Couple on a date

The idea that you can fake a sexual response is often parodied in film and TV. In a blog I read, I found out that there are six identifiable reasons for women to fake orgasm. When they do, it means that they are putting up an artificial barrier between themselves and their partners at precisely the moment when they should be most emotionally open and authentic.

At a deeper emotional level, though, the faking of intimacy can be even more problematic for a relationship. People can love each other in all sorts of ways, from the truly companionate to the superficially infatuated. Intimacy, however, is something else.

From the psychosocial perspective, intimacy is a developmental issue that must be confronted by young adults after they have established their sense of identity. True intimacy, involves sharing much- but not all- of your identity with your partner. If you think of a Venn diagram, true intimacy would occur when there’s perhaps a 50% overlap between the two circles representing the identity of you and your partner.

According to a study to find out identity and intimacy in married couples, a model was developed which defined intimacy along the three “C” dimensions of communication, commitment, and closeness. If you are high on the communication dimension, you can talk openly and honestly with your partner. Being high on commitment means that you have made a long-term decision to stay with your partner. High closeness involves feeling that you feel that you’re more comfortable with your partner than anyone else.

Using these three dimensions, you can map the intimacy of any given couple. People high on communication and closeness, but not the commitment, enjoy each other’s company but do not feel that they want to (for the moment) decide whether to stick together. Being high on communication and commitment means that you are in a long-term relationship and find it easy to talk to each other, but you don’t feel particularly close now even though you might have at one time. Finally, being high on closeness and commitment means that you feel that you and your partner are psychologically on the same page, want to stay together, but find it hard to talk to each other at other than a superficial level.

Within this framework, you can see how people can fake intimacy. In relationships characterized by high commitment but low closeness and communication, you have a couple who has decided to remain in the relationship, but it’s a relationship that’s hollow. If communication is high but closeness is low, in a committed relationship, the couple might spend a lot of time discussing such matters as who is picking up the kids after work, what to have for dinner, where to go on vacation, and even when to schedule sex. It is that lack of closeness that leads relationships to be characterized as what we called “pseudo-intimate.”

Things get very complicated when you try to characterize a relationship even with the guidelines of these three dimensions. However, it gets even more complex when you build into the equation the differing intimacy levels of each partner. One might be high on communication but not the other. Instead of highs and lows on 3 dimensions, you are now dealing with highs and lows on 3 dimensions for 2 people.

The most important finding to emerge from our study was the “he said-she said” nature of relationships. People like to see themselves in a positive light and as part of this; they like to see themselves as good partners. It compliments your identity to see yourself, and be seen as, a good partner. Whether this is realistic or not is another question. You may have one view, your partner another, and the researcher or therapist yet a third. No one view is correct. What’s fascinating is the way that people try to present themselves and then how those views contrast with those of their partner.

So it is possible, in this model, to fake intimacy. If closeness is lacking from your relationship, then all the talking and all the commitment in the world won’t make it a truly intimate bond. If we can fake intimacy, the next question becomes why? To address this, researchers studying the fear of intimacy believe that anxiety is, in part, the reasons that people avoid closeness.

The other component to fear of intimacy is fear of the loss of the self in the relationship. To be truly intimate, you need to feel secure in your own identity. This is what allows you to merge a portion of your identity into the bond with your partner. University of Porto (Portugal) psychologist Maria Pedro Sobal and collaborators divided fear of intimacy into two component: fear of the loss of the other (FLO) and fear of the loss of the self (FLS).

Using an online sample of 276 heterosexual couples (ages 18-55), of whom half were married Sobal and her team examined the match between partners on FLS and FLO as a predictor of relationship satisfaction. According to similarity theory of relationships, people should be most satisfied if their own fear of intimacy matches that of their partner. Although fear of intimacy should be negatively related to relationship satisfaction, if you and your partner prefer distance rather than closeness, then it should be the match that counts the most in predicting how satisfied you feel with each other.

As it turned out, the answer is that it depends on who you ask. For men, but not women, fearing intimacy doesn’t have to doom their relationship satisfaction. Men high in FLS had higher satisfaction levels if their partners also were high in FLS. Men higher in FLO were more satisfied if their partners were low in FLS.

By analyzing the data in terms of couples, not individuals, were able to examine fear of intimacy as a two-way street. In doing so, they discovered that for men at least, faking intimacy (being in a committed relationship but not being close) worked best if their partners faked it as well.

To reach the state of wanting to be with a partner but not wanting to be close to that partner may take time. Since this was not a follow-up study, the authors couldn’t study changing patterns over time. It takes an effort to work at the closeness of a relationship. If you do not or cannot, it may be inevitable that the intimacy increasingly becomes fake.

People may choose to fake intimacy, but the preponderance of data on couple satisfaction suggests that your long-term satisfaction requires closeness, authenticity, and willingness to take risks with your partner. If you have lost those connections, finding them once again can be your path to fulfillment in your most important close relationship.
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