I have found analogies to be incredibly helpful in deepening our understanding of situations we face in life. One of the most powerful and fruitful analogies pertains to our social life, and that is what I want to share with you in this post. It represents a way to think about the important relationships in our lives and how we nurture these connections. The analogy is to think of our social landscape and relationships as a garden. Each relationship is represented as an individual plant.
To understand and utilize this analogy, you need not be an expert on the subject; you needn’t have a green thumb for this to be useful for you. Even as a complete gardening novice, we can grasp the idea that plants in a garden require attention and care in order to nurture a healthy and thriving plant. The same applies to our relationships with others. As we nurture our connections with the people in our lives, these connections become deeper and more robust. If we neglect a plant, especially before it reaches full maturity and becomes hardy, it will likely wilt and eventually perish. Again, this concept plays out with our friendships.
We all are likely to have some number of long-lasting friendships that can withstand prolonged periods of no contact. But as soon as we reconnect, it’s as if no time has passed, and we pick up right where we left off. These are truly the treasures and centerpieces of our social garden. While we may be giving more consistent attention to other relationships in our lives (such as our co-workers with whom we regularly interact), the deeply rooted relationships tend to be far more central to our identity.
And that is where this analogy really starts to deepen our understanding of our social lives. Ideally, our garden will feature an array of different types of plants. Some will be of the variety that we give attention to everyday, even though they may be relatively shallow. This typically applies to our colleagues and acquaintances with whom we interact with every day and may or may not be friendly with outside the work confines. Others will be the types of plants that we give periodic attention to that have deeper roots. These tend to be medium to long time friends or family members.
Perhaps a somewhat uncomfortable truth that also underpins this analogy is the idea that all living things die. So, too, might our friendships. Sometimes the actual death of the person is the cause of the death of the relationship; other times it can be a falling out, a move, or just a loss of contact with the person. We can picture the life cycle of a plant: from seed to sprout to blooming plant to mature plant to dead plant. So, too, with our friendships (though it may be uncomfortable to acknowledge this fact).
But this knowledge allows us to be prepared. Both for myself and for several people with whom I have worked, an unexpected ending of a friendship can be such a painful experience. The damage done is compounded for those who don’t have many other plants in the garden. Ideally, we will have several plants at different stages in the life cycle. So, even if a robust and hearty plant in our garden dies and leaves a void, it can be filled more easily with a plant that is more developed than a seedling. If the end of a relationship strikes at a time when we haven’t even begun planting the seeds of other connections, it can be a daunting task to consider rebuilding what has been lost. We would be looking at years before we could recover and begin to fill this void. This is not to say that relationships are easily replaceable or that the people in our lives are expendable, but making some effort to diversify our energies in a range of relationships is often an effort that will serve us well.
This is often made more challenging if we have personalities that are low in openness (those who value tradition and routine) or if we are introverted. However, even if this personality profile is present for you, it would be a wise investment to challenge yourself to reach out to a larger array of people than may be customary for you.
The last thing that I wanted to draw from this analogy is the idea that sometimes there are weeds in our garden. They drain resources like water and nutrients in the soil that could otherwise be used to nourish the desirable plants in the garden. It would be wise for you to look through your social circle (including your social media) every so often and assess if there any such weeds in your garden. Do any of your friendships or connections leave you feeling drained or negative after interacting with them? While it may feel complicated or threatening to do so, we are often best served by finding ways to weed these types of people out of our lives. We don’t owe it to anyone to continue to interact with them if they are not enriching our lives. And, yes, this even applies to family members. Sometimes the healthiest thing we can do is to draw boundaries with these types of people and learn to preserve our own well-being. If this is something that you would struggle to do, this might be a good indication that talking to a therapist might be helpful.
I hope you have found my favorite analogy to be helpful, useful, and beneficial in the way that you think about and care for your garden.