Friendship and Romance

Posted by Michael Dale Kimmel in Columns 03 Oct 2018

How do you grow a friendship? How do you encourage a brand-new romance? Are the basic underlying principles the same for both, or not?

Some people – looking for love – want to skip the friendship phase of getting to know someone and go right to sex. Recently, a good-looking man told me that sex is a good “screening tool” to see if someone would be a good boyfriend/girlfriend. His logic: if the sex is good, then this person might be worth getting to know. If the sex is bad…forget it.

I thought that this was so lame that I almost laughed at the guy who shared this with me, but, sadly, he was serious. Instead of getting to know someone, seeing if he liked them as a person and then adding sex to the picture, he reversed the order. Not surprisingly, he later admitted that it wasn’t working very well for him: he was having lots of sex but making few friends and having very short “romances” (a few weeks’ max).

In both the LGBT and straight communities, with Tinder, Grindr (and all those “er” apps), it is increasingly popular to have sex with a perfect stranger to see if you like them. Sounds good in theory, but, in actuality, it rarely has a happy ending.  If the sex is great, you have a problem: you know them physically, but not emotionally or intellectually. If the sex is bad, you have a different problem: you know them physically and it didn’t work for you, so you may not give them a chance emotionally or intellectually.

In many ways, friendship is the basis for every good and lasting relationship. I feel a bit Pollyanna-ish as I write this, but, in my twenty years’ as a psychotherapist, it is my experience that it’s true.

Why? The basic requirements of a good friendship and great romance are the same: enjoying each other’s company, mutual respect, comfort with each other, acceptance of the other person’s positive and not-so-positive traits, common interests, shared values, etc.

Now, let’s talk about the dreaded “I” word: intimacy. I have heard that word thrown around so much that it’s almost meaningless: “We’re not intimate anymore.” “Our intimate life has gone downhill”. “We never have sex, but we are still intimate with each other.”

What does intimacy mean, anyhow? I think it’s about closeness, allowing someone else to get close to you, to trust them, to let them see your less-than-wonderful sides, to be vulnerable to them, knowing they could hurt you. Intimacy is the foundation for both friendship and romance.

It’s often terrifying to let someone in, whether friend or lover. We’ve all been hurt before and carry those wounds. Part of us thinks: only an idiot would open their heart again after a mean friend/lover has betrayed us. There is truth to this, but, if we close our heart forever, we’re destined to be alone and lonely.

Being vulnerable is the new frontier, says psychologist Brene Brown (check out her TED talks). I agree. To “grow” a friendship or a romance, we need to be open to intimacy, to vulnerability…but how do we do that?

After much thought and brainstorming, I am pleased to let you know that I have developed a workshop that answers that question:

On Saturday, November 3rd, I am offering a 2 ½ hour workshop: “Developing Intimate Relationships: Cultivating Friendship and Romance (for Men who love Men”). This workshop will include guided visualizations, physical movement (according to your ability) and group discussions.

The workshop will have two sections: the first focuses on developing and sustaining friendships with other men. We’ll address questions like:

Do you feel lonely more often than you’d like to admit?
Would you like to deepen your friendships with other men?
Do you find it hard to trust other men? Would you like to change that?

The second section – after a short break – will focus on intimacy in romantic/sexual relationships and will address questions like:

How do you separate emotional from sexual/physical intimacy, or do you?
In a romantic relationship, is your intimacy affected by jealousy and/or insecurity? What factors in your relationship deepen the intimacy? What factors lessen it?
If you are in an open relationship or marriage, how intimate are you with your sexual partners? Does this increase or decrease the intimacy you have with your partner/husband?

Come join us – the workshop is limited to 25 men – exploring these questions with a safe, supportive group of men, facilitated by yours truly.

Location: Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard, San Diego, CA 92116. From 2 – 4:30PM. Cost: $20

If you’d like to join us, please RSVP to me at beyondtherapy@cox.net or call me at 619-955-3311.