Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: My partner is obsessed with saving the planet
Monday 27 July 2009
My partner is driving me mad. He's never been much of a wage-earner, but for the past year he's become obsessed with saving the planet. He goes mad if I put things into the wrong recycling bin, spends a fortune on photocopying Greenpeace leaflets and is always emailing the council about carbon footprints. If I complain, he makes me feel guilty by saying I don't care about looking after the environment. Meanwhile, I am doing two back-breaking jobs just to keep us afloat. What can I do?
Yours sincerely, Tillie
Caring about the environment isn't a career. It's something to incorporate into an already busy life, or something to campaign about when you have a minute. Even environmentalists are paid to do their jobs. Your partner can't afford the luxury of carrying out all this voluntary work.
To my mind, it's not, either, as if the global warming stuff is a given. It's a theory – one that thousands of ordinary people and scientists regard as piffle. If you had lions baying at the door threatening to eat you and your family, and your partner were spending days and nights crouching by the gate with a gun, protecting the house, this would be an extremely sensible way of using his time, even if he weren't paid for it. But global warming? It's a point of view. So his pre-occupation with it over putting food on the table and contributing to the maintenance of your home appears nothing less than gross selfishness.
But is it? I'm afraid it sounds as if he is actually becoming something of an obsessive, and paranoid into the bargain. He likes to spend his time attacking people – like you and the council – for doing what he sees as bad things. His position is one not of self-fulfilment or industriousness or, indeed, selflessness but, rather, one of 24-hour antagonism.
But perhaps he's not really lazy, but terrified, for some reason, of trying to make a living. I wonder if he's so frightened of failing that he can't bear even to make a start. This obsession with global warming may well be an enormous smoke screen to shield him from your accusations of him being a lazy slob. Or, perhaps, to shield himself from his own accusations. His whole occupation now seems to be based on, and thrive on, fear.
You might be able to overcome your resentment about all this by seeing him as slightly mentally ill, a person to be pitied rather than reviled. It could be that, if you could bear doling it out for a month, sympathy, compassion and understanding of his fear might help him. It's funny how a very subtle shift of attitude, often even not actually articulated, can have an enormous effect on a relationship. It's difficult to keep up a one-man fight if the partner you are fighting with is, suddenly, on your side.
But failing that, it sounds if it may be time to try to extricate yourself from this unhappy man and leave him to fight his barmy war alone. When someone's more concerned about re-using plastic bags than the welfare of his nearest and dearest, it's time to get going.
Although I think it is very admirable to be mindful of how we can all help our ailing world, I also believe in the old adage which says 'charity begins at home'. Your partner would do well to have his own house in order before trying to save the world. He would create harmony, rather than discord, which would be of far greater assistance in global matters. But it's not just about your husband – you are sounding very much like a victim with no power, so perhaps it's time for you to take responsibility for your part in enabling this partnership to continue in such an unbalanced way.
Polegate, East Sussex
Divert his zeal into a job
Tillie could attempt to divert his zeal into a properly-structured role which is of genuine benefit to society. She could suggest he apply for a voluntary role with green/recycling campaign groups, or preferably a paid position. Or the former might lead to the latter, by boosting his CV and formally consolidating his enthusiasm. By rendering his eco-enthusiasm as more of a formal work capacity, this might help the partner put it into perspective vis-à-vis his own allocation of time, energy and resources: if he officially spends several hours daily in a proper campaign role (rather than being a self-driven 'one-man band'), he might feel he has done his bit for the planet each day, and realise that a lone individual can't possibly save the planet single-handed. Hence he might become more realistic and leisure-orientated during free time, and less uptight and preachy.
Find a solvent partner
If I were Tillie I would tell him that the best way to save the planet would be to volunteer to be a crew member on a Greenpeace boat. Once he was gone, Tillie could buy some new clothes from the savings made through no longer photocopying Greenpeace leaflets and suitably attired she could find another partner, one who was solvent enough so she had to do only one job.
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