Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

The “Garden” as Metaphor for Selecting Friends

Originally posted on September 10, 2012

Only a few people resonate that much with our interests, so we should disclose ourselves more fully only to those who seem to care. Young children cannot understand this. (And it took me too long to figure this out—well through my college years and beyond!) I’ve found the following metaphor serves as a mental filtering system: a three-level garden. In this image, you or the host sits behind a medium-sized 4-5 foot outer wall, observing.

On the outside, people pass. They smoke, they chew gum, they toss their wrappers on the ground. Just outside the outer wall the host has prepared a low-maintenance but not insubstantial planting. There are clues and cues, ways the garden is edged with shells, certain plants, ways it is trimmed —so designed so that an appreciative passer-by might pause and really look.

A number of people pass who only glance, though some don’t even bother. Then one comes along and looks carefully. You step out from the gate. "Like the garden?" This is the first test. You feel into the way this person talks to you. Is s/he kind, courteous, curious? Check out your intuitive sense of rapport. Let’s say s/he mentions certain items, such as the seashells bordering the garden. And suppose you feel there is some slight (at least) mutual attraction, enough so that you ask, "If you like the way I garden, would you like to see the garden inside?"

The other person agrees. It’s even okay if the visitor says s/he is busy but can we make a date?  If s/he returns on time, you spend some time entertaining. This is not a great investment in time or energy, just a tour around the garden, perhaps a plate of cookies and some tea or punch. A few hours. You are watching to see the quality of the ability to appreciate, the presence or absence of rapport.

Let’s say that the rapport is present. You invite the other person for another visit. You find her to be as interesting as she finds you. This could be the beginning of a friendship. After a few visits, you invite her to the third level, the little tea house in the garden, where you share your more personal treasures. Friendship becomes more established.

The point is that you don’t offer yourself to others completely right off: Most people won’t be interested. However, if you do this, you’ll find there are still enough people who would enjoy being friends with you to keep you sufficiently occupied socially. Allow the process to unfold gently, with mutual disclosure.

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