Actors startle us when they break the fourth wall dividing stage and audience. “Hey you out there,” they say, “we are real people only pretending to be real people.” We greet their news like revelation. We expect to be left alone. We aren’t prepared for intimacy.
Real life has four walls. We are both audiences and actors, and, if our lives are plays, they are endless and seamless and unmemorized. We portray ourselves, trapped in a room that never allows us to go outside or see us as someone else might. We’re told intimacy is inviting someone in, but how do you invite one room into another?
And sometimes we sit behind a fifth wall. Invisible, a diagonal to every room we occupy, it divides our thoughts from the world. We say the mashed potatoes are delicious when they stick like putty in our throats and replay conversations when we might participate in one underway. Others catch us smiling at nothing because we’re behind that fifth wall, in the room yet not in it, neither watching nor participating.
We speak explicitly to ourselves, but saying anything to anyone else requires formulation and codification. We choose words to cover subjects no number of words can cover entirely. Some words have their own life, and sometimes the gap between our intention and our effect seems impossible to bridge with language.
True intimacy requires sharing, a wordless sense that what we see, feel, think, believe, or know is mutual. It appears when a sunrise means as much to another person, when a child’s tears bring others running, when a photograph, poetry, or strain of music pull emotions into the same stream, when touching seems reflex, when we’re all in one room. Sex is intimate only when self-consciousness disappears, when partners regard it as visited upon them and not created or staged. All sex is passionate, little is common passion.
Which is to say, intimacy is miraculous. Sometimes everything in the modern world seems to conspire against it. Personal entertainment and personal perspectives and personal needs discourage it. We’ve come to believe in the finest distinctions between us, and our differences are now far more important than our being one species. Sometimes it seems the only intimacy we can count on, the only intimacy worth relying upon, is the automatic intimacy of being with ourselves, behind that fifth wall. Yet we haven’t lost—and can’t lose—the need for love.
Today, on Valentine’s Day, roses will fly and chocolate flow. The intimacy industry will have its most lucrative day. Though the holiday seems silly and arbitrary, as self-serving and self-gratifying as any other date, it is at least good for this: today let’s celebrate the possibility of a shared world where all of us pass through walls. Today let’s believe love is the grip that holds us together, in one world. Let’s hope for intimacy. Let’s hope we’re not alone.