. But it can happen by surprise in very awkward circumstances, a popular motif in fiction.
- Saving someone's life. Quick action in a life-threatening situation demonstrates how much one person values another. This can create a strong sense of connection, and sometimes obligation. It often, though not always, entails personal risk for the rescuer. This is fairly typical for military buddies or police partners, etc.
- Risking your life for someone. Placing someone else ahead of your own life shows their importance to you unequivocally. This often, though not always, involves trying to save or protect another person. While it can create a sense of gratitude, it frequently causes anger as well -- someone who loves you will generally object to you endangering yourself, even to protect them. Military and police buddies protect each other regularly.
- Making emergency decisions for someone. This reveals both how well you know the person, and how much you care about them -- whether you know what they would want, and act on it even if it differs from your personal preference. Unlike some of the other options, in this one the initial action is often outweighed by the aftermath. Both characters have to deal with the results of the decisions, good or bad.
- Deathwatch. Dying can be as intimate as giving birth. Staying with someone while they pass is an act of love; so is providing moral support to someone sitting deathwatch for a family member or other person. Many soldiers and police have done this for someone.
(taken from here)