Small Intimacies

small intimaciesTheir laughter is a familiar comfort. It fits me snugly like the perfect pair of slippers on a cool, crisp morning. There was nothing grandiose about that evening, it was really quite simple: a gathering of friends, sipping coffee and telling stories. But the laughter, that sound is something so spectacular that it’s hard to describe in existential terms. Even now reflecting several months back on it I can’t resist but smile. A laugh is one of those small intimacies that has profound depth and meaning to it. The combination of these small intimacies is what makes deep friendships.

We underappreciate these sorts of intimacies, but they make all the difference in meaningful relationships. Small intimacies represent a type of knowledge that is hard to capture. Surface level details are easy enough to uncover: John has glasses. Susie works at a dentist’s office. Bill loves the Detroit Tigers. But knowing that Arthur went to Michigan State University doesn’t really indicate that you have a deep friendship with him. Neither, however, does knowing the life-changing events of a person’s narrative. We often think it does, but when Sarah announces she’s been diagnosed with cancer at church you haven’t actually been invited into an intimate friendship. She sincerely covets your prayers, and you may genuinely pray for her, but this is not evidence of a significant personal relationship. It’s the small intimacies that mark out the difference.

There was something incredibly satisfying about Megan knowing where we kept our coffee mugs and helping herself. She had spent so much time at our house that she knew exactly where they were and felt comfortable enough to serve herself. It created a whole new level of intimacy in our friendship. Small intimacies signal a familiarity with the details of our daily lives. They signal an interest in our world that moves beyond the superficial and delves behind the big events. Knowing where I keep my coffee cups doesn’t necessarily mean anything in and of itself, but combined with a host of similar small details it carries a lot of weight. These small intimacies are significant because they move beyond the realm of mere information. They remind us that there are people who, to quote Virginia Woolf, witness our “moments of being.” We don’t merely exist in the realm of digitize details, likes and dislikes. Nor are we merely the composite of dramatic life events. We are people of every day existence and there are those in our circles who care deeply about those every day moments of existence. That people know my favorite movie, that a book reminds them to call me, that someone can anticipate my response to a specific story is all meaningful. It reveals a depth to our relationship that matters.

And there are countless other examples that remind me that not only am I known, but I truly know. Small intimacies reveal that I know others. I know where the freckles are on my wife’s body. I know when Johnny’s going to make a joke about Bryce Harper at my expense. I know what Frank is going to order when we go to Bob Evans – a salad with French dressing, a cup of bean soup, rolls with honey, a black coffee, and a water. All these little details remind me that I truly know these people. They aren’t just “friends” in the sense that we use the word in the 21st century. They are friends. I actually know them and witness their “moments of being.”

The laughs in that house several months back reflect the significance. I know these laughs. What I hear from my position in the kitchen is not the guffaw of a crowded club on open mic night. These are the sounds of people I love. I know that laugh, it’s Justin’s, and that one is Erin’s. I can pick out Kyle’s and Bethany’s chuckles too. Their laughter means something special to me because they mean something special to me, and because they mean something special to me I can pick out their unique expressions of joy. Any laughter can be infectious, but the laughter of friends is actually comforting. That night it assured me that these people were still an important part of my life. In fact that night was the first time we had all been together in a probably eight months. We gathered at Justin and Missi’s home to catch up. But even in all that time, with all the other details of life and business, and new relationships I hadn’t forgotten their laughs. I could still pick them out. It’s a simple detail but it had such profound importance to me.

That’s the way small intimacies work. They get overlooked because they are not only seemingly insignificant – like knowing where I keep my coffee mugs – but also because they happen rather unconsciously. We don’t tend to think about these little facts. Kyle has a shirt I’ve seen him wear hundreds of times, I recognize that shirt. But when he wears it I don’t think about it. These sorts of details go unnoticed in our normal interactions but they add up to make a profound difference in our relationships. These small intimacies are the key to identifying deep relationships. These small intimacies matter.

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