“Of each important thing in your life, you will be prepared to answer two very important questions: “Is it collapse- proof?”, and, if it is not, “What can I do to make it collapse-proof?” If, for a given thing, the answers turn out to be “No” and “Nothing” then the very important follow-up question should be “How can I live without it?” – Dmitry Orlov, Reinventing Collapse*
This quote will take several posts to unpack and should throw up some interesting questions and challenges. So I’m making a thread out of it on the blog. I’ll cover water, food, housing, clothes, warmth, culture, art and other things that are in our lives and yours.
But since it’s Valentine’s Day: How collapse-proof is our marriage?
We had our (non-legal but very serious to us and our loved ones) wedding ceremony on August 2007. We’d already been together for 7 years. In three days it’ll be the 13th anniversary of our first meeting, dancing to breakbeat in the Students’ Union. I was 18, Sam was 21. Our eyes met, we danced up to each other and snogged. Never looked back.
These days, in our early thirties, we feel very married. We fart and burp and bicker and shamelessly wear our worst pants. But despite the total shredding of that spangly veil ‘La Mystique’, we are still in love. We’ve both changed a lot in 13 years, but we’ve managed to keep falling in love with the new people who grow out of who we were. With luck we’ll continue to do this for the rest of our lives.
Our biggest adjustment so far has been around the prospect of collapse and what it means for our shared life plans. Letting go of our house and mortgage in Bristol and making a real effort to mentally and physically prepare for an uncertain, unstable future has forced us to reassess what is vital to us. We’ve realised that whatever physical place we find ourselves in, we can be ‘home’ to each other.
We’ve had many years of earning very little- sometimes I’ve earned more and sometimes Sam. Whoever had more always helped the other out. We’ve had struggles over it, but nothing serious so far. We’ve never made a big thing of spending money on ‘romantic’ consumer items like restaurants, hotels or gifts. I took my cue from Sam on this early on. Our best times involve cheap boozy fun in fields, at house parties, camping in dunes at the Gower, sitting by rivers or on mountains.
It’s clear from Valentine/ Xmas /Wedding/ All Marketing that tying money to love is profitable. It sets up big expectations- especially in women- that ‘if he really loves you’ he’ll splash out on a sparkly thing. If I’d got together with someone else at 18 who was into spending money on me I’m sure I could have got used to it; enough to miss it when such things become unaffordable or just not there. But as things are it’s never been part of our relationship.
When we were living in Bristol, I’d wear makeup about half the time. I have various grooming rituals, mostly involving hair. Too much, too long, too shaggy, too greasy, wrong colour. But after 13 years I can honestly say none of it makes much difference to Sam. He notices when I look nice, and even says so sometimes. But it doesn’t trouble him if I wear the same clothes for a week at a time, put on a few pounds or let my leg hair grow.
Even if it did, I can cut/wash/remove my hair myself. If I can learn to make soap, my beauty routine- such as it is- will be collapse proof. A collapse headstart on a woman who ‘needs’ to spend money on gym, waxing, nails, facials, haircut and highlights every month to feel attractive- or who is under pressure from her partner to keep to a certain standard. I’ve narrowed my wardrobe down to favourites that fit in a tiny cupboard-including Sam’s absolute favourite dress ever- and for my cosmetic stuff, a tiny tub. I have a coil fitted so we don’t rely on well-stocked shops or medical centres for contraception. Sam washes daily and occasionally remembers to shave. When he gets shaggy round the ears, I cut his hair. Fine with me.
Living in a confined space together on Joker and the even tinier Lexia, has tested our marriage. Over time it’s had a calming effect on how I express anger, which I’ve always had a problem with. I can’t shout, slam a door and disappear for a sulk. He’s going to be sitting there a couple of feet away the whole time. Awkward. Sam tends to snark quietly so he can still do that, but he does it less when it doesn’t provoke all that fun shouting. So in all, a win.
The elephant in this loved-up room is how we continue to collapse proof our relationship when/if we have kids. We’d like to start a family soon after returning from this voyage, and a major part of this mission is figuring out that very question. So I’ll definitely be back on that subject.
When Sam first started talking about Peak Oil I had a choice whether or not to accept this potential collapse paradigm as a template for our shared future. Having shared goals is vital to a longterm partnership, so my choice would alter our marriage. It took a lot of talking, tears and planning to get to a point where I could accept it. I was afraid of the future. But embracing it has opened up a world of possibility, of new skills and new friends and stronger connections. They balance out the fear.
Hope you’re feeling some love, wherever you are.
*I’ve been re-reading Orlov’s brilliant book. It’s a study of what happens when a superpower collapses, based on his experience of the Soviet Union. He uses his observations of the effect of economic and societal collapse on the lives of ordinary people to predict the effects of the inevitable US collapse. Most of the lessons are transferable to living in the UK and EU, or any industrialised nation that runs its infrastructure on debt and oil. It’s a scary book in some ways, but his delivery is so dry and funny and stoic that I find it oddly comforting as well. He puts it thus:
“I refuse to become emotional or sentimental about collapse. My life is my own, and, may superpowers fall where they may, I will try to live it as best I can. I hope that by keeping this book alive I can help others to do the same.”