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Relationship Analogies in Tomato Plant Gardening

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 work in the garden for years and have never seen a plant do anything but thrive under her care. In this article are just some observations that 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 right amount and frequency of watering is critical. Pouring too much water leaving the soil soggy will drain the plant and/or cause mold problems. Of course, if the plant doesn’t get enough water, the plant wilts and the fruit loses its support (and its flavor). If it’s been dry for a long time and you hit it with too much water, the tomatoes will swell so quickly they’ll split open on the sides. No one picks a split tomato off the supermarket shelf. However, give the plant the right 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 given. The same applies to relationships. Holding back the emotional “water” will eventually kill the relationship. Emotionally soaking the relationship usually doesn’t work either, since, to quote Daniel Goleman’s (1995) Emotional Intelligence, “…and everyone knows that nothing will drive a woman away faster than knowing she is in total control of the relationship.” Likewise, “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 part) because they haven’t learned to ebb and flow emotionally 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 are because they have spent four and a half minutes pulling them out. In relationships, “weeds” can be those problems that start to crop up early on and, because they are small, seem trivial and are easily ignored. Later, they grow a bit larger and may be seen as “lovely”, but they are not really problems yet. However, if there are many, even small ones, they compete with the plant for nutrients and water, subtly stressing it. When the weeds get tall, making it hard to find the tomato plants and see what condition they are in, it’s too late. Try to weed out (solve the problem) at that point and you will damage or uproot the tomato plant as well. The relationship grew with the “weed” in sight, so they were fine then, but now you want to change the rules and say they’re not okay? … Nobody likes that.

A tomato plant left alone will grow two to three feet or so before it collapses under its own weight and/or stops growing. Give it a strong structure on the side that it can climb on and it will grow to five feet or more and produce a lot more fruit (plus the fruit will be taller so it’s off the ground and cats can’t pee on it). The man has to provide 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 you plant the tomato plants, you dig the garden down a foot and turn the soil from the bottom up. Then you dig again, this time two feet, and re-place the soil from the bottom up. Plants are normally limited in their growth by the hard layer of soil six inches below the surface. Give them some depth to take root and it is normal to get double the production and growth of the plants above the surface. The scars of our life and the underdeveloped areas act as “stale bread” for those trying to grow in our lives. Dig past that hardness within ourselves, turn it around and break it before the friend/partner/etc. being planted in our life gives them much more depth to be attracted, explore and grow. The only “plants” that are interested in growing on the surface are moss, lichen, and mold.

Also, royal gardens have bugs. All tomatoes, and especially the leaves of the plants, are bitten by insects. Insects will cause minor damage to the plant, but it will usually scab over and heal well, with just a small scab or hole in the leaf. If you’re hanging out with a tomato plant and it doesn’t have bugs or scars on it, it’s probably made of plastic (emotionally frozen, it will never grow, learn, respond to your inputs, or bear new fruit).

I thought this analogy would break down when it came to the issue of fertilizers. “Throw a bunch of stinky crap at the plant/relationship and watch it grow,” right? However, good gardeners know that plants and people are remarkably alike in this area, too. Throw a bunch of fresh manure in a garden and it will burn and kill 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 going to great lengths to turn it over regularly. This process breaks down the toxic parts of the manure into forms that are beneficial to plants and are easily consumed. People are alike in that retaliation for hurt feelings in the heat of the moment is often polarizing and unproductive, but if that “manure” can be converted and composted a bit more, it can be converted into the form of “when did”. Eastit made me feel that“, which allows the other person to internalize the criticism in a digestible way and gives them concrete reference points for the process of changing their behavior and becoming a better partner.

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