Above: My parents on the day of their engagement. Today, July 2nd, is their 40th Wedding Anniversary!
My parents are celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary today. FORTY YEARS! I have so much love and respect for both of them, and it makes me happy and hopeful to see them so joyful after all these years. I wrote a blurb about how they met, click here to read it on Instagram! But my, how things have changed over the years when it comes to dating.
Spoiler alert: this isn’t a Cinderella story. At the end of this post, I won’t profess my undying love for a boy who turned out to be the man of my dreams. Nah, Disney’s got those kinds of stories covered. This is a story of how I mustered up the confidence to go on a first date and stick with my zero waste habits, when all I wanted to do was run in the other direction and pretend plastic pollution didn’t exist. Maybe it sounds silly, but dating is a vulnerable, nerve racking experience on its own. And zero waste + dating is just one more curve ball.
Before I tell you what happened, go ahead and take a guess. Did I:
I get a lot questions about zero waste from friends, family, and followers… at parties, via messages + texts, in letters (shout out to Angela for keeping the art of letter writing alive!) They usually go like this…
“What is the hardest part about zero waste?”
“How do you recycle ‘insert obscure item here’?”
“Do you have a recommendation for ‘insert product’?”
“But.. what do you eat? What about cheese?!?
I hate the lime light. Unfortunately for me, zero waste often makes me feel like the center of unwanted attention. It’s as if I perpetually live outside of my comfort zone. But as a result, zero waste has challenged me to grow in confidence and courage. As time has gone on, my discomfort or embarrassment or general nervousness about zero waste has diminished significantly. When I first started out, I was constantly anxious about inconveniencing other people, being scoffed or laughed at, being told “No”, or being judged. After 1.5 years of zero waste, I still experience moments of discomfort but my threshold is pretty dang low. Ehhh, just yesterday I did a photoshoot at Whole Foods without asking permission and without batting an eye. But 6 months ago, I would have died before doing something like that! (Easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, right?)
As a girl who’d like to get married one day, there is a particular question I ask myself every now and then. It’s quite different than the questions other people ask me on a daily basis. But I’m sure it has crossed people’s minds. And I know of other individuals who are active in zero waste that reflect on the same question…
“How the hell does a girl (or guy) who strives to create as little trash as possible, only eats plants, lives a minimalist lifestyle, actively protests plastic, brings her/his own utensils to restaurants (I could go on…) go on a first date and not scare their date off?!”
Its a fair question! Am I doomed to be a cat lady? (On the bright side, I do love cats.) Or even worse… the trash lady?! I like to refer to myself as Expert Level Weird because my lifestyle and hobbies are…fairly unusual. I love zero waste, and the life I’ve build for myself has brought me so much joy. But there’s no denying that the way I live is very different. When I first discovered zero waste, I was in a serious relationship. My boyfriend at the time was incredible supportive of my newfound interest. But the date I’m going to tell you about was only the 2nd guy I’d gone out with since going zero waste. So, what happened?
Earlier this year, I started chatting online with a guy–let’s call him Joel. In general, I find online dating unpleasant and less personal. For me, I’m looking for real commitment, not hookups, and I’d much rather meet someone in person through friends or work. (That’s the hopeless romantic in me.) But online dating is a great way to meet people and sometimes you really connect and the conversation comes easily. Joel and I hit it off immediately. He wasn’t an environmental activist. He was “very much a carnivore” (the words he used to describe himself when he found out I don’t eat meat). He had never heard of zero waste and hadn’t seemed to spend much time worrying about climate change or plastic pollution. But he shared my Christian values, was inquisitive, smart, respectful, and open minded. Oh, and adorable. He asked me out on a date after a couple days and I said yes.
Joel invited me to go to a rock climbing gym for our first date. It was the middle of the week and we both came straight from work, so we planned to grab a quick bite at the restaurant inside of a Whole Foods grocery store near the gym. (Yeah, yeah. Crunchy. I know!) Later on, I discovered that Joel chose the Whole Foods not only because it was conveniently located to the gym but because it had the most vegan / veggie options in the area. The day before our date, Joel told me the plan. I immediately began calculating what I would need to bring for dinner… utensils, water bottle, food container, napkin. Then the panic set in. “Can I do this?! Will I scare him away? If he really likes me, this won’t freak him out. Right? Or should I ease him into it? I could just use disposable utensils for the first date and if it goes well, I can start bringing my own?”
I was genuinely torn. I knew what I had to do but I wanted to take the easy road. Call it self preservation. The day before our date, my passion for the environment happened to come up in a conversation. So I dove right in and told Joel about my involvement in the zero waste movement. He asked lots of questions. He seemed genuinely fascinated by my passion and commitment. All good things! So then, I went for it: I asked Joel if it would make him uncomfortable if I brought my own utensils + food containers to dinner at Whole Foods. He didn’t bat an eye at the idea and encouraged me to go for it. But for all I knew, I would make him very uncomfortable on our date, so I decided I would bring utensils and containers for both of us.
The day of Date #1 rolled around and I was still concerned I would scare Joel off. My work day was so hectic that I forgot to bring zero waste supplies for him. But I did arrive at our date with my usual Tupperware, utensils, napkin, and water bottle. I stuck to my guns and used what I had brought with me. Joel just beamed at me as I filled up my own containers at the salad bar, making me feel perfectly comfortable. The date was fantastic! (I highly recommend rock climbing as a first date activity.) At the end of the evening, we planned to go out again a couple days later. For Date #2, I got to make the plans. Joel picked me up from my office at the end of the day and we swung by my house to pick up dinner. I had packed a zero waste picnic for us (vegetable fajitas + all the fixings, wine, basket, blanket. The real deal!). We ate our dinner at a Gravely Point, a local park just outside of Washington, D.C. The park is popular because you can watch the sunset as airplanes fly right over your head and land at the nearby airport. The airplanes come within a few hundred feet of your head, it’s quite an experience. On Date #3, Joel brought me seedlings for my garden instead of flowers: a tomato plant, a cucumber plant, and a purple basil plant.
Because I didn’t chicken out on that first date, all of the other dates that Joel and I went on had a zero waste focus. We chose restaurants with metal flatware and cloth napkins. We went hiking with our own snacks. I started carrying utensils and napkins for both of us on all our dates, just in case. Joel would have containers on hand for takeout or leftovers, he would order vegan/ vegetarian food so that we could share, and he helped me edit my first few blog posts. In the end, Joel and I went our separate ways after a couple months of dating because we discovered that we wanted very different things in life. We weren’t the right fit for one another and zero waste had absolutely nothing to do with it. Although difficult (as any breakup is), it was amiable and peaceful. I have no regrets and no hangups, and I am happy to have moved on. Thanks to Joel, I’ll never think twice about taking zero waste into the next first date. That doesn’t mean it will be any less scary or nerve wracking. Perhaps the next guy won’t call after the first date or maybe he will cancel before we even go out when I mention that I am bringing my own utensils to the restaurant or don’t get coffee in a to-go cup. But I also know that guys like Joel exist and that the risk is worth it.
So if you ever feel like your weirdness is too weird for the world of dating, you’re wrong! You just have to find a Joel.
Above: A zero waste meal kit for two! I reused two old takeout food containers
from my housemate because they were lighter than carrying around glass.