The intimacy scale – part 1/3: The model

My boyfriend Nemo has developed a psychological model: the intimacy scale. It describes different levels of intimacy between human beings. The desire for casual sex at the sexual level and falling in love/a desire for a romantic relationship/a feeling of commitment and love at the romantic level are two different levels within the model, however, there are further still. The entire model is expressed in a table and looks like this:

Intimacy Scale
Relationship to each other Mutual interest Form of attraction Extent of intimacy Mutual activities
6
(3, 4 and 5 must be included
in order to achieve stability)
Romantic relationship Sharing each other’s life to the greatest extent,
co-determining life decisions
Affectionate, sensual, romantic Romantic love Kissing, smooching, long embraces / hugs,
sleeping together, cuddling
5
(inclusion of 3 and / or 4 is optional)
Friendship Thoughts and feelings Emotional Platonic affection Deep talks or entertainment,
looking into emotional issues
4
(inclusion of 3 is optional)
Acquaintance Interesting topics,
a hobby or project
Intellectual Intellectual interest Advancement of a mutual topic, hobby, or project,
self experience in a group
3
(excludes 1 and 2)
Fuckbuddy Casual sex Friendly, aesthetic, sexual, physical Erotic desire Sensuous eroticism, enjoying lust,
fucking
2
(excludes 1)
System upkeeper Survival Survival community Indifference Smalltalk,
necessary activities to maintain the system,
tasks in a company’s team
1
(excludes all above levels)
Enmity Avoidance Repulsive Dislike From leaving over blocking
to destroying

The levels presented go from 1 (minimum intimacy) to 6 (maximum intimacy). The aforementioned levels 1 to 6 are stable conditions: They can stay stable for an unlimited period of time, as long as sharing this exact level is desired by both persons involved. For all levels, the activities pertaining to a certain level are essential. If activities of a higher level are carried out on a lower level, mutual frustration will follow: One or both parties involved will start wishing for a higher than the actual level, if not consciously, then subconsiously. If reaching such a higher level is not a mutual goal, carrying out activities pertaining to a higher level doesn’t make sense: The result is playing games, followed by mutual discontent, in the worst case emotional pain.

To picture the intimacy scale in everyday life accurately, each level is explained by an answer to the following question: How do I experience other people with whom I share a certain level?

Level 1: (Enmity):
This person is annoying, obnoxious, doesn’t accept my personal space or my boundaries or is even dangerous to me or people who are important to me. If we don’t have any contact at all, not even by chance, the situation can be considered ideal. If we nevertheless keep running into each other, my reaction is rejection, blocking, leaving or in the worst case using violence for self-defence.

Level 2 (Formal Relationship):
I share this level with any random person, e g. in public transport, cashiers of the nearest supermarket or working colleagues in my company’s team. As long as everybody accepts personal boundaries, we are at least polite or even friendly to each other. We share smalltalk and politeness, in order to keep up “the system”.

Level 3 (Fuckbuddy):
We are mutually sexually attracted to our bodies and share mutual sympathy. As long as basic body hygiene and polite, friendly behaviour as well as consent and respect of all people involved is the case, we can share casual sexual activities and feel happy about it. More talking than smalltalk pertaining to Level 2 and negotiation about our mutual physical wishes is not necessary.

Level 3 has a special characteristic: It can be active or not active between two people sharing one of the next two higher intimacy levels. Both versions result in a happy and stable condition. However, this stability is only the case as long as the status of Level 3 is openly clarified for both parties: If it is not active, it is just skipped on the way up to Level 4 or Level 5. This is e.g. the case, if two persons are sexually not compatible, but authentically share other mutual wishes and activities pertaining to a higher level. The most frequent example is, if two completely heterosexual cis men or two completely heterosexual cis women are acquaintences or friends.

Level 4 (Acquaintance):
I’m in regular contact with this person. We share one or several mutual interests like a hobby or a joint project. This is not a neoliberal Graves 5 project of one’s company, but rather a leisure activity chosen voluntarily, which is pursued together. If enough sexual interest on both sides is present, our acquaintance can contain a healthy Level 3. Then, we discuss issues or carry out suitable activities for our hobby/project while we also have casual sex for fun on occasion. If our Level 4 doesn’t contain the Level 3 at all, this must be clarified for both sides. Otherwise, the unresolved Level 3 intrudes into our acquaintence and allows secondary motivations to slip in: Would we still be interested in the project, if one of us clearly states that an active sexuality is not an issue between us?

Example of Level 4 with an unresolved Level 3:

We have started a band as our Level 4 project. Then, one evening, the other person expresses sexual desire towards me. I decline openly, since I am not sexually compatible or the realisation of such wishes does not fit into my current life. Now there are two possibilities, how the other person will respond:

  • A short time after my clarification regarding the sexual level, the project becomes less interesting to this other person. Meet-ups are suspended on short notice or don’t happen at all any more. In extreme cases, the project comes slowly to nothing. This is an indication for the fact that our Level 4 (acquaintance) was never stable. The real aim of the other person has always been an active Level 3 – and nothing more: Instead of the mutual hobby or project, rather the fulfilment of casual sex fantasies was hoped for.
  • If the band does not change as a direct consequence of the clarification of our sexual wishes, a stable Level 4 (acquaintance) is given. What we share with one another (creating or making music) is actually our principal mutual interest. If we had casual sex in addition – fine. If not, that’s fine as well.

Level 5 (Friendship):
I’m in regular contact with this person, however, it usually is more frequent than with acquaintances. We care for the other person’s thoughts and feelings: How does the other person experience the world? If this respective person suffers from a setback in life, I would like to give support – and vice versa. Whether the lower Levels 3 and 4 are active is optional: We can pursue a mutual hobby/project parallel to our discussions on each other’s thoughts and feelings. In the same way exactly, we can enjoy casual sexual activities inbetween our talks or our hobby/project.

If our Level 5 doesn’t contain Level 3 or Level 4, this again must be openly clarified for both persons involved. Otherwise, the unresolved level intrudes our friendship and allows secondary motivations to slip in: Would we still be interested emotionally in each other’s thoughts and feelings, if:

  • one of us clearly states that an active sexuality is not an issue between us?
  • we stopped having a mutual hobby/project together?

Example of Level 5 with an unresolved Level 3:

We are in regular contact with one another and share our emotional interest: Our thoughts and feelings, our opinions on the world, how we have been recently, etc. Then, one evening, the other person expresses sexual desire towards me. I decline openly, since I am not sexually compatible or the realisation of such wishes does not fit into my current life. Now there are two possibilities, how the other person will respond:

  • A short time after my clarification regarding the sexual level, this person begins to bring up excuses, in order not to meet with me. Suddenly, the initiave to contact or meet me is nearly or completely gone. This would be an indication for the fact that our Level 5 (friendship) was never stable. The real aim of the other person has always been an active Level 3 – and nothing more: Instead of sharing each other’s thoughts and feelings, rather the fulfilment of casual sex fantasies was hoped for.
  • If our friendship does not change significantly as a direct consequence of the clarification of our sexual wishes, a stable Level 5 (friendship) is given. What we share with one another (our emotional interest) is actually our principal mutual interest. If we had casual sex in addition – fine. If not, that’s fine as well.

Example of Level 5 with an unresolved Level 4:

We have started a band as our Level 4 project. Occasionally, we share our thoughts and feelings with each other in the sense of Level 5. Suddenly, something changes and as a result, our project does not work for us any more, e. g. another band member quits the band. As a consequence, the band splits up. Now there are two possibilities, how the other person will respond:

  • Since our project is gone, we don’t meet each other during rehearsals or other band-related meet-ups any more. However, nearly all attempts to meet up or stay in contact with one another fail. In addition, talking about our thoughts and feelings is now feeling more and more odd: Strictly speaking, we don’t know any new issues to talk about, since there is no need to cover band-related issues any more. We seek contact to each other more rarely and over time, it comes to nothing. This would be an indication for the fact that our Level 5 (friendship) was never stable. The real aim of the other person has always been an active Level 4 – and nothing more: Instead of sharing each other’s thoughts and feelings, rather the pursuit of a mutual hobby/project has been the other person’s wish.
  • If our friendship does not change significantly as a direct consequence of our project’s termination, a stable Level 5 (friendship) is given. What we share with one another (our emotional interest) is actually our principal mutual interest. If we pursued a mutual hobby/project in addition – fine. If not, that’s fine as well.

Level 6 (Romantic Relationship):
That is the romantic level. We are in love/love each other and would like to share as much as possible of our lives with each other. Our mutual activities are: Cuddling one another, smooching and kissing, going to bed together as well as sharing and co-determining all life decisions. This includes living together and decisions concerning the pursuit of sexual wishes.

The intimacy scale – part 3/3: To be stable or not to be stable – that’s the question

How the stable conditions work

If reaching a higher level is within interest of all individuals¬†involved, time and energy must be invested, in order to transfer the desired level into a stable condition. A stable condition from 1 to 6 is determined by the observation that the suitable activities require an investment of a certain amount of personal energy while on average, more energy is generated rather than needed. For a stable Level 5 (friendship) meet-ups must be organized and carried out – that means, time and energy has to be invested. But several nice evenings with friends are relaxing and energy-giving on average (support due to life setbacks such as separations is an exception), so that the persons involved go home afterwards feeling “lifted up with energy”.

How the unstable intermediate levels (don’t) work

On the intimacy scale there are unstable intermediate levels beside the stable levels from 1 to 6. An unstable intermediate level is usually the case, if activities pertaining to a higher level are carried out, while the mutual wishes and expectations however correspond not to the respective level, but to a lower level. Stable intermediate levels, however, do NOT exist: If two people share an intermediate level with each other, this condition has an expiration date by definition. Depending upon the mutual activities, over time, it can ascend either to the next higher stable level or drop to one of the lower stable levels from 1 to 6. A dropdown to a lower level, if a higher level was desired originally, does usually occur along with emotional pain in different magnitudes.

Unstable intermediate levels are determined by the observation that they do not generate energy, but mostly suck energy. This increased energy consumption can be a necessary passage stage, for this example the relationship work in (ideally) the early stages of a romantic relationship. As soon as the situation starts to generate more energy than it consumes, a stable condition has been obtained. However, if energy consumption remains higher than energy generation constantly over some time, it is recommended to analyze whether the mutual intimacy level is actually suitable to the respective person. If especially important people such as romantic relationships or friendships are in question, reflecting the situation by means of coaching or other psychotherapeutic techniques can be helpful.

An example about romantic activities:

We have yet known each other for a short time and we share activities of Level 6 (kissing, smooching, cuddling). Sharing these activities causes or reinforces falling in love or a desire for a romantic relationship. Therefore, an incomplete Level 6, which is an unstable intermediate level, is the case. If the romantic activities don’t lead to a romantic relationship or the respective romantic relationship goes into separation after some time, the mutual desire to spend each other’s lives with one another is not successfully fulfilled. The result is emotional pain in varying magnitudes depending on the individual situation. As a consequence, our relationship status drops to the next suitable stable level. Naturally, this can be Level 5 (friendship) – which is only stable without activities pertaining to the romantic level – another level below, or however, in extreme cases Level 1 (enmity). However,¬†establishing one of the levels above Level 2 (Smalltalk) is usually only possible after some low-contact time which is required to recover from the emotional putdown.

An example about friendship activities:

We have/seem to have a friendship, which corresponds to a stable Level 5: We meet up regularly and share our thoughts and feelings with each other. Suddenly, I suffer from a setback in life: A drastic¬†change which happened too suddenly, separation from a romantic relationship or a serious illness. I would like to get support from this friend to deal with the new situation. This friend either listens to my issues or we pursue some other activities in order to cheer me up. However, now this so-called “friend” refuses to offer me support. But not because there are similar issues going on in his/her life (this would be understandable), but from a complete lack of interest for my situation. Instead, he/she would rather talk with me about the activities for a mutual hobby/project, have small talk or whine about small everyday issues.

This observation leads us to the fact, that a friendship, and thus, a stable Level 5 is not present (any more). This “friend” is obviously interested in sharing a smaller amount of intimacy, either carrying out a mutual hobby/project pertaining to Level 4 (acquaintance) or having casual sex pertaining to Level 3.

However, since the emotional interest necessary for a friendship has only been pretended, emotional pain is the result. Establishing one of the desired lower levels is therefore only possible after some low-contact time which is required to recover from the emotional putdown, or not at all. Therefore, the mutual intimacy drops down to Level 2 (smalltalk) most probably, or even to Level 1 (enmity).