The Hedgehog’s Dilemma

Hedgehog’s Dilemma

A number of porcupines huddled together for warmth on a cold day in winter; but, as they began to prick one another with their quills, they were obliged to disperse. However the cold drove them together again, when just the same thing happened . . . 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.

Schopenhauer, 1851/1964, p. 226

The German philosopher Schopenhauer (say that 5 times fast) said that intimacy cannot exist without mutual harm; that the closer a couple is, the more damage is inflicted. He used this analogy to describe human intimacy because we all desire the closeness and warmth of each other’s comfort and presence, but by getting closer, we also expose ourselves to a certain amount of vulnerability and potential for damage.

The Hedgehog’s Dilemma (sometimes called the Porcupine’s Dilemma) is an apt intimacy analogy for what we’re going through right now in this pandemic. The closer we get, the more we seem to hurt one another. I recently did a post on social distancing and social isolation wherein I reminded peeps that we can still intimately connect with one another albeit through the safe distance of hundreds of miles of fiber optic cables.

So how do we maintain our relationships, warmth, and intimacy when we have to stay physically separated? For couples sheltering together, do these closed and isolated times cause more harm with forced intimacy? Also, how do hedgehogs and porcupines have sex? That last question may be beyond the scope of this article, so I’d better get started before I digress any further. 

Quarantined Intimacy

I recently found out in another Medium article that there are 17 types of intimacy, which frankly is 16 more types than I was familiar with. Stephen T. Fife, talks about other, non-sex intimacies, such as humor, parental, friendship, and communication intimacy, and more interesting now, crisis intimacy. 


Close familiarity or friendship; inhaling someone’s terrible breath first thing in the morning and throughout the entire day because you’re trapped in a house together and the basic rituals of hygiene have disappeared.

Notice the extra emphasis on close. If I’ve been reading recent SM posts correctly, a bit too close for comfort. 

Q Is this quarantine crisis intimacy bringing you closer together or driving you apart?

Apparently, intimacy doesn’t always mean physical intimacy. There are many types of intimacy, and we now have the perfect opportunity to explore them. Do you remember when you were exploring physical intimacy for the first time? These others can be just as stimulating and exciting for those who are willing to experiment with a little vulnerability, awkwardness, and let down their own defenses. 

There’s a fun article about relationships, stress, quarantine, and sex that has a good point: Sex takes up about 10% of our lives, when we’re having it and everything’s peachy, but when it’s not and it dries up, sex takes up 90% of our lives. Being confined and trapped, can fray the nerves and rattle our calm which brings out all those other relationship issues and problems that our busy lives had previously hidden from view. 

Something I’ve been curious about is whether this crisis will bring couples together or ultimately drive them apart. What if you were already on the brink of breaking up when this hit? How is this affecting couples who were already separated but still living together? Has this situation helped rekindle a dying relationship for anybody?

Q Do you think the divorce rate will go up or down when this ends? 

Humor Intimacy

As with most things in life, humor is a great addition. If you can laugh, you can make any situation better; more tolerable. 

Journal Entry, Quarantine, Day 11
Today I found an unwashed woman sitting on my couch. Just sitting there on her laptop, clicking away. Apparently, she’s my wife. She seems nice. I should go say hi.

Humor helps significantly with releasing stress and anger. Just like in an airplane, an elevator, or other tight and confined space, when we just let it rip. Find something you both love to do, something that makes you laugh, or mentally engages you both. And put that time on your calendar! Schedule it. Mess with your kids. Play jokes on one another. Keep it lively. 

Communication Intimacy

This time that we have together is a blessing in disguise. Use it to deepen your knowledge about the person you’re choosing to spend your life with. As part of your day, schedule time to have uninterrupted conversation each day. This could be while playing a game, cooking, whatever, but make sure your conversation isn’t disturbed by technology or children. This is your time, defend it like you would defend a castle from a horde of barbarians, or your house from Coronavirus. Take it seriously. 

Parental Intimacy

When we signed up to be parents, it was assumed that we wouldn’t be stuck in the house with our kids. That’s got to be a breach of contract somewhere. Somebody has to be sued here. 

In lieu of legal recompense, I guess parenting is our only option. At least we can do some creative things to keep entertained, like recreating a canceled Disney trip

He sees you when your quarantined…
Portrait Photograph of Schopenhauer

This is a crisis we all have to face together, by staying as far apart as possible. It’s hard, I know. Here are some other resources to help develop these new types of intimacy. If it helps, try taking a cold-shower or staring into the alluring eyes of Schopenhauer. He’s the epitome of caring and deep, deep intimacy and affection.