A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine bought a puppy. She had been longing for it for quite a while; more than two years, in fact. She waited until now to make it happen, since she will have a few more hours a day to take care of the animal. The good thing is she found what she wanted: a maltese female, small and perfect for a downtown apartment: it does not take up too much room, neither does it bark loudly, nor does it get things too messy.
Now, of course, she is crazy about the puppy… She loves it and takes care of it proudly. She wouldn’t change it for anything else. She chose it -let’s say- ‘definitely’. And that’s the big point to reflect on. How does a relationship begin? Making the matter extensive to humans, which is the precise instant in which we select someone to connect with? In many cases, we indeed make a ‘definite’ choice… (no matter the relationship then not lasting a lifetime). And although in other cases the decision is not ‘definite’, it’s still a choice anyway.
There is a delicate moment in which the puppy is no longer a hope and becomes the reality that we prefer above any other pet of its kind. We all like puppies, but ‘like’ is an understatement if that puppy is ours. It probably happened in the kennel when my friend identified one individual in particular among the whole group, without precisely knowing what motivated her to do so. Or it probably took place when the vet arbitrarily placed in her arms that furry ball that goes <<wooif>>… and that one became inexorably irresistible. How to make another choice? How to think on another one?
In a sublime metaphor about human relationships, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry approached the matter with the following words:
“Who are you?” asked the little prince, and added, “You are very pretty to look at.”
“I am a fox,” the fox said.
“Come and play with me,” proposed the little prince. “I am so unhappy.”
“I cannot play with you,” the fox said. “I am not tamed.”
“Ah! Please excuse me,” said the little prince.
But, after some thought, he added:
“What does that mean–’tame’?” […]
“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. “It means to establish ties.”
“‘To establish ties’?”
“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world . . .”
“I am beginning to understand,” said the little prince. “There is a flower . . . I think that she has tamed me . . .” […]
“My life is very monotonous,” the fox said. “I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat… […]
Go and look again at the roses. You will understand now that yours is unique in all the world.”
There lies the secret: taming. When we tame each other nothing is the same anymore. How many hundreds of people travel with us in buses and subways? How many thousands do we cross down the street? It is intriguing to become aware that any of those strangers to whom we pay no attention, for whom we do not feel anything deep, could turn unique in all the world for us if we met them under other circumstances.
As a parallel to the puppy kennel, sometimes people just ‘happen’ to us –such as at work, at school, or during a trip- and some other times we selectively search for them. In every occasion, anyway, we choose to be tamed by very few. However… this still does not resolve who we choose. Might there be preexisting reasons why we select some and not others to tame and be tamed?
For those fond of believing that fate links people without our participating at all, the following idea may feel uncomfortable. But the truth is that we indeed do our part. We contribute with certain beforehand belief parameters under which we feel we can open to someone and allow them to tame us. Let’s notice how Saint-Exupéry does not leave this consideration aside: the little prince bumps into the fox, yes, in part thanks to this untackleable ‘fate’. But he ends up paying attention to it because… he finds him pretty! He talks to it because he likes it, and that promotes his curiosity and lowers his barriers. On the other side, the fox is looking for the sun, for music, for breaking monotony, for cheering up. Isn’t this a good enough reason to let go?
No matter which the motive, it always preexists within us before meeting that person. We carry expectations about what we want in a relationship, and that is what drives us to conclude if he/she deserves our investment. It makes us permeable. We may not be ‘looking for’ the love-of-our-life, but we are indeed ready to have a love-of-our-life with specific desirable features (whether they are explicit or not for our consciousness). We will allow the suitable candidate to tame us whenever we bump into him/her. Maybe we are proactively looking for (or simply receptive to) that special person who would remove us from routine, that friend who would go into adventure with us, that route partner who would help us discover things of ourselves that we did not know, that coach who would inspire us… We are open to a certain relationship quality, to a certain role.
How interesting it is to become aware of such predisposition! We could understand why we have picked that very particular someone in that specific moment of our lives. Is it really true that we do not choose who we fall in love with? Or else, we do provide our solid parameters? Don’t we feel we choose our friends anyhow?
In the end we will make, whether we realize it or not, that choice. That particular rose, fox, puppy or person who, no matter how long it lasts, will become unique in all the world.
- Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de (1943), The Little Prince; Emecé; Buenos Aires, 2009.