She interrupted my talk to tell me that I should say the word differently to make its meaning clear. Instead of intimacy, I should say it into-me-see.

She had a great point.

The Dictionary defines intimacy as “a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group.” In the social sciences we think of it as closeness, openness, vulnerability, and transparency. Pronouncing it into-me-see does a great job of giving the meaning in the way the word sounds. It is letting another person look deep inside you.

The difficulty is that most of us don’t have a person, much less a group of people, with whom we can be so open. We learned early in life that people tend to accept us when we meet their criteria for acceptance, and we learned to paint pictures of how they want us to be rather than showing who we really are.

Yet we crave being known as we truly are and loved nevertheless. No criteria. No pretending. Just love me as I am.

A couple weeks ago a friend was interviewing me before an audience several thousand teenagers. In the course of our conversation, I tried to make it clear that we do strange – sometimes very bad – things in our effort to feel that someone loves us as we are. Without realizing it, I referred to the title of an old hymn that I haven’t heard for decades. I said to my friend, “I want someone to love me just as I am.”

“Just as I am,” he mulled. He quickly got the symbolism. Great revivalists in the last century used that hymn at the end of their sermons to draw people down aisles into public repentance. Maybe they understood its importance. Maybe it was just an easy hymn to sing. Either way, the underlying theme was, and is, powerful.

I want to be accepted just as I am. That’s the core of love. I don’t feel loved when someone wants me to be different in some way to be accepted. I feel loved when I realize that another person can and does love me without requiring me to be any different than I actually am deep inside. Some call it unconditional love. Others call it true love. Most don’t care what it is called: They want just want it.

It is a basic desire of every human. When it happens, tremendous bonds of affection, trust, and loyalty develop. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen in many relationships.

Some grow up in homes where they feel they have to meet certain criteria to be accepted by a parent. Others enter romantic relationships with people that constantly want to control or change them, only feeling loved when the partner is happy with what they are being or doing at a particular moment. Yet others feel that their friends accept them and want them around as long as they are giving their friends what they want or need.

It seems to be rare for a person to be in a relationship where he or she feels that the other accepts or loves without requiring any action, belief, mindset, or anything else…where love exists for the person when he is good, when she is bad, or when vacillating between the two.

After the interview by my friend, people lined up to tell me that no one loves them as they are. A teenager told me his friends only want what he can do for them and no one seems to care that he hurts, and that he feels lonely. As long as he does what the group wants, he’s accepted. Rather than feeling a close bond with them, he felt rejected and alone. A wife told me a similar story about her relationship with her husband. A husband’s story was eerily similar, though he had no connection to the woman who had just talked with me.

As each passed in turn, I knew a three things were alike for each of them.

1. They were lonely.

2. They wanted someone to love them without making them pretend to be someone or something else. They craved another person to see into them and accept and care about the person they are, even when flawed or imperfect.