"Will you be my girlfriend?"
She visibly cringed. "I’m...not looking for a relationship," she responded.
This is a direct quote from my (at the time) soon-to-be girlfriend and now (thankfully) wife. Back then, I viewed her rejection like a hurdle I needed to run at and within weeks I was driving the six hours from Manchester to southwest Wales to meet – and hopefully charm – her parents.
Before I met her parents she warned me that they were different. We even looked at her dad’s Twitter profile together so I could get an idea what he was like. An eco-activist, he had 8,000 (now 10k) followers, which made my 3,000 look a bit pitiable. His bio included the words #Sustainable #Mindful #Impact, mine included a link to my latest celeb interview and One Direction lyrics. See, I’m a radio DJ, which is a job I love. But the pop world, with its plasticky merch and carbon travel footprint, isn’t exactly known for its eco-friendly credentials. I'm no dolphin-punching maniac but I knew it was going to be a culture clash.
As I pulled up to their Pembrokeshire house in my maroon Ford Fiesta, I guiltily hid my McDonald's Monopoly tokens in the glovebox. I was nervous but once I opened my car door, I found a slightly drizzly paradise. Overlooking the sea, their house was designed for Earth worship. It had kayaks, an allotment growing fresh veg, solar panels on the roof, a whole shed dedicated to wetsuits, a healing room for my girlfriend’s mum to practise therapy, Buddha statues, plants everywhere and a shit-ton of Jesus sandals.
As I walked into the kitchen, I was greeted with big hugs, even bigger grins and the most delicious cup of coffee. Within hours I was in a wetsuit, wading against the waves and participating in something called 'coasteering'. Coasteering is when you scramble over cliff rocks by the water’s edge or, as I like to call it, slowly drowning while pretending you’re not. After a few hours it was clear to me that they adored the sea for the energy and life that it brings. At the time, I remember I found this weird because the sea is where jellyfish and sharks come from. Now, however, I’m totally on board.
Ever since that death-defying dive into the deep end with my in-laws, I have slowly woken up to the climate crisis. Through thoughtful conversation, healthy debate and role-model behaviour from them, I have learned what sustainability really means – and it sucks. Turns out, and I’m sure this is something you’re already painfully aware of, loads of fun things are really bad for the planet. You know balloons, those magical plastic things that we send off into the sky in memory of loved ones? Well, they burst and land in the sea and kill animals, which is actually a pretty shitty thing to do in someone’s memory. It’s all fun and games blowing bubbles in your milkshake until a turtle is having a plastic straw surgically removed from its nostril on your Facebook feed. And glitter! Well, I actually always hated glitter anyway so whatever, but the other stuff still stands.
What I have found most difficult among all this rage and confusion about how we ended up here is balancing guilt with realistic expectations. I’m not the next Greta Thunberg and I don’t want to stop showering or become a Grade 5 Vegan (fans of The Simpsons will know this is not eating anything which casts a shadow). I do, however, want to try my best and so my challenge changes regularly. It used to mean buying less meat, now it means buying less dairy. I don’t shop fast fashion and I check the air miles on my produce. More than that, it’s about picking battles. I used to collect recycling from one of the places I worked, sacks of drinks cans over my shoulder like an eco-warrior Santa. Now I want to focus on conversations with friends, family, colleagues and a wider circle to encourage them to do the right thing. This should mean I don’t have to go through the bins anymore and so, to compensate, I bought the office a recycling bin so they could sort it out themselves.
Living sustainably may require material sacrifice but largely it has brought me enormous personal growth. My father-in-law said that he knew I was feisty and value-driven from the moment he met me but now I think we can both agree I’m using it for something better. I have improved my relationship with my body by believing that it deserves healthy food and that my mind is better when I immerse it in nature, rather than staring at Netflix rewatching Friends (a moment of silence for my wife, who grew up without a TV). It’s made me better at my job too because human connection drives everything I do. I’m kinder, and more creative on air because I don’t want to rely on regurgitating last night's TV gossip.
I’ve still got more work to do but honestly, I’m very grateful for the privileged upbringing I had, which ultimately brought me to where I am today. Now just feels like the right time to do some good for the planet too.
Olivia Jones is a radio and digital presenter living in Manchester with her wife and imaginary dog. She is also a columnist for DIVA magazine.