By Graham Dawson
Since our distant ancestors began making stone hammers and blades around 2 million years ago, humans have continued to make tools for pretty much everything and anything that can improve our lives – to make us stronger, faster, more resilient, and more calculated.
With radio, television and the internet, the 20th century marked a huge evolution in tools for communication and connecting people around the world. But as much as it would be great to have a tool to easily find us love and to build friendships and healthy relationships for us, people are much too complicated for even the most advanced technology.
Relationships require work, and whether it is a friendship, a romantic partner, or a colleague, this holds true. We often don’t conceptualize relationships as having shape and form, we tend to just follow our emotional ups and downs, but I think a good representation of a relationship is as a garden you share with someone else. It has the potential to grow and flourish in its own unique and vibrant way but, by nature, it’s going to take time and effort. I know this idea may sound a little out there. But by visualizing your relationships as a physical space that you both take care of, you are able to be more objective about it and ultimately you will have more control to build the garden (relationship) you want together.
Here are some key points to help your garden grow:
Communication cannot be overrated
The important thing to remember is that the metaphorical ‘garden’ is a shared space. If one person feels they always have the right to control the relationship, or what to plant and where, the other person may not feel connected to the space. It can become a one-sided situation where the garden only suits what one person wants. Worse yet, the space may even begin to represent oppression if one person feels like they have no voice in the relationship.
Alternatively, communication can become so stifled by arguing over opinions and plans that it feels like nothing ever grows. It’s like continuously criticizing and tearing out the plants and flowers that each other grows. This is a sure way to develop animosity for one another.
The key is to find a way to ask each other, “how can we build this garden together?”
More complex gardens obviously require more communication and more ongoing work. There are inevitably going to be some differences between us and disagreements that we have to deal with from time to time (Everyone is different, so there is no getting around this). Then there are also things like weeds and droughts and floods – outside and often unexpected factors that impact the relationship. These are things like stress at work, health issues or even technology (think time spent online rather than talking).
The website loveisrespect.org has some great tips for healthy communication, such as finding time to talk face to face, owning up to your own mistakes, and learning to stop and think when your angry before jumping into confrontation. The important thing to remember when it comes to disagreements is that it’s is not about winning the argument, it’s about coming to an agreed vision of how to move forward.
When two people can share the workload, and continue to listen to and enjoy each other, passion grows because the effort is worth it. And the garden starts becoming a beautiful space you share with one another.
Respect Yourself and Others
Because of the ongoing work required for more complex relationships, it’s not always possible to maintain numerous relationships that involve a high degree of effort. In fact, the more friends you have the harder it may be to develop really close friends or maintain a long-term relationship. Everyone is different when it comes to the amount they can handle, and sometimes it’s worth it to push yourself to support those you care about, but it’s important to respect your own limitations here. Otherwise, before you know it you may be expected to contribute more than you’re able to in order to maintain a relationship. This can lead to feeling exhausted or burnt out.
It’s also important to respect other people’s time too. I have friends I see only once every couple of years and yet our ‘gardens’ still bloom. This is largely because there is a mutual understanding of the type of relationship we have. Managing time for our own families, other friends, work and goals is difficult. Adding pressure to an already full plate can make it difficult for someone to enjoy your company. In lieu of the garden metaphor, imagine being insisted to spend tons of your time tending one garden when you have many others, potentially of higher priority, to deal with as well.
Change Expectations for Romance
You may spend your whole life set on the idea of your perfect match- That hypothetical person that would meet all your requirements and make your life complete. I hate to say it so bluntly, but you may be wrong. Often our checklist of ideal traits doesn’t include “a person that truly knows me, makes me happy to be myself, and works with me to build a beautiful relationship.” But ultimately the people that make us feel most fulfilled in our lives are the ones that make us feel good about who we are and energize us to follow our passions. It can be hard to let go of ideals, but by starting with an open mind you may find your best relationships in the most unexpected of places.
I should balance this by adding that attraction is definitely important for a romantic relationship; romance is not something to be forced. But though a lot of attraction is psychological, it isn’t completely hardwired. This BBC article by Crystal Ponti expresses this idea well by pointing out that the media, other’s opinions, and even how long we look at someone, can have an effect on who we find attractive. Research has also shown that attractiveness is more than just visual – a good personality can contribute a lot to someone’s desirability. In other words, starting with rigid goals may prevent you from seeing something great right in front of you.
Be Cautious of Conditions
This is a tough one to dissect because relationships are dependent on two people contributing to the ‘garden’, so it can be hard to differentiate conditions from realistic expectations. If one person, say a roommate or partner, expects you to share the load when it comes to cleaning dishes, or they want you to be kind to their friends, then this is a fairly realistic expectation. But if one person expects expensive gifts or for continuous favours in return for their friendship, then it can definitely be problematic.
Often when we start relationships, particularly when we start dating someone new, we feel the pressure to go above and beyond to make a good first impression. There is a point though that the polished presentation with fancy dinners and stylish clothes can do more harm than good to a long term relationship. Be careful not to hide your real self too much behind the show, because as a relationship develops it will inevitably start to surface. You may both find that the relationship was only based on fantasy. Also, by no means should anyone think the other person owes them anything in return for those fancy dinners or nice gifts.
It’s ultimately up to each person to decide what they are comfortable with when it comes to the expectations in a relationship. But if you feel like the other persons tool, or a laborer doing their bidding, then perhaps it’s best to step back and realize you deserve better.
Start with Building Good Foundations
You cannot force something to grow; you can only nurture it. And sometimes the conditions may not be right, or there may simply be a lack of chemistry. But you can start every relationship with respecting people – treating them as humans that deserve love and kindness (think of it as starting with good soil). From here we can create the best environments for beautiful gardens to grow. At best you can develop some great relationships with friends and lovers, at worst you get some practice for the next time.
Jelato is about improving our social environments and making it easier to connect with those around you. Learn more about the App here!
ABOUT THE WRITER: Graham Dawson is the cofounder of Jelato and is passionate about music, travel and people.
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Also, it’s important to mention after all this talk of relationships that if you find yourself subject to abuse in one, it’s not acceptable. In case you are in one of the following countries and need help: