Experiencing intimacy in disconnected times – ‘Project Intimacy’ from Riptide

CAUTION: Very minimal spoiler warning

One thing most people can agree on when thinking about how lockdown and self-isolation affect them is the lack of connection with other people. The isolation of isolation if you will. Relationships are strained and tested in these situations we’ve been forced into throughout 2020; can you live with the person you’re now locked in the house with; can you live without the person you’re separated from? How often do your friends check in with you? Who are you zooming with? Who are you not? How we connect with people has drastically changed this year. And this is something that theatre company, Riptide, have chosen to interrogate with their ‘Project Intimacy’, an SMS/WhatsApp-based exploration of relationships.

Having felt terribly isolated from people and not having hugged anyone other than my wife since February, the offering of ‘intimacy’ spurred me into signing up for their two-week project running in September. To get me paired up with a partner I had to answer a set of interesting questions, ranging from my preference for cats or dogs to my relationship with my mother. The questions themselves were utterly intriguing as I tried to figure out what it was that they were really asking. But not wanting to over-think things and skew the match-up with a partner, I answered as honestly as I could. One reassuring option was whether I wanted someone with similar or dissimilar interests to me. I clicked submit and waited.

The first prompt came through by text a couple of weeks later. I had been matched and I was to remain completely anonymous to my partner, as were they to me. The only information I had was this person’s phone number and through that portal of communication I was going to get to know this person intimately.

I genuinely had no idea who I had been matched with, what they were like, or what answers they gave to the questionnaire. Did they even answer the same questionnaire as me? How easy or how hard was this interaction going to be? These weren’t anxious questions going through my head but exciting ones. Maybe because of the starvation I was experiencing from lack of connection throughout lockdown, or perhaps because this could simply lead to making a new friend.

I changed my pronouns. I consciously considered everything I would say so as not to reveal myself. The first prompt was a simple task, limiting our interaction with each other for day one to a single text each. Of course, there was nothing to stop us from breaking the rules at any point as we were free to communicate with each other, but as the daily prompts continued, we were asked to share thoughts, feelings, secrets, memories and experiences, and then the experience really began.

I later learned that the daily prompts from Riptide are designed around research on the necessary events and exchanges required for forming a relationship with someone. The emphasis is on sharing in everything we were prompted to say, tell, do. And immediately a relationship began to form like no other I’d had before.

The prompts opened us up to each other in a way I don’t experience with my real-life friends. My experience of friendship is predominantly bogged down with the mundane questions of work, kids, spouse, repeat. Project Intimacy was so refreshingly different. We frequently elaborated on the daily prompts with more and more questions. Inevitably we began making as many guesses as to our partner’s location, job, age, gender, and that was part of the fun. But embedded in that silliness was a genuine, burgeoning friendship, solidified by reciprocally sharing our thoughts and feelings

With the final day of prompts approaching we realised we were about to have a calendar clash that would prevent us from finishing in the way the prompts would intend and so we staged our own version of the final reveal. We went rogue. We gave each other our own task to complete and make some final guesses on each other’s identities. The culmination of this was in a Zoom meeting where we saw each other for the first time in this two-week exchange. We laughed as we went through the hits and misses of our assumptions and downright convictions on the other’s vital statistics.

And then something else happened…

The relationship continued. When the prompts stopped, we continued to share more and more. We developed our own daily Riptide-style prompts, a testament really to how important the depth of questioning and sharing is when forming a meaningful relationship. We continued to connect. A friendship was born and flourished in these weird, disconnected times. Against all odds, intimacy was not only achieved but became the foundation of a new relationship where the surface mundanity of friendship is overlooked and new depths of intimacy are explored.

Find out more about ‘Project Intimacy’ and Riptide’s other projects here.