Review: Intimacy and Solitude: Finding New Closeness and Self-Trust in a Distanced World

17 May 2021

Publisher: Allen & Unwin (first published by William Heinemann Australia 1991)
Year: 2021
Page number: 340
How does one navigate the mess of psychosocial issues from unresolved childhood trauma and ghosts of past relationships? With the recent milestone of acquiring my first boyfriend (weird flex but ok), a zealous determination to become ~*The Best Girlfriend Ever*~ came as a package deal. Having no official manual to turn to – unlike a study guide for VCE or care instructions for a houseplant – this book had to do instead.

If you, like yours truly, were looking for a straightforward handbook on how to have a successful relationship – then you will be sorely disappointed. However, ‘Intimacy and Solitude’ is so much better than that.

Balancing independence whilst being in a relationship is not an uncommon dilemma, and author Stephanie Dowrick sympathetically addresses this. I am a passionate participant in the millennial self-love revolution, an ardent advocate for the increasing normality of single adulthood, and an overall decently independent, relatively well-adjusted (if I do say so myself) individual – and I learnt a lot. I genuinely believe that everybody would gain from reading this book.

Whether you have a fear of closeness, abandonment, or something else, this book is packed with valuable nuggets of wisdom that would resonate with all sorts of vulnerabilities, needs and entrenched emotional patterns in readers. This book compels self-exploration, a practice that may seem burdensome for participants of today’s hustle culture, guilt-ridden for those who’ve been socialised to put others ahead of themselves, and/or just plain awkward for anyone. This book is no way a substitute therapist for resolving your inner conflicts and needs, but it guides you towards recognising them and promotes a genuine shift towards a healthy mindset – which is perhaps the next best thing that can be offered by pieces of dead trees glued together along one side.

Dowrick also goes beyond didactic sentences on how to live your life, immersing you in open-ended perspectives and observations full of compassion. Unless you find the words ring true with you though, it might be easy for your attention to drift. For instance, one of the five main sections of the book – ‘Women and Men’ – sheds light on commonplace attitudes rooted in gender. While it personally resounded with me, coming from a fairly conservative family, I can’t imagine how relatable it would have been for others who may have grown up with more progressive dynamics. But that’s the beauty of books; you don’t have to absorb everything it contends. A good book makes you think – and this one did, for me.

Some words of warning: I’m a law student (*insert meme about law students stating they’re law students even though nobody asked*) but even I found it to be pretty heavy reading. Tragically, I think that those who may find it the most helpful – people without the patience to self-reflect – may find it difficult to get through this book. But if you bring some open-mindedness and endurance, it is worth it. I’ll also warn you that the book uses the word ‘awesome’ in the OG sense of the word (as in, ‘formidable’ rather than ‘cool’) which caught my unsophisticated Gen-Z brain a bit off-guard. Nonetheless, overall – this book was awesome, in both senses of the word.

For those who are still on the fence, the author herself makes a persuasive case: ‘we assume that something as natural as love should come … well, naturally. That means we may well pour years of intense effort into our professional lives. We may train obsessively to be physically fit … Yet when it comes to understanding [relationships and ourselves], we may be oddly reluctant to welcome the idea that there’s always, always, much more to know.”

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