Last night, Brian and I found ourselves musing on an old trope (by now) in our marriage: differentiation that deepens intimacy. We landed here decades ago through the work of David Schnarch. Lots of things I wouldn’t recommend about Schnarch, but the first chapters I read found me precisely at the time I needed them. "Intimacy is not for the faint of heart." "No one is ready for marriage; marriage makes you ready for marriage." If you don’t have a well-defined sense of yourself, you cannot share what you do not have with another. Differentiation, yes, but within a commitment to stay, which is often unsaid.
A lot in our world today screams differentiation. Needing to be seen and heard in our distinctive experience(s), in our own terms. I get that, intimately. Have needed that, to become grounded in more of who I am as a woman in a world often hostile to women. But once again, what does it mean to stay, so that intimacy may deepen through differentiation?
In over two decades with my beloved, we have had periods of clear affirmation, resonance, downright comfort in how we mirror one another, share in common pursuits. Then we’ve had those challenging times that have actually stretched us more to practice the loving rooted in staying, not-seeing, not-sharing or resonating. Which I’d suspect I could say is the intimacy that feels most theologically grounded. Loving regardless of how we feel on any given day. Seeing the other deeply, loving and being-loved anyway. Sometimes he’ll smile at me and say “Because?” and my liturgical response is “Despite.” Or I’ll say it, and he responds. Love beyond function or transaction. No cause, deserving, or earned reciprocity. We are fortunate.
It therefore rises in me from time to time to explore or experiment with this dynamic at the foundations so many can take for granted.
What was the spiritual-psychological development we unthinkingly applaud in Abraham as differentiation into the Oneness of Godde amidst the multiplicity of gods, goddesses? The rise of Oneness fundamental to the Abrahamic faiths…? Which has also resulted, over centuries, in the demonization of the Feminine, of anything ‘other’? In “sacred” Scripture, which reifies this human behavior? What is it within the rise of monotheism that ruptured the staying-with, so to differentiate the One toward deepening intimacy, not violence, rape, or pillage?
To be clear, I’m not throwing out monotheism to become a polytheist. I am curious about the religious tendency to demonize that which one cannot see, honor, hold, and therefore separate-from. Is there truly a character of faithfulness that requires division, separation—ironically antithetical to the Oneness we espouse?
This plays out in public, of course, in our needs to be seen and heard as we desire: Black experience(s), gender-proclamation(s), anything non-normative screaming to be seen and heard by normative-oriented folks. Often those choosing to remain unconscious of difference, for sake of being One as most befits or comforts them.
Is it time to learn practicing being-with while we differentiate, practicing differentiation more gently while staying-with…ad infinitum?