Like unseen hands, many “clocks”—social, psychological, and communicative—guide the course and development of personal relationships. In the field of sociology, researchers have discovered that the way individuals follow “social clock” norms can bear on later developments in life. Our age at different transition points in the life of our closest relationships (first sexual intercourse, first marriage, first child) may be “early” or “late” compared to the average age, and so may influence the nature of those relationships (e.g., Helson, Mitchell, & Moane, 1984). Psychologists have discovered that different social motives may be influenced by early childhood experiences in our families and, in turn, shape how we behave with those with which we choose to seek intimacy. Sometimes our need for intimacy (“I want to be close with someone”) may be stronger or weaker than the need for stability (“I like things to run smoothly and in ways I can predict”) or the need for change (“I want to have new and exciting experiences”). Communication scientists as well, studying the moment-to-moment behavior of married couples, have discovered sequences of interaction that take on a life of their own. Some couples “lock in” to cycles of interaction, and others have rhythms of communication that are less predictable but nonetheless determine the character of the couple. These clocks work together, a weave of temporal forces, to shape every challenge and opportunity for intimacy and closeness.
Despite the importance of these clocks, relationships—in their most intimate form—move through and even beyond time. In a sort of paradoxical way, when we experience deeply knowing and caring for another, we sense that relationships are not merely temporal, not strictly bound to age, personal need, or chains of events. This book seeks to bridge these two ways of understanding relationships—one temporal and one transcendent of time. It seeks to show that the weave of time that impels relationships is a precious weave that can be known through science as well as direct experience.
This book provides seven different ways (in seven corresponding chapters) of understanding intimacy in a more process-oriented or time-sensitive manner. By “process-oriented” I mean that intimacy is not just some goal to achieve or reach—that is, an outcome, a state, phase, or feeling. This goal is often implied when we talk about sexual union, closeness in just being together, an exchange