Q. I am in a long-term relationship, and have a great job, and am completing my bachelor’s degree. Recently I have realized I need to live the way I see best for the planet. So I am going vegetarian with an eventual goal of being vegan. The idealist in me would also love to pack up and leave the city (I love being in the woods and seeing stars at night), but the realist in me knows that I can’t do that. There are other people involved.
It’s been difficult on my partner, and I’m trying to be patient, but I know that I need to lead the most sustainable life possible. Do you have any recommendations on how best to make the transition to such a lifestyle without completely grumptarding my relationship?
New York, N.Y.
A. Dearest EnviroSpence,
I certainly do have some thoughts for you. But first, you’re going to have to define the term “grumptarding” for me. I presume it’s a rough synonym for “ruining”?
It sounds as if you have a lot going on in your life right now, EnviroSpence — love, work, school, plus a cocoon of environmental awareness about to become a beautiful butterfly of sustainable values. But, if I’m understanding the essence of your plight correctly, your newfound eco-conscience is causing some romantic friction. You don’t say so outright, but I suspect the problem boils down to this: Your partner is not as gung-ho as you are, and you’re freaking him/her out.
Let’s try an exercise. Imagine your long-term partner develops an ardor for, say, jam bands. You might not have anything against jam bands per se, but you’re not that into them, either. But your partner is suddenly obsessed: He/she plays them constantly, infuses your home with the scent of patchouli, quits a job to follow a favorite band around the country. In this example, might you find yourself a little freaked out, too?
Now imagine your partner starts lecturing you about the superiority of 30-minute guitar solos, or demanding that you, too, dress in tie-dye. How might that make you feel?
I say this not to suggest environmentalist values are equal to a penchant for the Grateful Dead. Nor am I assuming that you are forcefully imposing your newfound values on your partner. But it’s a useful exercise in empathy, and I hope it gives you a bit of insight into how your partner feels as we dive into your question.
You’ve heard this before, EnviroSpence, but it bears repeating: Partners don’t have to agree on everything. That would be boring. Besides, one of the lovely things about falling in love is that your partner can introduce you to a whole new world of his/her interests, goals, and values. The good news is that you are in a prime position to influence your main squeeze in all kinds of positive ways, from what you two eat to what causes you support together.
But — and it’s a big but — this only works if you two respect and accept each other for who you are, not the Fantasy Boy/Girlfriend you may desire. This includes respecting your partner’s right to think differently. Your honey should not get in the way of you following your environmental star, but nor should you try to force your honey to adopt your evolving values. In other words: You can lead someone to the vegan tofu scramble, but you can’t make him eat it.
You and your sweetie have been together for a while, EnviroSpence, and it sounds like you want this crazy thing called love to work out between you, yes? Then approach your sustainable choices in an open, nonjudgmental way. Explain why you want to put a worm bin in your closet, banish meat from the fridge, ride bikes to your movie date, whatever it may be — then ask for your partner’s feedback. How willing is he/she to try some of these steps with you? After all, part of lasting love is being open to what matters to your other half.
Compromise is another big part. So, using the vegan example: If swearing off animal products is not going to fly with your beloved, you two will need to hash out some boundaries. Is he/she OK with trying vegan dinners a few times a week? Are you OK with meat in the house? Can you deal if your beau drinks milk in your presence? Vegan/nonvegan relationships can and do thrive (just ask PETA), but both people need to be respectful about it. That means no shrieking “Meat is murder!” if you catch him/her narfing on a hot dog, no matter how much you might want to.
You two will also need to find common ground, literally, in deciding where to live. It sounds like there’s a lot of good happening in NYC for you right now, and remember that city living can often be much more sustainable than a country mouse existence. But if you really need to get out of the city, it has to work for your partner, too — jobwise, family-wise, and personality-wise.
All that said, respect and acceptance can only go so far. If you and your partner find your values are diverging sharply, it might be best to make a clean break. It will be tough, but it’s the only way to find someone who’s genuinely excited to live the eco-friendly life with you, and for your partner to meet someone who’s psyched to split the driving on the way to Bonnaroo (so to speak).