If this reads a little bit like a love letter to my husband, well, maybe it is. I couldn’t help but think of him when I read last week’s New York Times article on the increase in marital disputes over environmental concerns.
In the caveats connected to giving up my dishwasher, I mentioned that my marriage is worth more to me than hand washing dishes. Relationships can be difficult. Balancing the needs, desires and, in all honesty, egos of two people who may or may not be very much alike is complicated. Military deployments are hard on people, and hard on marriages. I won’t wage a war over hand washing dishes.
In many ways, my husband and I come from different worlds. We have things in common, but sometimes I wonder if the differences are greater than the similarities. The path to where we are now was fast. I think my family is still reeling. I know I am. As a result, there is still much that we do not know about each other (although I often feel he knows me far better than I know him).
National Geographic explorer Wade Davis gave this phenomenal TED talk on endangered indigenous cultures. One of the things he discusses is that different cultures actually represent alternate ways of being in the world. Our cultures define not only who we are, but also our relationship with the world around us, and we create our realities in accordance with that relationship.
Fundamentally, conscious and sustainable living movements address our ways of being in the world. That is where we find the greatest risk for conflict within domestic partnership. It’s not an argument about the dishwasher or reusable water bottles, or any of those conflicts that seem so small to outside observers. This isn’t roommates arguing over what temperature to set the thermostat. This is made of far scarier stuff.
These conflicts arise because we perceive that we are moving away from how our partner lives in the world. And not just when we move away from them, but when we begin to place normative judgment on that movement. When our way becomes the right way and their way becomes the wrong way. Suddenly that water bottle isn’t just a water bottle. It’s a symbol of a diverging worldview.
I think this is one of the failings of our culture – perhaps just in the US, but maybe in Western cultures generally. (Actually, maybe it is all cultures. I can’t pretend to know.) I think we panic a little bit when confronted with a different way of being in the world. We’re really into talking, not so much into listening. We’re really into showing other people how right we are, and not so much into starting from a place of not knowing, and striving for greater understanding. And we’re big on value judgments here. Big on condemning, or at least engaging other people with fashionable levels of disdain.
In a relationship, those tendencies are magnified by fear. You see them moving away from you and are scared. You feel yourself, your way of being, your paradigm shifting and are afraid that they will not go with you. Afraid of what it means if they do not. But I think we have to remember that there are many ways of being in the world. I am learning a lot about that from my husband.
Because you know what’s odd? I don’t actually know what my husband thinks about all this – the dishwasher abandoning, crazy food challenging, frugal garden planting, deliberate consciousness going on in my life right now. Some of it I can share with him, but we are limited by the logistics of our reality. We get to talk to each other more than most. We are lucky. But you can only be so connected from half a world away. So when people ask me what he thinks – and they do ask – I don’t really have an answer for them.
But I try not to worry. This is going to sound trite, but it’s not. I’m not worried because I know he loves me. And from him, loving me isn’t about agreeing with me – not about the small things or about some of the big things. Loving me means seeing me clearly and honoring who I am. It means respecting our differences and valuing our sometimes disparate ways of being in the world. I will be the first to admit that I am not very good at this. But it is something I am learning from him. He is really good at it. I practice every day, and I think I’m getting better.
Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe a marriage can’t really exist playing hopscotch between the lines different ways of being in the world. But it doesn’t feel crazy. It feels right. And it makes me think the world might be a very different place if all of us were more comfortable living on the margins of our ever-shifting paradigms. Or maybe not even comfortable. Maybe if we just tried to do it anyways.