Love Succs: or, how tending succulents taught me to seek the love I deserved
I always thought of myself as having a brown thumb. I had tried to care for plants for most of my life, but usually I would get distracted, forget to water them for weeks then overwater them to compensate, until my plants were rotten or dried out. I would try time and time again, with all different kinds of plants — African violets, jade plants, Venus flytraps, herbs — but I just repeatedly failed, and eventually just figured that I wasn’t meant to grow plants.
A couple of years ago, though, I became obsessed with succulents. Initially, I was attracted to them because they seemed “easy” — they didn’t need much water, and many succulents thrived with a certain amount of neglect, or so I thought. They were also trendy, so it wasn’t too difficult to find fun varieties and plenty of care guides. I got some pots, set up a hanging shelf set in my window, and planted a bunch of different succulents, hoping this time I was actually capable of keeping them alive.
I’ll be honest- not all of the first lot survived. While succulents had a bit of a reputation for being pretty easy to care for, each one needed very specific things, and I had to learn to check in with my plants every day. I couldn’t just glance at them, either — I had to touch the leaves, feel how firm they were, get a sense for what each plant wanted. Sometimes I got it wrong, and I’d have to trim the plant back, or save a couple leaves, and start over from scratch.
I didn’t give up though. I read more, I practiced more, I learned a rhythm of attention that worked for each plant. I got more confident, and took on other plants. Eventually, I was helping friends with their ailing plants as well. I still don’t get it right every time — I have a couple of plants right now I’m troubleshooting issues with — but now I ask for help, and I try things, and I adjust, and I keep going. I don’t just give up anymore.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot as it pertains to relationships. I’ve been told for years that I’m too high maintenance, like an orchid, that I’m too finicky and too difficult. I believed men when they told me that, that my feelings were too extreme and too often and just “too much”. I felt guilty that I was a burden on my partners, and ashamed that I was someone who apparently required too much round the clock care.
In response, I tried to be the opposite of that, something like an air plant, which only needs to be soaked once a month to stay alive. I tried to make myself capable of very little attention, pull inside myself so I didn’t droop so readily when my partner forgot about me, or withdrew their attention. I learned to live with very little sunlight.
But the fact is, that way of living didn’t help me thrive. Sure, I could survive with that, but it wasn’t good for me. While I didn’t actually need a daily misting, I did need to be cared for more than once a month if I wanted to feel loved.
I thought for a long time that making myself need as little as possible from a partner was being a Good Girlfriend. That I should pare down my asks from a partner to the bare minimum so I wasn’t weighing heavily on them. I tried to make myself an air plant, so that if I was neglected it wouldn’t sting so badly. But through caring for my plants, I realized that I, too, deserved that kind of attention and care.
Now, I think of myself in a relationship as more of a succulent. I don’t need a huge amount of time and attention every day. I’m pretty happy on my own! But I do want to be with someone who enjoys puttering about, checking my leaves to see if I need more water or more sunlight. I want to be with someone who enjoys my presence… rather than someone who resents that I need care at all. There may be an adjustment period where we work out what kind of succulent I am, and what kind of attention I really thrive in.
There are a lot of people who feel they could handle growing succulents because they’re easy. And it’s true, they can put up with a lot. But they still need care, some varieties need pretty specific care. You have to get to know them so you can recognize when they need a little more water or a little less sunlight. And the more aware you are of the nuances, the healthier your plant will be. The more it will thrive.
I know that in my next relationship, I want to be treasured — not as a possession, but as a fellow living thing. I don’t want to make myself small, to make do with the bare minimum. I want to blossom.