Going Green, Breaking Up?

No one’s version of green looks exactly the same as anyone else’s. If you’re in a relationship, even with another greenie, this simple fact will inevitably cause some conflict. The further you take it (about plastic, consuming, animal products, etc.), the more conflict you’re likely to experience.

I’m lucky to have a spouse who was donating to Greenpeace while I was still in my environmentalists-are-yuppie-yoga-Whole-Foods-prats phase. Even so, we definitely don’t share all the same interests, ideals, or priorities even within our shared concern for the planet and our shared lives.

Case in point: bananas and chocolate. Kevin is a banana fan. Just about every day, he either has one for/with breakfast or takes one to work with him. They’ve been a staple in his diet for years, and I’m not actually sure what he would eat for breakfast if they went extinct.

Me, I find bananas kind of boring. They’re one of few fruits that don’t grow in California, they have to be transported long distances, and even the organic ones are pretty bad for biodiversity and farmers in the developing world. Since they’re picked green and then gassed, they don’t even taste very good, especially compared to the tiny, tree-ripened apple bananas we had in Hawaii. Give me instead the heady perfume of a May strawberry, the sensuous ooze of a ripe white peach in the heat of July, the sharp snap of my first bite into a crimson fall apple. If it’s not perfectly ripe, delicious, and downright sexy, it’s not worth the carbon footprint. Sorry, bananas.

However. Every criticism I could make against bananas could be as easily applied to chocolate and tea, two things I would be very reluctant to give up. Kevin has said before that he’s not giving up bananas until I give up chocolate. We both know neither will happen. Chocolate and bananas are both environmental compromises; they just don’t happen to be the  same compromises. And it’s not worth nagging each other about them, because everyone’s green choices (and compromises) are a little different.

Like anything else we’re passionate about, green impacts our relationships — some more than others. Kevin and I are unlikely to divorce over bananas, but then, we’re on (basically) the same page. What about when one partner is significantly more invested in sustainability than the other? How do you stay patient, respectful, tolerant, non-judgmental, leading-by-example-ish 24/7?

I mean, it’s not exactly easy even with other people. My usual tactic with my parents or the odd not-very-green-friend (wait, do I have any of those?) is to silently hold out reusable bags when they need them and be grateful I don’t have to deal with it all the time. I occasionally bring up topics that concern their health or save them money, because that’s as much as they are receptive to.  But I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to zip things up that tidily in my closest relationship.

I’m curious how going green has affected your relationships, whether you’re with another greenie or someone who rolls his eyes every time you bring it up. Has it harmed or helped your relationship? Or did you / would you choose a partner based on shared environmental views?

20 responses to this post.

  1. Hey Jennifer,

    I had an interesting conversation last fall with my brother-in-law about recycling and all the plastic in the ocean. He’s always been antagonistic to my green views, but he surprised me by agreeing with the idea that there are too many people on the planet and that we need to do more to protect nature. Now this comes from him hating the crazy housing developments around his older neighborhood & the number of subdivisions that have replaced open space, but I find his response encouraging.

    I hope that as things get worse in the climate / environment, there’ll be fewer points of divergence, less tension, more unified effort to solve these problems, perhaps for entirely different motivations.

    (In my house, we gave up all plastic bags/food storage but my husband can’t part with candybars or granolabars (and their attendant wrappers) and I’ve struggled to give up frozen veggies (in plastic wrapping).)

    Thanks!
    Jen

    Reply

    • Hi Jen!
      That is definitely an encouraging response. I’m often surprised at the intersections between different movements — I’ve started reading some minimalist blogs out of an environmental impetus to reduce my consumption, and I know a lot of people come to the green movement from very different angles. But I wonder: are humans even capable of agreeing on the big picture when there are so many little things to bicker about? I sure hope so.

      Kevin and I are split along similar lines. I don’t usually go for granola bars or individually wrapped things, but I’d be hard pressed to give up my bags of frozen butternut squash, broccoli, artichoke hearts, and the other frozen veggies that allow me to be lazy and not plan ahead for meals.

      Reply

  2. One of my habits that I have not been able to go green with yet, is long hot showers. Sigh.
    I do find that my circle of friends is very ‘green’ and when I come up against someone that is not, I remember what a protective bubble I have placed myself in. Very good arttice in terms of getting me to think about what I could go even greener with and what I refuse to budge on, like my shower.

    Reply

    • Hi Lisa,
      I hear you on the long, hot showers! It’s easier now that the weather has turned so much warmer, but in the winter, it’s a wrench to shut off the flow of hot water. I found that the easiest way for me to cut my showers short was to be running a few minutes late. If I left myself only 15 minutes to shower, dress, and get out of the house, you can bet the water was off in under 5 minutes! But even if you’re not willing to do that, I think it’s perfectly OK to find another (easier) area of your life to work on.

      Reply

  3. When we first got together, I didn’t realize that Marc and I share so many values, but I guess that’s why we’re still together after all of these years! I think I bring out the environmentalist and social justice crusader in him. I don’t believe I’ve had to do much direct convincing about local food free of chemicals and a long commute tasting better, and because of his science education he’s all too aware of the dangers of dirty energy, vehicle emissions, the overuse of plastics and other synthetics, etc. I let him off easy on his green vices because I know I have my own, and vice versa. It’s pretty harmonious, or rather, when we argue, it’s about other stuff!!!

    Reply

    • Hi Andrea!
      That is definitely encouraging to hear. Maybe you’re better about not nitpicking than I am. (I admit that Kevin’s retort about my chocolate habit was in direct response to my needling him about his banana eating.) Kevin doesn’t let me get away with much hypocrisy. Overall, though, I feel like a little needling, a little pressure here and there between us gets us both to try harder. It’s much harder with people who don’t feel strongly about the environment, like my parents — I think they’d be much more defensive if I started needling or even offering green alternatives to everything they’ve been doing for years.

      Reply

  4. Jennifer,

    This is a great topic! I’ve moved more into simplicity and green living than my husband, probably because of my environmental sensitivities, but he cares and he’s leaning more in this direction. He also puts out enormous energy to be sure products we use are safe for me. I think the best approach is to be patient and non-judgmental. It’s important to remember that green wasn’t always my priority either and that everyone evolves at their own speed. I don’t think it helps to create anger and tension over being green. That’s toxic too. Of course, we all slide there sometimes, but we can try to be mindful about not staying there. I focus on my own choices.

    Reply

    • Hi Sandra,
      As always, you’re the voice of grace and reason.🙂 Of course it would be ideal to focus on our own choices; it’s just that much harder when you’re living with someone who makes very different ones! I think it’s a great idea to keep in mind our not-so-distant-pasts when we shrugged off the green movement as alarmist, irrelevant, or just plain uninteresting.

      Reply

  5. CatMan and I have definitely struggled with this one. His basic premise is that there has to be something in it for him… like saving money or making life easier and more comfortable or else he’s not interested. He figures that by not having kids he’s doing more than his fair share. To be clear, we both live very green lives… he just doesn’t see the point of killing oneself to try to get from the 90th percentile to the 95th percentile in terms of green living.

    He also accuses me of using my “crazy green shit” as something to focus on and get worked up about so that I don’t have to face other emotions and issues in my life. To a certain extent he has a point. So lately I’ve really been trying to find the “sweet spot” and focus on making changes that make my life better in addition to making the planet healthier.

    Reply

    • Hi EcoCatLady,
      My parents have that attitude, too. To be fair, it’s helped them to keep some pretty green habits. I grew up with line dried clothing (lower energy bills), home cooked meals (restaurants are expensive), and other things that I rejected for a while and then came back to for green reasons. I don’t think CatMan’s attitude is unreasonable; I know there are things I wouldn’t be willing to do to make that 95th (hah, who am I kidding?) percentile.

      I am so intrigued by his second point and I wonder if directing my emotional energy towards something abstract like the planet allows me to slither out of dealing with my own stuff. Actually, the more I think about it, the more that sounds exactly like me. I started getting fired up about the environment at a time in which I was extremely emotionally vulnerable. Instead of finding religion, I found environmentalism. Hmm…I’m going to have to think about this some more. Thanks for giving me something new to chew on!

      Reply

  6. I mostly focus on myself and try not to be preachy towards my bf. Of course there are things about him I would love to change, but then again there are still things about me I would love to change. So I let him be for the most part, and he’s on board with all the changes I want to make, so that’s the most I feel I can ask for. As long as he shows an interest and sincere desire to be greener, I’m happy.

    Reply

    • Hi Lynn,
      It sounds like you’ve worked out a harmonious solution. That’s great that he’s open to the changes you suggest. Defensiveness is so much harder to work with, and once someone has started to feel defensive about an issue, it’s hard to get him off that track. I think it helps to start with the small changes — no composting toilets (yet!) or solar ovens. I’m not even sure I would be good with a composting toilet…

      Reply

  7. This is a touchy subject. My husband lives a pretty green lifestyle, much greener than me for many years. But the fact that I have turned over this new leaf recently and changed so many things so fast, has thrown him for a loop. He is not a big fan of change. The worst was turning down the thermostat in the winter – I thought it was reasonable to just wear a warm sweater, he thought it was wrong to always feel cold in your own house. We literally would have climate wars where I would turn it down, he would turn it up, I would sneak it down, he would CRANK it up, so I would CRANK it down. It was dumb. Sometimes his reluctance to make his own small sacrifices (like wearing a sweater or using our gazillion reusable bags or turning off lights) shakes my foundation of hope that we can change the world. It is like he represents the world or something. If he won’t change – how can I believe everybody else will? Granted, he does compost now. Who knows, maybe there is hope afterall. 🙂

    Reply

    • Hi Sherry,
      You’ve mentioned how quickly you started making big changes before, and I’m full of admiration. At the same time, I think I would probably be reacting like your husband and digging in my heels — I hate sudden changes to my routine, and it sounds like you threw a bunch of them at your husband! Maybe you could compromise on a temperature for the thermostat, or set it lower when he’s away and then turn it up when he gets home? And (this works for kids, anyway) maybe lots of praise when he does remember to do something green would help ease his defensive attitude?

      Reply

  8. It’s funny, this also applies to me recently instituted diet change. Luckily, my husband is incredibly supportive and just went along with it when I cam home with a laundry ball, a menstrual cup and refused to clean with anything besides vinegar and baking soda.

    Reply

    • Hey Sarah,
      It’s great to hear that so many spouses are being supportive and accepting changes. (You didn’t even get a raised eyebrow with the Diva cup? Wow!) My blog readership seems to be primarily female, so I’m curious if there are many couples in which the guy is more into green than the girl and how that plays out. Then again, I’m not sure how relevant gender is in caring about the environment, so maybe I shouldn’t go down that road!

      Reply

  9. Hi Jennifer,

    I have had this issue come up in my marriage. It cropped up when we first started living together and again earlier this year when I really decided to let my green out of the closet.

    In theory, my partner is all for it. But this changes as soon as there’s an inconvenience posed, and the challenge to our relationship has proven significant. What I find interesting though, is that the challenge is not about the green per se, but about communicating. We have always been a weak couple in the realm of communication–heartbreaking to me as a female, but true.

    I think I’ll have more to say on this and will probably post about the challenges at some future point. For now, the issues we’re facing are so intense and raw that they’re not post-able just yet.

    Great topic!

    Reply

    • Hi Steph,

      I’m sorry to hear that. I think a lot of people do get pretty defensive when asked to move out of their comfort zone, and green changes most often take place at home, which is the comfort zone of comfort zones! I am also not a great communicator (I like words, but I find that I use them to slither around anything too close to the heart), so it’s a very good thing Kevin and I are mostly on the same page when it comes to trying new, greener solutions.

      I look forward to reading about how you deal and adapt!

      Reply

  10. Posted by Jamie on 07/11/2012 at 06:54

    I think it is important to show others why is the green lifestyle so important. Only when our friends see it really is reasonable, there is a chance that they will change their ways. Therefore it is good to know, what consequences it may have, when not living green. However there is always risk, that we will never give up long and hot showers🙂

    Reply

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