Real relationships are like growing tomato plants. Now, I am not a gardener by trade or even by passion, but I have watched my Mother’s garden for years and have never seen a plant do anything but thrive in her care. In this article are just some of the observations I have made and how I have seen several similarities in the successful development of relationships between people.
Tomato plants need water, but providing the proper amount and frequency of watering is critical. Pouring too much water leaving the soil soggy will drown the plant and / or lead to mold problems. Of course, if the plant does not get enough water, the plant wilts and the fruit loses its support (and its flavor). If it has been dry for a long time and you hit it with too much water, the tomatoes will swell so quickly that the sides will split open. Nobody picks a split tomato off the store shelf. However, provide the plant with the proper amount of water on a regular but intermittent basis, and the plant will be strong but will want more. The plant’s desire for more water is the driving force for further growth when the next dose of water is administered. The same applies to relationships. Holding back the emotional “water” will eventually end the relationship. Emotionally drenching the relationship usually won’t work either, as, to quote Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (1995), “… and everyone knows that nothing will turn off a woman faster than knowing that she is in full control of the relationship. “Similarly,” soaking “the relationship too deeply and too quickly increases the likelihood that the tides of each other’s emotions will collide with each other (or separate) because they have not learned to emotionally ebb and flow with each other.
Relationships are also like tomato plants in that weeds are invasive, ubiquitous, and grow faster than tomato plants. Anyone who has worked in the garden for five minutes knows how much work weeds cost because they have spent four and a half of those minutes pulling them up. In relationships, “weeds” could be those problems that start to crop up early on and because they are small, they seem trivial and are easily ignored. Later, they grow a bit bigger and may be considered “endearing”, but they are still not a problem. However, if there are many, even small ones, they compete with the plant for nutrients and water, subtly stressing it. When weeds get tall, making it difficult to find tomato plants and see what state they are in, it is too late. Try to pull out the grass (fix the problem) at that point and it will damage or uproot the tomato plant as well. The relationship grew with the “weeds” in sight, so they were okay then, but now you want to change the rules and say they are not okay? … Nobody likes that.
A tomato plant left alone will grow perhaps two to three feet or so before collapsing under its own weight and / or stops growing. Give it strong structure next to it so it can climb and it will grow to five feet or more and produce much more fruit (plus the fruit will be taller so it is off the ground and cats cannot urinate on it). The man has to give her that support, structure and strength so that she feels safe to grow and reveal her fruit.
There is a gardening technique called double digging. Basically, before planting the tomato plants, you dig the garden one foot down and turn the soil from the bottom up. Then you dig again, this time to two feet, and again you turn the earth upside down. Plants are normally limited in growth by the hard layer of soil six inches below the surface. Give them a little depth to take root and it is normal to get twice the production and growth of the plants on the surface. Our life scars and underdeveloped areas act as “enduring” for those who try to grow in our lives. Digging past that hardness within ourselves, turning it over and breaking it down before the friend / partner / etc is planted in our life gives them much more depth to be drawn in, to explore and to grow. The only “plants” that are interested in growing on the surface are moss, lichens, and mold.
Also, the royal gardens have insects. All tomatoes, and especially the leaves of plants, are bitten by insects. The insects will cause minor damage to the plant, but will usually crust over and heal well, with just a small scab or hole in the leaf. If you are hanging out with a tomato plant and it has no bugs or scars, it is probably made of plastic (emotionally frozen, it will never grow, learn, respond to your inputs, or give you new fruit).
I thought this analogy would break when it came to the topic of fertilizers. “Throw a lot of smelly garbage at the plant / relationship and watch it grow,” right? However, good gardeners know that plants and people are very alike in this area as well. Pour a lot of fresh manure into a garden and it will burn and kill the plants. Good fertilizer comes from taking that manure and composting it. This requires subjecting it to heat (usually internally generated) for long periods of time (sometimes years) and working hard to turn it over regularly. This process breaks down the toxic parts of manure into ways that are beneficial to plants and that are easily consumed. People are the same in that retaliation for hurting feelings in the heat of the moment is often polarizing and unproductive, but if that “manure” can be turned over and composted a little more, it can turn into the form of “when you do it. did”. isit made me feel that“, allowing the other person to internalize the criticism in a way that is digestible and gives them concrete reference points for the process of changing behavior and becoming a better partner.