COMMENTARY: You’re my Lover, Not My Recycling Rival*

"Want to go for a walk later?" I ask my boyfriend, Brian, who is relaxing at home and hoping the Mets will get one more hit.

Making life (and love) work between a mismatched greenie and mechanic.© J. Sheffield

"Nope," he replied. "I have to go dump your rotors."

I have a choice. I can ruin a perfect peace reciting disposal regulations, or let this moment pass, grateful for a man who fixes things when asked and gets new parts at cost. It was a lesson learned from Amy Sutherland, in "What Shamu Taught Me about a Happy Marriage," (New York Times, June 25, 2006) that kept me mum, and the mood intact: "I should reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don"t."

Brian’s and my relationship regarding recycling could be summed up the same way the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority defines household hazardous products: "corrosive, reactive, flammable, and explosive." Ask any psychic what two Scorpios—much less a greenie and a mechanic—are doing living together, and you’d get a similar prediction. However, our dance of differing methods, comprised of my organics, and his loyalty to the green-colored cleaner (concentrated to combat the grease of the New York City bus garage he works in) works so well I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’ve learned the hard way that my compulsion to change the world, all in one weekend, ultimately pushes people away. So when Brian squirts Joy onto the sponge I’d secretly reserved for Seventh Generation, life, and our love, goes on.

Not that there weren’t things, early on, that sparked debate. When I moved in, every outlet in his glowing apartment was sucking on a Glade air freshener. An argument over opening a window when I found him wiping down the walls with Windex—a blatant misuse according to product label warnings about noxious chemical combinations—was our biggest blowup to date.

Yet, some of our best moments should have, in a similar way, hypothetically killed us. There was the time we stayed in the car, bathing in the "new car smell," while watching a DVD in the Wal-Mart parking lot because we missed the late movie. Or the night he turned up the Glade in the bedroom, causing me to toss and talk in my sleep. To make it up to me, Brian took me out on his motorcycle the next day, which is something that always makes me feel better. He possesses a valuable skill that I don’t have. What Brian does so well is remind me to worry about me.

And letting him be him allows me to step back, and see more clearly—even momentarily meditate on—the qualities I admire about the man I’m with. He has also taught me to not let the little things bother me—just go outside to breathe. Brian comes in every night smelling like motor oil and tracking the carpet and the first thing I do is hug him. Instead of worrying about soap, I make sure I say, "Thank you for doing the dishes this morning, Babe."

And his approach to recycling isn’t entirely wrong, either: One metal can in the weekly green bin will never amount to the monumental change needed in the U.S. government. So we live like heroes in an Earth-annihilation movie, making sure we’re comfortable and cuddling. In relationships, you learn a lot of things after falling in love, and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

It’s legitimate to say we need to reduce our carbon footprints because otherwise our ability to survive is threatened, and recycling is part of the solution. But standing over Brian to enforce rules while he disposes of car parts and fluids won’t help us survive, either as a couple or a species. At the end of the day, riding behind him on his Harley Davidson Road King, breathing in the sweet exhaust fumes, and the smell of his jacket (stored in the saddlebag with the pine freshener), I fall in love with him all over again, and it feels super natural.

*title adapted from the 1984 hit "Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club featuring Boy George.

JENNIFER A. SHEFFIELD is a freelance writer and secretary for a national not-for-profit in West Nyack, New York.