A couple of years ago, I had a small but not insignificant crisis of confidence about my marriage. It’s not that anything was wrong exactly. We weren’t fighting a lot. Or having major disagreements about life choices. It’s just that we didn’t have much to talk about. And that seemed like…not a good thing.
Heavy Metal Romance
When Michael and I first started dating (a startling seventeen years ago, my God), we 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 seventeen 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 toddler
- A mutual love of our hometown
- Road trips
- An irrational desire to buy a Glowforge
- 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:
- His love of cars
- My love of glitter and sequins
- Patience for super long board games
- Whose favorite city sucks more (he’s Boston, I’m New York)
- Preferred leisure activities
- Political engagement
- 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.) Our parenting styles have proven to be relatively friction-less. And getting Michael more politically engaged has come with much less resistance than I expected. But on the small stuff? The small differences sometimes feel insurmountable. Because no matter what I do, Michael is just never going to understand why our living room floor is currently covered in sequins or why our baby knows all the words to Truth Hurts. I’m never going to want to play more than forty-five minutes of any board game. Ever. And luckily we have a wonderful friend group to pick up the slack.
The Deep Shallow
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. We might have to work a little harder to find common ground on the deep shallow side of life, and I’m trying really hard not to read too much into it.
Fake it until you make it
When we first brought up this subject a few years ago, Michael and I had resolved to spend more time investing in each other’s interests, even when we’d rather not (but you know, without going overboard. Our goal was at least an hour of something that the other likes each week, with no complaints.) I stopped complaining about Michael’s nerdy board games involving centaurs and elves. And he put his meticulous engineering skills to work on my craft projects and overly ambitious Halloween costumes (just look at that tiny cyclops.) And honestly? It’s worked really well. What starts out as begrudging compliance often turns into enthusiastic participation.
But more importantly, I’ve found that the exercise quiets the anxiety about whether or not our shared interests means anything deep and heavy about our relationship. Because I think I can safely say, a few years later, it really doesn’t. Spending more time with each other on our hobbies has been a fun bonding experience. But it hasn’t proven itself any more meaningful than our nightly Netflix hangs on the couch. And the more confident I feel in our relationship, the less I need to comfort my insecurity by knowing that we enjoy, say, the same music.
So maybe the secret to long-term mutual interests is just… fake it until you make it? Or maybe more appropriately, fake it until you realize you’re already there.
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?
A version of this post was originally published in May of 2016.