Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Intimacy Scales

I forget how it came up, but somehow Flower Lady noticed that she viewed hand holding as a very intimate, romantic thing, but Hat Guy thought it was just a friendship thing that girls do, and so didn't think it meant that much when she held his hand.

Realization: Different people can process the same action as more or less intimate than others would process that same action.

This makes a lot of sense. It explains why some people, like Flower Lady, are very physical and hug acquaintances, while others, like me, need large personal bubbles and take a long time to get huggy with someone. I had a model that explained that before, which went kind of like a slide rule. On the bottom ruler there was a scale of how well you knew a person, and on the top ruler there was a scale of touch, and different people slid their rulers so that the things lined up differently.

I am aware that this is not what a slide rule looks like.

But that one doesn't work. It doesn't work because it's not just that different peoples' scales line up differently, it's that their scales are actually different. This is one of those things that seems really obvious in retrospect, but surprised us because it had never occurred to us to think about it before. So we set ourselves homework to draw up our own personal scales of intimacy - to rate actions from least to most intimate. The results were...complicated. It turns out that - surprise, surprise - people are really complicated, and the way we think about physical intimacy is all tangled up with other things. I may talk about some of that tangling later, but for now, here are our results stated as simply as possible:

Hat Guy:
Hat Guy organised things in bins of relationship type. He noted that a relationship could be sexual at any point along the spectrum, but that for him it only makes sense to have sexual relationships come further down the line than romantic ones.

Click to enlarge

Flower Lady:
Flower Lady organised things similarly. Hers was a scale of emotional/physical intimacy, right up until the purple physical attraction (by which she meant sexual attraction) category. That one she said was different, because she experiences sexual attraction and emotionality as different things. Not necessarily unrelated things, but different (so not along the same scale).
Click to enlarge

My graph was actually much more complicated because my emotional intimacy and physical intimacy don't map to each other linearly. For the purposes of this post, I've re-done the linear part of mine using something like the colour scheme that Flower Lady and Hat Guy used.
Click to enlarge
Let's tease out some of the differences here. Hat Guy sees making out as a romantic thing, while Flower Lady sees it as a sexual thing. Flower Lady sees resting with physical contact as more intimate than light cuddling, while Hat guy sees it as less. I see holding hands as extremely intimate, while Hat Guy does not.

There are lots of complexities I'm skating over here. The point is, different people think the same physicals acts convey different levels of intimacy.


  1. More wow, and more inspiration re: relationship negotiation things (as well as self-exploration). *Wants to run out and make a scale for herself*.

  2. Grammar DefenderMay 3, 2015 at 12:17 AM

    I found this a while ago and thought, "Huh, cool."

    It's been several months, and I'm just now realizing that this is HUGELY USEFUL to me. I really like this way of thinking about levels of intimacy - I've been trying to isolate variables and whatnot in that weird platonic/romantic/friend/love/Idon'teven gradient spectrum blob thing (how's that for vague phrasing, eh?), and this model is proving to be incredibly useful.