Charles came to me in a crisis. He was having one conflict after another with his parents, his girlfriend, and his coworkers.
Knowing that Charles was a mechanic by trade, I said, "Imagine that I brought my car in to your shop every 50,000 miles, complaining that it was broken and wouldn't drive anymore. What would you say to me?"
"Every 50,000 miles?" he said. "I'd say you were stupid. Your car is broken because you're not taking care of it regularly. You need to change the oil every 5,000 miles—along with doing a lot of other maintenance stuff—in order to keep the car running. If you don't do all that, it's very difficult for me to help you. Your car is guaranteed to break down."
"Good advice. And it's the same with you. You call me when things are all broken down. But by that time there's not much I can do. You do not do the regular maintenance. You don't call just to get loved by other men on a regular basis. You don't attend the Real Love group in your town. You don't keep reading about love and practicing those principles in your relationships. Then you break down—predictably—and you want me to help. Now, make no mistake, I want to help you, but it's pretty difficult when you neglect what you need."
It's entirely understandable that Charles didn't do his regular maintenance. He had an entire lifetime of exchanging Imitation Love. He was familiar with that, good at it. He knew how to get a "fix" from repairing cars, getting paid, having sex, drinking, and more. The results were fairly predictable. When he made phone calls, on the other hand, it was unfamiliar territory. He didn't know what to say. Having a conversation with another man didn't give him quite the immediate rewards of sex, for example. So he tended to neglect the steady work of finding and sharing Real Love.
But if we persist in our patterns of trading Imitation Love, we cannot get enough Real Love to genuinely fill up. And then when we encounter circumstances that are stressful—when only Real Love will help us—we'll be entirely unprepared. As Sun Tzu said, the battle is won before it's fought—in the preparation. The battle is also lost before it's fought. If we don't regularly get what we need—if we don't prepare—it will be too late when the crisis arrives.
If we want genuine lasting happiness, we must change our oil. We must practice being truthful. We must learn to find and give love, and then when the crises arrive, we will be far more prepared. We'll be able to easily handle events that would have crushed us previously. On occasion, even our best preparation will not be enough, but we'll still be learning the lessons that will help us in the future.
As found on the wall of the United States Military Academy at West Point, "The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war." Now is the time to sweat.