Heart of the Matter; How to Find Love, How to Make it Work
By Linda Austin, M.D.
I love strolling through neighborhoods to enjoy other peoples' gardens and am often inspired to introduce new plants in my own garden. Several years ago I became enchanted by the roses I saw in a Charleston garden. I bought six bushes home from the nursery, planted them, and waited for a little bit of heaven to bloom in my own backyard.
Heaven lasted just ten days. Miracles of nature I had indeed, but in the form of battalions of Japanese beetles and aphids, which swarmed up the stalks and devoured the roses. And then there was the mold, spotting the leaves like a fungal Black Plague.
I went back to the nursery for a consultation. Not to worry, they said. If I sprayed my roses daily for a while, then every other day thereafter, then twice a week after that, my problem would come under control. They even showed me a pesticide tank I could strap on my back that would make my daily counterassaults easier.
Spray my roses daily? I can't even floss my teeth every day, much less suit up like a ghostbuster for a daily attack on marauding life-forms. I left the nursery empty-handed.
My roses never really died, but they looked increasingly scruffy. An occasional forlorn blossom tried to survive, as if mournfully reminding me of all they could be if only I would do my part. As in human relationships, I had three choices: I could really take care of them; I could pull them out and plant something else; or I could let them limp along. Unwilling to face my mistake, I let them scraggle along for a few years before replacing them.
Your Human Garden
You live in a human garden, composed of all the people with whom you interact. You make acquaintances, and some of those develop into enduring friendships. You gather those friends around you to share the highs and lows of daily life. You may find someone to share a special love. And you may at times find a few unsavory characters in your life, people who choke off vital nutrients you need for your own growth. All of those relationships define the emotional landscape of your life.
As you increasingly practice the first Essential, engagement, you'll have a thought process just like mine during my neighborhood strolls. The more you reach out, the more new people will come into your life. You will find your own psychological world enriched by the people you meet. Soon you will want to bring some of those new people into your life. To be your friends, or maybe lovers. To make them your own.
But not everyone you meet will thrive in the conditions of friendship you're able to offer. Some people, wonderful though they may be, may not be right for you. Or perhaps they could thrive if you could only tend them well enough. But you may not have the time, the energy, or the desire to offer enough attention.
Plants from the nursery have little white tags on them that tell you what they need: Water sparingly. Part sun. Fertilize lightly. People don't come with tags, and yet each of us has a specific set of necessary conditions: Avoid criticism. Compliment generously. Minimal stress. Needs plenty of space.
You may not even be very' clear yourself about what you need to grow and what will be toxic to your system. So you go by trial and error . . . and by wishful thinking, often underestimating your needs. Like my roses, you can survive in the beginning stages of a new relationship even if your conditions aren't met. And you can limp along for extended periods if your needs are sort-of-kind-of met. But you will never fully experience a wonderful love that endures if you ignore your basic requirements.
To tell you the truth, I could actually have predicted that the roses wouldn't do well in my garden. I should have found out just how much care they would really need before I bought them and had a heart-to-heart talk with myself about how much time I really wanted to invest in roses. But I didn't think it through for a simple reason: I wanted those roses so badly. I had wanted them for years. So my mind played a gentle little trick on me: I confused what I wished for with reality.
And so it is with people you bring into your life. You may love them and want them to love you so badly that your mind plays games with you. You ignore the clues they offer about what they will need from you. You're not realistic about how the conditions you can offer will affect them.
As if that weren't bad enough, it's only half of the problem. For just as you are taking your others into your garden, they are taking you into theirs. You are their rose and they are yours. You, too, have conditions you require for your survival. You, too, require care and feeding. Can your other provide those conditions? Can he or she offer the daily care you need?