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How to Tell if a Friend or Partner Is a Leaf, a Tree, or a Root

It is important to know who will weather life's storms with you.

Key points

  • Ask whether your friend- or partner-candidate is a leaf, branch, or root person?
  • Leaf people enter your life for only a season and are there to take what they need and may offer some shade.
  • Branch people can stay beyond a single season but break away when there's added weight or a storm.
  • Root people provide support and nourishment through all kinds of storms.
Photo by Jeremy Bishop/Pexels
In your tree of life, it is important to determine who the leaves, branches, and roots are.
Source: Photo by Jeremy Bishop/Pexels

When the going gets tough, will your friend or partner (whether romantic or professional) leave? Will that person branch at adversity? Or will he or she stay rooted with you? That's a big question, because leaves in your life are a dime a dozen, branches are common, but roots are a lot rarer and should be cherished.

You'll find a number of posts or even some tree-tises on social media and other parts of the Internet using this parts-of-a-tree metaphor to describe the different types of people you'll encounter in your life. A friend shared an Instagram post relaying this concept with me recently. The post essentially divided people into the following three categories:

  • Leaf People: These are people who enter your life for only a season. Do not depend or count on them, since their attachment to you is fairly weak and they fall away once things get windy or turn cold. They may offer shade for a little while but are there mainly to take what they need from you. It doesn't necessarily make them bad people. But they just aren't willing or capable of staying by your side through thick and thin. Don't expect to form real lasting relationships with these people.
  • Branch People: Unlike leaves, branches can stay well beyond a single season. Their attachment to you is certainly stronger than flaky leaves. But that apparent strength can be deceptive. When things remain calm (for example, if you keep giving to and nurturing them), they can actually stay connected to you through multiple seasons. However, when there's added weight or a real storm, such branches can readily and quickly break and fall away. In fact, such breaks can occur with surprising rapidity. A multi-year relationship can break apart within just a week or so. Like leaves, branches aren't necessarily bad people. They can even believe (or be-leave) that they are more than just leaves or more than branches. However, when the pressure comes, they may not be able to handle it. Or want to handle it. Don't choose branch people to form close long-term higher-stake partnerships such as marriage or founding a business with. You never know when they may just get up and leave.
  • Root People: Oh my goodness. If you have found yourself a root person, consider yourself lucky and cherish him or her. These people are there for the long haul, through thick and thin, through all kinds of weight and storms. They are strong themselves, willing and able to support you whenever and however. It's not easy finding such people because they are rare and tend to stay hidden beneath the ground like the roots of a tree. Root people rarely will tell you that they are root people, since they are content remaining beneath the surface while providing you with nourishment and other things needed to keep you upright. You don't hear the roots of a tree saying, "Look at me. Look at me. I am great at supporting a tree." These are the people who are your lifelong friends and your confidantes. These are the people whom you marry, start businesses with, or do anything with where there will be the need to weather storms.

How do you tell whether someone is a leaf, branch, or root person? See what they do rather than listen to what they say. Lots of people will tell you that they have grit and determination. But how many people can truly stick by you throughout the winter or a real storm of adversity? Sure, when you are the one being patient and nurturing towards the other person, it's easy for a leaf or a branch to remain attached to you, just like branches can remain attached to a tree inside a greenhouse. But what if you get caught up in a downpour yourself? Such downpours can really wash away the pretenders.

Photo by Dziana Hasanbekava/Pexels
A storm or the Winter cold can leave you with nothing but your roots.
Source: Photo by Dziana Hasanbekava/Pexels

This is a big reason why adversity can be a hidden gift. It can serve as a big reveal. Before a storm, leaves and branches may have claimed to be roots and may have even believed their own hype. However, a little wind can be a big blow to the leaves in your life.

While the leaves scatter quickly, the branches initially may do what's needed but, after a little while, won't or can't bear the weight, despite what they may have claimed or thought. In fact, when the going gets tougher, branches can even start blaming you, the trunk, for their breaking, which is some real junk in the trunk.

It can feel very disappointing and even devastating to find out that people are leaves or branches when you had higher hopes such as entering a long-term commitment with them. But consider yourself lucky that you didn't find out even later. Think about how much worse it could have been if you had gotten married to, had children with, or started a business with that person. Or if you had continued on such paths even longer.

After a storm rages for a while, what will remain attached are the root people, those who truly stand by you. And when you still have roots, you can always grow new branches and leaves once the storm passes.

Now a leaf or a branch may claim that they can be a root as long as you give them such-and-such. These aren't real roots. Roots don't make excuses. They find ways to remain supportive; they are truly rooting for you, wanting you to do well.

The silver lining behind any storm is that it is a big reveal. And the best reveal is the people left rooting for you. During the darkest hours, your roots are what can keep you upright until the sun finally comes out again.

Facebook image: Gajus/Shutterstock

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