“What does tamed mean?”
“It’s something that’s been too often neglected. It means ‘to create ties’…”
“To create ties?”
“That’s right. For me you’re only a little boy just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you have no need of me, either. For you I’m only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, we’ll need each other. You’ll be the only boy in the world for me. I’ll be the only fox in the world for you…”
“I’m beginning to understand. There’s a flower… I think she’s tamed me…”
—Excerpt from The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
You’ve probably heard it a million times: “Oh, you’re so young, you don’t need to get married. Live a little first!”
The cultural pressure on 20-somethings to “live a little” can be overwhelming and even oddly convincing at times. Embracing society’s hook-up culture, not being beholden to anyone, and being able to do whatever you want looks quite appealing through the lens of social media.
It seems that for someone in their 20s, investing your free time in anything other than late night parties with friends, Tinder dates, and a work-hard-play-hard mindset is a waste of your best years. Sacrifice? Commitment? Why would you limit yourself when the possibilities are endless?
What about when, despite society’s expectations, people find themselves in a perfectly great relationship? They’ve made a commitment to dating each other…but many only commit that far, because, hey, anything can happen, right? Why totally tie themselves down when there might be someone just a little better waiting to be found?
I get it. I was in that very position for over two years while my wife and I were dating.
These days, with our seemingly infinite supply of connections through things like social media and dating sites, how could I know that my girlfriend at the time was really “The One”? I mean, sure we had been dating for a long time, but what if…? We were supposed to be “living a little” anyway, and a serious commitment might have gotten in the way of that.
I struggled with that dilemma despite being a guy who considers himself pretty counter-cultural. If you had asked me, I would have told you I wanted to be married at 21 without hesitation, but there I was at 27, dragging my feet with the woman of my dreams. Why?
Finally, on a flight to a business conference, I re-read a story from my college years — The Little Prince. It was the lessons from the fox to the Little Prince that finally pushed me to take responsibility and commit to the woman I loved. My flower.
The Rose, the Fox, and a lesson in friendship
The Little Prince has a rose on his little planet. He works tirelessly at pleasing her and protecting her from the dreaded baobab weeds that threaten to overgrow his planet. He covers her with a glass at night to protect her from the cold, he waters her, and he listens to her outlandish stories.
The Little Prince comes to love her dearly. He watched her grow from just a seed; she even blossomed for the first time at sunrise, his favorite time of the day. The rose, a boastful and dramatic character, claims to be the only one of her kind in all the universe! She is very special.
Then a long, dramatic adventure across the universe takes the Little Prince to Earth where he stumbles upon a large bed of roses — all of which look just like his rose back home. Saddened, he begins to cry because his beloved rose had lied to him; alas, she is not the only one of her kind in the entire universe.
As the Little Prince weeps, he is approached by a fox. The fox’s life is monotonous; he hunts chickens, and people hunt him. “All chickens are just alike, and all men are just alike.” So, he is rather bored.
“But,” the fox says, “if you tame me my life will be filled with sunshine.” The Little Prince agreed, and through the experience of taming the fox, the Little Prince learns that true friendship requires patience and sacrifice. He comes to discover that, “One sees clearly only with the heart.…anything essential is invisible to the eyes.” Enlightened, he is able to look at the bed of strange roses with a fresh perspective:
“You’re not at all like my rose. You’re nothing at all yet. No one has tamed you and you haven’t tamed anyone. You’re the way my fox was. He was just a fox like a hundred thousand others. But I’ve made him my friend, and now he’s the only fox in all the world.”
As it turned out, his rose was not lying. The Little Prince couldn’t see that at first, because he was looking only with his eyes and not with his heart. Indeed, she was the only rose for him.
Why? Because the Little Prince protected her from the baobab weeds, watched her grow from a seed, watered her, and listened to her stories. The Little Prince had come to love her, and she loved him.
A fresh perspective
Real talk — there may be some absolutely gorgeous girl out there who is really cool and shares your same interests, but I’m willing to bet she hasn’t made you chicken noodle soup when you were sick. You’ve probably never surprised her at work with flowers and chocolate to ease her sadness when her pet died either.
Gentlemen, you know that super attractive girl you’re following on Instagram? Did she ever handwrite 25 things she loves about you on sticky notes, and leave them around your apartment on your 25th birthday? Have you ever sat through one of her family reunions, because you knew it was important to her?
It’s the time you spend with your significant other that makes him/her special. It’s not worth it to abandon your hard work for a fleeting bed of strange roses.
All of those “what ifs” are just like the bed of roses: “lovely, but empty.”
Of course, my wife, to an ordinary passerby, would likely appear no different than any other woman, just like the bed of roses. Yet, to me, she is more important than all of the women and roses in the world, because she’s the one I’ve come to love, and the one with whom I’ve grown and spent valuable time.
As I’ve come to realize, she is the only woman for me. She is my rose.
So many relationships go on and on with no true end in sight — and by “end,” I mean purpose. If, like I was, you are in a happy and healthy relationship, consider how fortunate you are to have such a friend.
Are you really going to start over? It’s impossible to re-create those unique and wonderful experiences that you’ve shared together. Consider the final two lessons from the fox: “It’s the time you spend on your rose that makes your rose so important… You’re responsible for your rose.”
I took on the responsibility of caring for my rose by asking her to marry me. I couldn’t be happier.
*Author’s Note: I highly recommend that interested readers do not watch the movie from 2015. First, read the book. There are subtle but very important differences in the characters and portrayal of characters, ones which alter important themes of The Little Prince. In short, the movie portrays the adults as the ones who understand the essence of things — thus equivocating essentialism with evil. This creates a false dichotomy between the serious world of adults (essence) and the frivolous world of children (romantic). In the book, the author conveys that essence is a good thing, and it is something that a good philosopher, as he matures, begins to understand. The book recognizes that both the pilot (adults) and the Little Prince (children) have serious issues, which need to be resolved.