Thursday, March 10, 2011

Embracing My Inner Tree-Hugger

I am enjoying being in my new surroundings. The day after I moved into my friend’s house last Friday, I was doing some clean-up in the kitchen and asked him about recycling. He looked at me with a raised eyebrow and said, “Are you a tree hugger?” I laughed and said, no, I’m just trying to be environmentally responsible. He replied that he had deliberately not recycled when he had lived in the family home – as a matter of principle (i.e., politics) – and that his former wife would be astonished to hear that recycling was going on in his house.

I’ve thought about this exchange over the next few days. It was a simple conversation, but there were hidden currents of meaning in it for me. You see, my wife was always the environmental champion in our house; that was one of her (exclusive) roles. She came from an environmentally “progressive” area/city and viewed this as being part of her identity. 

Because of my own issues (I want to make it clear that I’m not “blaming” her), I let my wife take on this role of being “environmentally enlightened,” while I consigned myself (or let myself be consigned) to either “outer darkness” (i.e., deliberately berating things like recycling, much like my new housemate), or to a lower degree of glory in the “green” celestial kingdom.

The truth, however, was that I did want to embrace green values, but I felt that to do so, I would cede even more of myself and my identity to my wife. I know, pretty pathetic, huh? Nevertheless, that’s the way I think I felt.

But now that I’m in my own place, I can embrace my inner tree-hugger without feeling like I am giving up a part of myself. It’s part of being who I want to be, and now feel the freedom to be, without lugging around all the accumulated baggage of our marriage.

This same principle applies to other areas of my life. My wife had also always been the “exercise/health” guru in the family. This was another one of her roles, and she had definite ideas (or so it seemed to me) about the proper way to exercise, lose weight, etc. A little over 10 years ago, I decided that the years of me putting on a few more pounds each year were at an end and that I was going to lose a bunch of weight and become fit. And I was going to do it in my own way. I bought a treadmill, found a diet program that worked for me, and went to it. It was a turning point in my life, and it felt doubly good to me because I did it my way. A year or so later, I started running and ran two marathons. I was proud of this because this was something I did.

Then there is the kitchen, which was always my wife’s domain. She is a good cook and enjoys cooking and baking, and I was pretty much happy to cede this area of domesticity to her. However, I also never had much of a desire to do any cooking or baking because, among other things, I felt like I would have to do things her way (both because I didn’t know any better and because, again, this was part of the unhealthy role-playing we did in our marriage).

Now that I’m in my own place, however, I feel free to develop my inner cook/chef without feeling that my wife is constantly looking over my shoulder, ready to correct or criticize. I can cook what I want, the way I want. But even more than this, this is about me breaking out of the psychological roles that characterized our marriage, about re-defining myself, and about letting the real me come out in a safe environment.

Does any of this make sense or sound familiar to anybody else?

[BTW - Yesterday's post, "Eyes to See and Ears to Hear," has received, I believe, the most page views in any 24 hour period of any post I have ever published. I am working on my own response to Anonymous' comment which I hope to publish tomorrow. Meanwhile, I invite anyone who hasn't already to post their own comments to yesterday's post.]


  1. Ummm... I just wanna embrace the guy in that picture at the top of your post.


  2. At the risk of being very unoriginal, I just wanted to say that if my inner tree hugger looked like that, I'd be embracing him every chance I could get. In fact, I'd probably do all kinds of fun and wonderful things to my inner tree hugger...ay caramba...I feel a strong urge to...recycle...

  3. Yeah it's great to just be yourself. I found the same thing when I separated from my wife of 29 years.

    I can now do what I want in the kitchen since that was always her domain. But I have been a little slow in developing further because my partner is such a good chef that I don't need to cook so much!

    Still the surprising thing is how much I actually internalized her view of what my role was, that it has been hard to change. In other areas I find myself taking her same point of view when my partner does something different or that I don't like.

    It really is hard to unlearn some of the old patterns. But it sounds like you are on to a good start.

  4. @ Jeff and Original Mohomie: Ummm, yeah, I understand.

    @Paul - Thanks for your comments. I relate - big time. It's nice to discover that others have experienced/are experiencing similar feelings.

  5. I too can relate: a quick example that still rings my frustration/anxiety bell when I think about it.

    Vesuvius erupted about the third time she caught me folding my T-shirts like I liked them folded instead of how she had instructed me. The same happened when I folded towels. (I could never remember how she did it.)

    The very first (and very symbolic) theraputic/liberating action I took the day I moved out and into my apartment was to refold all of my T-shirts!

    It has been a year-and-a-half but I still look over my shoulder.

    Here's to freedom of expression in any form.


  6. How can you concentrate on writing posts like this when staring at a picture like that?

  7. @Trey - Thanks, friend, for validating my feelings and sharing some of your own. Yes! Let's raise our glasses to freedom of expression.

    @Rob - I usually try not to put the picture in until the last. :)