Does It Really Matter If You Share Interests with Your Partner?

I'll have what she's having

woman sitting at computer next to a man playing video games

Do you want to see how far I can spit?

This is the one of the very first things I said to my husband when we met as teenagers. At fifteen, I was at the peak of my “cool girl” phase. I had recently purchased the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Football, was considering taking a shop class at the vocational school so I could learn how to fix a car, and had been diligently practicing my distance spitting, all in the hopes of impressing boys.

Spoiler alert: it worked.

In the early parts of our relationship, Michael and I bonded over a mutual admiration of big trucks and our out-of-place nostalgia for ’80s hair bands. Our shared interests helped bridge the gap in our personalities and gave us something to talk about when we were bored.

Now it’s fourteen years later, and sometimes I think we could not have more discordant interests. Here is a brief list of things we have in common:

  • Core values
  • Our dog
  • A desire to own goats at some point in our lives
  • Travel style
  • Political leanings
  • An extensive to-watch list on Hulu and Netflix

Here is a brief list of the things we do not have in common:

  • Spitting
  • His love of cars
  • My love of Beyoncé
  • Patience for super long board games
  • Whose favorite city sucks more (he’s Boston, I’m New York)
  • Preferred leisure activities
  • Political engagement
  • The ability to see/care about color
  • TV shows not on our shared watch list

On the big issues, I’ve found compromise relatively easy. Michael didn’t want to live in the city and I ended up hating the suburbs, so we found a third option that suits us both (hello, farm.) But on the small stuff? The small differences sometimes feel insurmountable. Because no matter how hard I try to convince him, Michael is just never going to love Beyoncé (I mean, a girl can hope, but you know). I’m never going to want to play more than forty-five minutes of any board game. And luckily we have a wonderful friend group to pick up the slack.

Most days, I feel really okay with our differences. I like having a space in the world that’s all my own. I like that my partner and I challenge each other to explore new interests. I like that our differences encourage us to have a rich and diverse friend group. And sometimes I deeply enjoy the quiet comfort of being with my partner, with nothing to say, taking in the world side-by-side.

But on my insecure days, I worry. I worry that we should have more shared interests. I worry that the couples who can spend every waking moment with each other have figured out a secret I haven’t. I worry that I pulled a bait and switch on my partner because I used to be one way, and now I’m different. But then I think maybe this is just a natural progression of being with someone for a long time. Sometimes you have more overlap, and sometimes you don’t. Right now, we’re having to work to find those common interests, and I’m trying really hard not to read too much into it.

In the meantime, I figure putting in a little extra effort is a good place to start. We’ve made a pact to try at least an hour of something that the other likes each week, with no complaints. Things like nerdy board games involving centaurs and elves (my concession to Michael), and making GIFs for APW (his concession to all of us). And so far? It’s working really well. Activities that start out with begrudging compliance usually turn into enthusiastic participation (probably because I’m whooping Michael at nerdy board games).

So maybe the secret to long-term mutual interests is just… fake it until you make it? With the notable exception of spitting. That was probably just a bad idea.

But I’m curious to know what you think: How important is it to have shared interests with your partner? Is that what friends are for? Or does a lifetime of togetherness hinge on having lots to talk about? What are the real ties that bind?

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