Water Your Plants, Water Your Friendships: How Caring for Plants can Help to Grow Your Friendships

I was watering my plants a few weeks ago when I thought about how I hadn’t checked in with a friend of mine for a while. The thought seemed odd at first, but then I realized that the feeling I got when I checked my plants, made sure they were watered, fed, had enough light and weren’t visible stressed, is sort of close to the feeling I get when I think about checking in with my friends.

I usually use an app to help me keep my plants’ watering and feeding schedules on track. It’s on my phone, and the days that they need something a notification will pop up, letting me know it’s time for some plant love.

I’ve also come to realize I kind of do the same thing with my friends. On my commute home, or on my weekends, I’ll send them a text to see how they’re doing or what they’re up to. Short conversations that let them know I’m thinking about how they’re doing. To let them know, as an old coworker of mine put it, “I’m here, I care.”

Which is not unlike watering my plants. And that’s not to say that I’m caretaker for them in any way, but the shared space we hold together is one that needs tending to and feeding.

I’m currently in the process of building shelves for my father and step-mother. I told a friend of mine the plan to build out the pantry area with shelving, and he offered to help me with the project. One of his hobbies is wood working so he enjoys the process of creating something and bring a project together.

I enjoy building and the designing aspect of these projects as does he, so coming together to draw up plans and set times, borrow tools and bounce ideas off of each other is like watering, feeding and creating a comfortable environment for my plants. A space we both enjoy and are building something, literally and figuratively, together.

The above situation reminds me of how I recently moved some of my plants around that weren’t doing so well. One was getting too much sun and needed to be moved into more humid conditions and some of the others weren’t in the optimal space for lighting needs. I changed their positions in the room and they seem to be doing better in their new environment.

I saw that they needed a change, responded to their needs and am enjoying the new growth that is coming from the change. This type of attuning to the plants needs is also something we do with our friends as well.

I’ve recently gotten into the habit of keeping a list of my friends on my phone and things to keep in mind, shared interests or things my friends have expressed an interest in. For instance a friend of mine recently told me he’s been teaching himself how to cook. He also said specifically that he was into sauces and roasted veggies right now. So when I search for recipes to cook for the week, I’m keeping an eye out for something that looks like he’d might enjoy.

I like to cook, he’s just learning how, it just makes sense to build a connection in this way. But this way of connecting didn’t come natural. For me anyway there’s a line from a song by Iron and Wine that sums up how I used to feel about friendships, “forgiveness is fickle when trust is a chore”.

Keeping people at a distance was something I learned early as a survival tactic. When your trust is abused by so many that are supposed to be caring and loving support, it becomes necessity to keep people at a distance to feel safe. But distance erodes connection and it takes a great will of emotional strength to learn how to reconnect. To be vulnerable enough to allow people back into your space.

And I wish I could tell you I found an easy way to be vulnerable around others. It’s tough enough already, but when our trust has been abused, it’s excruciating. All I can tell you from my experience is to go slow. It takes time to heal the old wounds while learning to be vulnerable at the same time. It is definitely difficult and painful at times, but it’s possible and worth the effort.

I started by texting people. Reaching out to old friends. Some responded, some didn’t, but I’ve been able to slowly practice being a friend while also setting healthy boundaries. Something I never learned how to do growing up because my care-givers never learned how themselves. I no longer find myself lost in a relationship, acting the part I feel I should play. I’m more me in my relationships with boundaries, and it feels more gratifying than before.

So keep on watering your plants. Text that friend you haven’t spoken with in a few months. Keep those spaces in your life open and tended to. If it feels like it’s too much to keep them open, let them be for a bit undisturbed. Take the space for yourself, and when you feel up to it, invite someone in again. It’ll be tough at times but it’s worth it. So be brave, who knows what may grow. Peace :] and thanks for reading.

Image credits: “Water Plant in Garden – Museum at Penn” by natematias is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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