A German philosopher Artur Schopenhauer laid out a parabola in which our tries for intimacy are basically the same dilemma porcupines have. Every opening of such magnitude which would allow another to really see you is also in a way a trauma, a risk of being pricked and hurt while you’re standing bare. Some hurt is unavoidable when going public and social with your inner most self – because you’re weird and messy, and so am I, and so is the person sitting next to you and these spaces of dissonance are not always easily integrated into relationships with others.

Schopenhauer therefore told a story of a few porcupines on a cold winter day. They needed to stay warm to survive and the cold of the environment drew them to one another to huddle. But Porcupines being all porcupiney, instead of being comfortably warm by this closeness, pricked one another repeatedly. Not because they wanted to do harm, but because this is just their nature, they are spikey and they do harm if touched. So after a few tries they found a way of getting moderately close but not so close that they would hurt or get hurt. They were not as warm as they would be if they leaned directly onto another porcupine but they didn’t freeze and didn’t get hurt that much. Analogously he referred to a pattern of behavior in our tries for true intimacy saying: “In the same way the need of society drives the human porcupines together, only to be mutually repelled by the many prickly and disagreeable qualities of their nature.”

So what do we do? How do we not emotionally freeze and don’t get all poked bloody? By leveraging vulnerability. Vulnerability is a master force in creating connection, but too much vulnerability gets into the codependent needy space that will get you and others hurt. You can’t be so vulnerable that you’re unable to take care of yourself or have at least some self-preservation mechanisms when thrust into the social, you can’t be offended by everything different or get mean if you’re not understood. Yet you try and try to get as close as possible to another, not to force them so close that you’ll prick them with your spikes, and not so close that you force them into places where they feel so uncomfortable that you’ll get hurt by theirs. You’ll never be able to know absolutely everything or control everything that happens in a relationship with someone who does things of their free will (ideally you will not blackmail by vulnerability or pouting), and the balance of optimal space here will be trust. You’ll just need to trust, even when you don’t or can’t know. Trust takes time. You may be more or less trusting by nature, but true intimacy and trust take years and decades. There needs to be respect for space, not forcing past the pricking point. Force just gets everyone hurt.

Some hurt is inevitable and comes as a part of the package while caring for another, but this hurt is a hurt caused by not accepting and by expecting things to go a certain way or denying humanness by seeking perfection. If it is perfect it is not real, you’re in a relationship with your projection not a real person. Build trust, not perfection. Trust is analgesic to the pain caused by the world, by the person you’re intimate with as well as acting as a physical analgesic. Holding a hand of someone you trust makes you feel less pain from a bodily injury and shuts down the panic sequence in the most primal parts of the brain associated with emotional stresses. It is so powerful it actually has a measurable effect in the physical. You don’t need to know every single little detail. You need to know if you can trust, that even despite mistakes and hard days on both sides, when you draw the line they can be trusted with the important and vulnerable stuff, pricks and all. We’ll all hurt others sometimes and get hurt by others. Make sure it is never intentional, declaw and let your spikes lay flat to get as close as possible. Try. That is the best we can do.