Strive to Leave Things Better Than You Found Them

a campsite in the woods
Image by Grand Canyon National Park / CC BY

It’s been interesting preparing for a cross-country move on a short timeframe. My partner Justin and I have been thrust into a variety of cooperative tasks. And while we’ve lived together for eight years and have even run a business together, the very nature of fixing up our house (so we can sell it quickly and for a good listing price) and packing on such a tight time frame has given me opportunities to understand him and his thought processes in a novel way.

And one major theme I’ve been encountering as we struggle to get everything done is that it’s very important to him that we leave the house in better shape than it was when he first moved in.

Even as he leaves one job to start another, he’s pushing himself hard to wrap up all the loose ends and coming up with a plan to help his former employer replace him effectively.

I pointed this out to him, and he said, “Yes, it’s important to me that I don’t leave things in poor condition. Campsite rule.”

The Campsite Rule

By campsite rule, he was referring to what Dan Savage once wrote about the responsibility of people who date partners that are significantly younger than them:

If you’re in a sexual relationship with somebody significantly younger or less-experienced than you, the rule that applies at campsites shall be applicable to you: you must leave them in at least as good a state (physically and emotionally) as you found them in. That means no  unwanted STDs, no pregnancy, not overburdening them with your emotional or sexual baggage, and so on. Younger partners and particularly virgins will often take everything given to them by an older, more experienced partner as being “written in stone,” and will carry around everything they learn from them for the rest of their life: so treat them right!

It stuck with both of us when we first heard of it, Justin and me, particularly because that’s how we behave whenever we stay at campgrounds. “Pack in, pack out, leave no trace,” Justin (a former Boy Scout) says. We always leave campsites as good as they were when we found them. Typically better as I find myself frequently picking up the trash of someone else who stayed there before and wasn’t as concerned with the state of things.

While Dan Savage coined it to describe relationships in which there’s a sizable age difference, I would argue that the campfire standard is ideal not only when we’re talking about dating significantly younger partners but when you’re dating anyone.

If you can help it, leave them in as good as state as they were when you found them — and ideally, better. Even if a relationship isn’t a Forever Thing, it can be a Good Thing.

The campsite rule isn’t just something you can apply to romantic relationships but everywhere. To be a force for good, a positive agent of change.

And that seems to be precisely what Justin is doing, even as we’re stretched extremely thin trying to juggle everything that needs to be done.

Is it hectic right now? Yes, absolutely.

But seeing how hard he’s working to leave things in good condition (even when it ostensibly doesn’t matter selfishly to him) tells me a lot about him. It tells me that if there ever came a time where he felt like he needed to leave my life that he’d leave me better than he found me.

Well, he already has. I’ve grown so much as a person during the time we’ve been together. And a lot of that is due to his support. He’s brought out the best parts of me.

And that gives me a lot of comfort, knowing that he’s not the kind of person that leaves a huge mess. Or sets a fire and walks away from the explosion.

He strives to leave things better than he found them. And that’s extremely reassuring. No matter what happens next.

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My new book is out!

Dealing with Difficult Metamours, the first book devoted solely to metamour relationships, full of strategies to help you get along better with your partners’ other partner(s).

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