The Intimacy of "Sleeping With"

The connotation that comes with the term "slept with" was recently discussed amongst a group of my friends. Of course, where most minds jump is sex. Not just sex, actually. Full on, all-night, torrid, romance novel-style action. The stuff that half-naked book covers are made of.

In this conversation, one lone friend argued that sleeping with someone meant just that - two people participating in the act of slumber who just happen to be beside one another. This literal understanding of the expression comes across as naïve in today's skin-based world of swipe-right and Viagra. In the friend's words, however, I detected something deeper that was simultaneously refreshing and heartbreaking. I almost embraced him on the spot - and not embrace in the way it is typically used in the bind of Danielle Steele. Instead, I mean a strong, death-defying hug that blots out the world's pre-conceived notions of intimacy.

When I scan across the sex-starved apps that I sometimes claim to have deleted, the occasional cry for a "cuddle buddy" pops up. Even me, with my secretly full heart, sometimes roll my eyes. Intimacy, I feel, cannot be faked. The idea of cuddling a stranger seems empty, pointless.

And yet, I'll stare at this unknown person's self-description with a furrowed brow. My heart will strike a familiar pang. Even though I know I cannot fill this individual's need, I understand their plight.

When I was a hopelessly-closeted teenager, I never imagined that my insatiable imagination would still be dreaming of the simple feel of another ten or more years later. At the time I didn't think the masculine elements of these desires would still exist - that part was just a phase to my Baptist-raised young self. Further, though, I always thought that I, like my parents before me, would find my partner by the time I reached full legal-age status. When I hit my late-20s, I'd have a kid inhabiting what was previously a guest room or a never-used "den."

It is likely that, had I been straight, these simple, human wants would've been, at the very least, on their way to me at this point. Many of my comrades from college already have multiple, saccharine Christmas cards stowed away. The closest of my childhood friends finished tying her knot just this year. The prospect of "30 and single," an item I never quite considered, has become a tangible possibility. More than that, it has become the odds-on likelihood.

This is not without some efforts to curb the inevitability on my end. Dates have been had, and crushes have been indulged. The lesson is always some trite sentence about working on oneself and not being dependent on anyone else for happiness. For a great deal of the time, I'm not. I concentrate on work, bills, activities, fitness, creativity and sleep.

In the final summation, however, I still find myself connecting strongly to my friend's innocent argument for true intimacy. Even as a testosterone-driven male, this basic human longing sits with a weight in the crevices of my chest.

Hanako, a 69-year-old elephant at the Inokashira Park Zoo, recently passed away. The headlines blared that she died of a broken heart. The animal had spent well over six decades without interaction from another one of her own species. The story strikes our souls as inhuman - and yet, the lesson in this horrific incident is the very definition of humanity. Like all creatures, we ache for a warm soul to rest beside.

Sleeping with someone, therefore, is much more personal than the images an adult mind can't help but jump to when thinking of two exposed souls laying next to each other. It encompasses our greatest fears and wishes. It is the basis of our dreams. It is what keeps us awake at night and drives us out of bed in the morning. It is a step beyond sleep and a light-year beyond sex. It is something that cannot be forced and is thereby a source of endless, passionate angst.

"Sleeping with" is connection in its truest form.

Yet as this interpretation was floated, in spite of my inner desire, I did not jump on the impulse, embrace my hopeful friend and rock to the beats of "I know how you feel." My body remained independent, and the connection was lost. The shackles of the term in discussion remained squarely defined, and we all went away alone.