Recently, I reflected on what I could have done differently at Yale, and what I can do differently as an alumnus to improve my life. Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, scaling the ranks of academia or another field was not one of them. Nor was writing a good book. I’ve chosen to focus, instead, on intimacy. 

Webster describes intimacy as “the state of being in a very personal or private relationship.” Oxford Learner’s describes it as “close familiarity or friendship” and “a private cozy atmosphere.” Synonyms for intimacy include, but are not limited to, affection, affinity, devotion, fondness, kinship and love. 

Much of Yale is focused on ambition: classes are of the utmost importance, grades matter and internships at Goldman Sachs or on Capitol Hill are of high value. I was slightly ambitious at Yale, although not entirely bent on receiving perfect grades — I didn’t care at all about grades, instead enmeshing myself in the prestigious atmosphere of the school, and taking my creative writing to long strides. But I was missing intimacy. 

I believe that Yale doesn’t teach intimacy. Ironically, or maybe not so ironically, the academic who comes the closest to caring about intimacy is President Peter Salovey. In his work on emotional intelligence, President Salovey weighs how people can process their feelings effectively or not so effectively, and operate socially, either adeptly or ineptly. Salovey has shifted Yale to a place where we can study humane interaction, and not dull and dry STEM textbooks. His findings have been groundbreaking and have enunciated concepts like love better, which is inordinately beneficial to student populations — and even more beneficial than things like finance or politics. But even President Salovey’s work doesn’t emphasize romantic or platonic intimacy enough. 

The most important ingredient to intimacy is vulnerability. Webster defines vulnerability as “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded” and “open to attack or damage: assailable.” Synonyms for vulnerability include: endangered, exposed, liable and susceptive. Notice how all of these words denote a state of weakness, and not strength. But in being weak and vulnerable, we actually become stronger, either instantaneously, or over the long run. By revealing our problems, and not shielding them from the world, we slowly mend them with the help of trustful others. 

I am a Washington, D.C., native, and have worked for state representatives, campaign managers and sit on a political board where, every two or three years, I meet a congressman at a small apartment get-together, or meet a couple of state delegates, or have lunch with a senator. I have met four star generals and future defense secretaries. My childhood was dedicated to socializing with ambassadors and political higher ups, and even now, I fraternize with ministers of foreign countries. The grandeur of these social interactions leaves a sweet and grandiose taste in the beholder’s mouth, but also a slow realization that many of these ambitious people lead lonely, lonely lives. Very lonely indeed. 

I call these people the “secretly naked” professionals. On the surface, they maintain dozens of professional acquaintances and accomplishments to back their connections up. But when they go home at night, they sleep naked of any intimacy in an empty bed, and don’t share any genuine connection with another person. Most of their text messages are meant to advance their own career in some superficial way, or give a nonchalant thanks for inviting them to a government dinner. 

Jim Mattis, a four-star Marine general who served as Trump’s defense secretary, was known as a “warrior monk.” He was given this nickname in part due to his seemingly eternal bachelorhood, and his propensity to rarely, if ever, seek out a romantic partner. Only in 2022 did he marry. I’m sure that at times, it could have been lonely for General Mattis to go to bed without a partner by his side. I’m sure that dozens of deployments and trips to war zones could have taken a toll on his mental health. General Mattis was, for a long time, a secretly naked professional. 

No one should be like that. Lacking positive social interaction is incredibly harmful to a person’s health — so harmful, in fact, that it rivals being on the same magnitude as negative things like smoking or keeping a poor diet. 

Indeed, the Harvard Study of Adult Development, started in 1938, tracked the health of 268 Harvard sophomores, hoping that they could find metrics to what made some students live longer than others. The study eventually tacked on hundreds of more participants from the greater Boston area. Researchers found one surprising revelation: that the quality of the participants’ relationships had just as much of an impact on their life expectancy as any other factor would have — access to high end medical care, eating good food and abstaining from alcohol and drugs. “Loneliness kills,” said Robert Waldinger, the director of the study. In similar parlance: intimacy with loved ones matters. 

Intimacy is what makes us thrive — and not sociopathy, or climbing ladders, or getting promotions. Sure, those things will net you more capital to fund expensive homes, vacations to the Caribbean, and maybe a trophy wife. But as 50 Cent once said, there are people without money who still know how to “live life better” despite being poor. And they can do this because they seek out the right friends to be around. 50 Cent shed a good two cents of wisdom in this scenario. 

If you don’t actively think about how you can become close to people, and if you don’t think about nourishing these relationships, then you might end up a powerful bureaucrat or executive in some far flung city drinking the finest whiskey on the market come 10 p.m. But you will be drinking that whiskey by yourself, in an antique chair that costs as much as half a Rolex, and that bed you go to sleep in — it may have linen sheets from Versace — but that bed will be empty as well, just as your living room will be empty of people too. 

I only learned intimacy from my ex-wife, and ever since then, I can’t shake it off. Having that intimacy with her was not only nice or sexy, but more importantly, life saving. It’s more powerful to me than the best A grade in a calculus class at Yale, it’s more powerful to me than a business trip to the Mediterranean, and it’s more powerful than the own ambition that starved professionals seek in DC. 

Don’t be a secretly naked professional. Practice intimacy at every turn, because at the end of the day, your life depends on it. 

ISAAC AMEND graduated in 2017 from Timothy Dwight College. He is a transgender man and was featured in National Geographic’s “Gender Revolution” documentary. In his free time, he is a columnist for the Washington Blade. He also serves on the board of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia. Contact him at