Tolkien’s chief wizard is emotional, wise, and powerful. Although aloof and at times a little arrogant, Gandalf possesses a deep insight and knowledge about the people around him. Magic isn’t the only thing he’s a wizard at. He’s superb at time management and work-life balance, having the emotional bandwidth to do things like tell gigantic flaming demons they cannot pass (seriously, Balrog, what were you thinking?) and yet still finding the time to relax and drag on a pipe of halflings’ leaf. Self-care, Lord of the Rings style.
And if that weren’t enough, Gandalf sometimes also gives some really good relationship advice. You know, in between battling the forces of evil and trying to protect those who would save the world.
Here are 10 times that Gandalf gave excellent relationship advice.
Frodo: I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, besides the will of evil.
When things go wrong due to circumstances beyond our control, frustration is an understandable response. But once we’ve honored that emotion and accepted it as our natural response, it’s best not to linger too long on that which we cannot change and instead try to find the ways that we can be effective.
It’s easy in times of despair to get stuck in a rut. To only see the closed off paths and avenues. And to ignore the possibilities that are still open to us. This is sometimes also known as functional fixedness. Essentially, functional fixedness is a very common tendency to only use something the way that it’s traditionally used. When given a problem and a set of tools, we’ll default to treating objects the same way that we’re used to seeing them treated.
Which is sensible… most of the time. However, novel problems often require novel solutions.
The trouble is that human beings always have a tendency to gravitate towards what we know and are comfortable with. This isn’t some kind of personal failing. It’s instead a standard part of how humans tend to operate at default. We tend to interpret new evidence as confirming our preexisting beliefs. And we often ignore information that would contradict them. Scientists call this confirmation bias.
Given all of this, it’s important to check yourself before you wreck yourself and whenever possible to ask yourself, “What am I not seeing?”
This can be particularly difficult during dark times — and unfortunately dark times are often when you need creative problem-solving skills the most.
Thankfully, Gandalf has more advice on how to bridge that gap in the next point.
2. “When the heart wants lifting, think of pleasant things.”
It’s interesting. Sometimes people think that you need to stress yourself to achieve optimal results. But researchers who study productivity have consistently found that this is absolutely not the case, especially when it comes to solving complex problems (which relationship issues and other social conflicts usually are). Instead, Yerkes-Dodson famously found that a little stress is fine but that too much stress makes us terribly unproductive and ineffective (we typically narrow our field down to one or two simple solutions, ignoring the rest of the entire array of possibilities, where the optimal course of action may very well lie). It’s difficult to do anything well if you’re too keyed up.
A touch of encouragement and a positive mood can really help to nullify this effect.
It can be very difficult to get out of those negative thinking patterns without help, but many people have found that laughter can be extremely helpful in these situations. One adorable study also found that viewing pictures of baby animals enhanced people’s problem-solving abilities.
Sometimes it can be difficult to seek out these things when you’re already feeling bad, so it’s helpful if you can make up a stash of funny or uplifting images that you can turn to in times of lower mood. This can be a physical album that you keep in, a cache of files you store on a device or cloud, or even a list of bookmarks to forums or pages that you can turn to when you’re feeling blue that consistently post uplifting content.
3. “I will not say do not weep, for not all tears are an evil.”
That said, there is a time and place for sadness and dark emotions.
Feelings are never right or wrong. They just are. You get to feel what you feel.
Now, when we take actions based on our feelings, whatever they are, we are accountable for those.
So if we cut someone out of our life, angrily explode and destroy property, tell someone off, or whatever it is we decide to do, we are on the hook for whatever outcome those actions cause.
Sometimes our feelings will push us in ways that cause us to act unproductively or in a way that actually backfires, making it harder to achieve what we actually want.
So just because feelings aren’t wrong doesn’t mean that those emotions can’t push us to do things that have really undesirable outcomes. And when that happens, we have to live with them.
But the feelings themselves aren’t wrong. They just are.
It’s incredibly difficult, verging on impossible, to make yourself feel a way you don’t feel. But actions are much easier to control. As Pearl Buck famously said, “You cannot make yourself feel something you do not feel, but you can make yourself do right in spite of your feelings.”
And sometimes you may need to cry it out. There’s nothing wrong with that.
4. “Even the very wise cannot see all ends.”
As nice as that would be, to be able to see every potential outcome, there are always things that can crop up that we didn’t account for. That we didn’t know would happen. Life is unpredictable. Relationships can be as well.
Part of learning to manage relationships well isn’t necessarily being able to see and plan for every eventuality but to be able to respond well to unexpected occurrences. And to know that you have the resilience to rebound from any missteps. Experience is the best teacher, and it’s often better to understand that you’re likely to make a few mistakes in any new venture. That way you can hopefully beat yourself up less when they happen and instead take that energy into trying to learn as much as you can from them.
5. “Don’t be a fool, Mr. Baggins, if you can help it.”
That said, inexperience isn’t a license to throw all caution to the wind. Take pains to exercise reasonable caution and learn as much as you can before setting out. Some of the lessons you read won’t make much sense to you until you’re on the path, but if you’ve at least looked over them, you’ll be better able to apply and learn from the lessons you encounter on the road.
6. “The treacherous are ever distrustful.”
Sometimes it can be difficult when setting out with a new party to figure out who is friend or foe. One tell: The most suspicious people are often deeply conflicted within themselves as well. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are treacherous — people can have internal unrest for a variety of reasons.
But those who don’t trust themselves often don’t trust anyone else.
And when someone doesn’t trust themselves, that bears a bit of caution.
7. “I am looking for someone to share in an adventure.”
So much of relationship and emotional work can seem like drudgery, especially if you let it be. Make sure not to lose your sense of adventure, whimsy, or fun when preparing to make a trip safe.
I’ve found that there are opportunities to have fun at even the most emotionally laden times, if we only just use a bit of creativity. For example, one partner and I made our commitment to relationship check-ins a bit more fun by taking a wine pledge together. Essentially, at the time we opened up, we subscribed to a service that brought us four bottles of wine every month. We made the commitment to drink those four bottles together. If we simply couldn’t make that time for one another, we’d know we were doing something wrong and that it needed to change.
Plus, this partner and I have a tendency to try to “out-nice” each other a bit, and in our consideration for one another’s feelings, we can tiptoe around issues to the point where nothing gets said.
Wine had multiple purposes here — first, it turned us both into Stage 5 blurters so that the truth was even spoken, and second, it dulled the sting of whatever unpleasant thing was said.
And it frankly made the whole thing a lot more fun.
In general, I look for ways to maximize freedom and fun — for everyone involved and not just me (because I find that unfairness kills fun dead in the face, in the face) — while greatly increasing the odds we all get safely home.
8. “However it may prove, one must tread the path that need chooses!”
It would be nice if we always got to solve the problems we wanted to have instead of the ones that choose us. A lot of relationship advice that sounds good in theory but is utterly useless in practice starts from a well-meaning place but doesn’t really interface with reality. A few common examples:
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. Okay, but that’s pretty vague…. Umm… How? And what do you do if the other person doesn’t communicate well back and doesn’t want to work on it (or even acknowledge that there’s anything they need to work on)? You can’t communicate well enough for two (or more) people. It doesn’t work that way.
- Don’t compare. Okay, sounds nice, but easier said than done. Humans are social animals. And social referencing is an important part of how we even work. Which sometimes includes social comparisons. Even if to do so is emotionally damaging or distressing. It can be reworked with time and practice (and the exact nature of that practice really depends on what exactly is being compared and how those comparisons are being framed), but “don’t compare” isn’t exactly helpful.
In real life, where any relationship advice must ultimately be applied, we are frequently not dealing with ideal situations. Therefore, the solutions you read particularly in more idealistic advice may very well not work in your particular situation.
And you may instead find yourself down a slightly different path than what the “experts” said was the “right” one.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you are on the wrong path, however.
Sometimes, need forces you into a bit of a detour, and when that happens, it’s important to know that the territory is vast and not every area is yet charted. True, you might be lost. But you also might not. For all you know, you’re a trailblazer. An explorer.
9. “Home is now behind you, the world is ahead!”
I’m personally a person who remembers and thinks about the past often. But just like most everything else, there’s a balance. Whatever is going on in your love life, it’s important not to let the past overshadow the present. To be able to really experience life as you’re living it now rather than being stuck on where you just were.
If you’re having an open or polyamorous relationship for the first time, it can be tempting to fall back on what was comfortable to you in monogamous ones. Pretty much everybody does it (even if they don’t remember or admit it later), especially at the beginning. You may find that you are constantly fighting maladaptive beliefs about romantic and sexual relationships that you internalized without ever realizing it.
And it can be as overwhelming as it is freeing. Once you move away from the standard template of what romantic relationships are supposed to be, how things are supposed to progress from stage to stage (the relationship escalator), there’s a dizzying variety to the types of connections we can actually forge with people.
It’s always remarkable to watch people relatively new to polyamory come to this conclusion. Some of them have a very hard time accepting it. They may reach a certain place with a partner where things are comfortable but not “progressing” to a more serious entanglement, and it confuses them. Further complicating the picture for some is that they don’t necessarily mind that things are “stuck.”
But they aren’t necessarily stuck. Rather than products stamped out on an assembly line, relationships are custom jobs.
However, we’re raised to believe that they all follow a particular pattern. When you start a relationship, you step on a relationship escalator and magically progress to the top. It’s clear-cut, straightforward, uniform. It’s not true — and non-monogamists aren’t bound by the relationship escalator and have a wide variety of options (solo polyamorists spring immediately to mind).
You don’t have to take the escalator on the road with you (it’s frankly kind of heavy to carry very far). And some of the most beautiful territories are where there are no roads, let alone escalators.
10. “You can learn all there is to know about their ways in a month, and yet after a hundred years they can still surprise you.”
There are always new things to learn — about life, love, and the people around you.
Remembering that will go a long way in helping you find the newness in your older relationships and making sure that you embrace new lessons as you encounter them rather than growing frustrated with yourself for not knowing everything there is to know.