03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Loving An Ecological Disaster

My boyfriend is a walking, talking, ecological disaster. He has many wonderful qualities, but once he moved in with me my energy efficient lifestyle suffered a huge blow. First he replaced my low-wattage lightbulbs with 100 watt bulbs, complaining that he couldn't read in the living room. I soon found that he takes twice as many showers as I do, creates more trash than my teenage daughter, and never waits for a full load to run the washing machine.

Every utility bill in the house shot up by about $30 once he moved in, and that was before the weather got cold and I found out how much he likes to run the furnace. They love him at the grocery store, but our recycling can is filled to the brim each week with plastic bottles from his favorite sparkling water and the two newspapers he reads every day.

Now, I have enough relationship experience to know that there is a difference between annoying traits that can be adjusted and annoying traits that are too ingrained to change. The trick is to figure out which is which, and whether you can live with your partner's ingrained annoying traits. And that gets complicated when we value things like energy efficiency and green living.

Although my boyfriend has made some positive changes in his energy consumption, by mid-November I had come to realize that he was just plain wasteful by my standards, and probably always would be. I began to seriously question whether I could live with all the things he couldn't, or wouldn't, change.

Then came Thanksgiving.

The day started with an argument over lining the bottom of the turkey pan with aluminum foil (his idea), or letting the drippings fall into the perfectly good stainless steel pan, thereby avoiding aluminum poisoning in the gravy (my idea). He was cooking the turkey so I relented and let him do it his way (I don't like gravy anyway).

He made cornbread, mashed potatoes, turkey, stuffing, and gravy, using more butter than I usually go through in a year's time, all the while watching football on his energy-sucking high-definition flatscreen TV. I made a vegetable saute and baked an apple pie.

When our friend arrived to join us my boyfriend set the table and poured the wine, and when we were done he cleared the table and set it again for dessert while we walked the dog. After pie and ice cream, he insisted that we sit down and relax while he cleaned the kitchen.

There he was, leaving the water on full-blast while he stacked the dishwasher. Loading it halfway and putting it on its longest wash cycle, using too much detergent. Not collapsing or rinsing the empty ice cream carton before throwing it in the recycling. Soaking the dirty turkey pan because (as I predicted) the drippings got under the aluminum foil anyway.

Watching all this, it dawned on me: I have never had a boyfriend who likes to cook for me, and to clean up afterwards. I don't even know what it's like to be in a relationship with someone who loves doing nice things for me and wants me to be happy. Could happiness, and a loving, supportive partner, be more important than energy savings?

It's a new idea for me, but I'm willing to consider that choosing efficiency over love might be a foolish move. Relationships don't work without some compromise. The question is, when do our green values become annoying ingrained habits of our own, and do we hang onto them even at the risk of losing something just as precious and life-giving as water?

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