Finding shared interests: the struggle of modern relationships
Most strong-minded people have well defined likes, dislikes, interests, preferences and perspectives. We live in age where we consume information no matter where we turn- from videos to photo to audio, there’s always a message to absorb and as a result, we have developed our own personalities.
In the community where I come from, women aren’t supposed to have well defined personalities. There sits an expectation that when you enter into a relationship, your partner’s interests become your interests. I can’t speak about other cultures and how they deal with these kind of expectations but I will say that this highly irks me. It also explains why I stopped dating from that dating pool.
My personal experiences…
I spent most of my last marriage trying to modify my interests and hobbies to suit my partner’s. Believe me, I TRIED. I watched so many superhero movies but I still don’t care to know the difference between DC & Marvel. I took up Kung Fu because it was the only way I could see my partner after work since that was his evening hobby. I started playing squash so that he could play doubles with his friends while I played with their wives. So I TRIED REALLY HARD over the course of many years.
But post divorce…
I made a promise that I wouldn’t do that to myself again. While I am open to trying new things, I am not going to push myself to like things that I don’t care for. Neither was I going to feel bad about my love for artsy movies, long novels, dramatic theater, photography and blog writing. Truthfully though, I knew I would never find a heterosexual man who shared my interests. So what do you do when you don’t want to lose who you are but you also need to find a way to have common interests with someone who could potentially see yourself with in the long term?
Despite 3 degrees in psychology, even when Polar & I started dating, I made some mistakes. I never mentioned my hobbies and since we lived in different cities, how I spent the time when I wasn’t with him didn’t make much of a difference. I knew that we had enough going on with our different ethnicities and cultures already. (Looking back now, I regret my lack of communication). However, when I moved to Dubai, we were forced to confront our leisure pursuits and the fact that- WE HAD NO SHARED INTERESTS.
In this post- with the help of Brown & Cony– I will outline, how we make our relationship work despite our differences in interests and how we spend our time.
Discussing the things you enjoy
As I mentioned, I never clearly outlined the things that I liked to do. Although in my case it worked out, because we knew each other for so long prior to us starting to date (and he started to read my blog) that we eventually figured it all out. Yet I can see this as becoming an obstacle for other couples; especially if you have just met. My advice here is to be as open as possible about the things that are important to you really early on in the beginning. I don’t just mean hobbies.
For example, if spending time with your family/friends is a huge part of your life, then mention that. The last thing you want is to push your family/friends away because your partner doesn’t understand or feel comfortable with you dedicating your time to them.
Why bring it up?
The reason I mention this is because its also a norm- where I come from- for women to get into relationships with men and the man expects them to never spend any time with her friends/family unless he is around. In my last marriage my ex mother in law gently suggested once that I spend less time at my parents’ house since I was now married and my husband’s family was my new family. Uh no; people can’t just be replaced.
So be clear from the start with your partner about what you enjoy doing with your time to minimize these kind of uncomfortable scenarios (believe me, they are SO uncomfortable).
Finding something you both like
This is difficult task I must admit. And while I respect women that find a newfound interest in exhaust pipes and their favourite avenger, once they get into a relationship- that just isn’t me. So instead, Polar had that discussion about things we would possibly do together and you know what? It doesn’t have to be complex or expensive hobbies!
We went back to basics…
We made cooking together a hobby (I LEARNT SO MUCH), visiting art exhibitions, as well photography & videography (I talk more about these 2 in future blog posts). You don’t even need many hobbies… I know one couple who does jigsaw puzzles together and that is their one shared pastime. Its enough, as long as you are both enjoying the time you spend together and the activity you are sharing. In my case, I get to eat delicious food as a result of our hobby so its really a win-win for all involved. Talk about it, do some research, make some suggestions and be prepared to try doing new things!
Giving each other space to pursue individual hobbies
In the modern relationship there will be lots of time together but also, lots of time apart. Perhaps not physically apart but both parties’ attention won’t solely be focused on the relationship. Most people have plenty of pursuits to keep them busy and need time to pursue them. Sometimes those pursuits will not involve both parties. As a partner realise that if you can’t respect that, please let the other person know right from the get go!
Just let your partner breathe
Polar doesn’t bother me when I am editing photos and likewise, I don’t inconvenience him or try to insert myself into his plans when he is off to watch Spiderman movies (why would I when I can wisely use this time to catch up on Bollywood blockbusters?). Spending time apart is healthy and necessary for relationships as is having your own hobbies. I see a lot of couples who are so sick of each other but don’t realise its because they don’t give each other any time apart.
Do watch out…
In the same way, if you are in a relationship with someone who needs to know your every move and is constantly checking up on you via texts & phone calls, it’s a very early warning sign to say goodbye sooner rather than later! Keeping tabs on someone is not a sign of love bur rather, a dangerous sign of a controlling tendency. I have watched this explode many times for couples unfortunately.
Defining that quality time together
As everyone knows, traveling (also planning for holidays, tracking flights, reading about trips) is my main hobby. If something you REALLY feel passionate about, I urge you not just to mention it from the start, but also define the parameters around it. What do I mean? Well again, I will use myself as an example.
When my ex-husband was in the process of explaining why he needed a divorce, one of his reasons was “I don’t actually enjoy traveling and I don’t see why you feel the need to travel.” This left me reeling. Imagine hearing that after 12 years of being together… countless long and short trips! While I wanted to retort about how he could’ve saved me tons of money on the all expenses paid trips I had taken him on, I didn’t say anything.
But I realised…
I learnt a far more valuable lesson for next time; not only would I stress the importance of this passion of mine, but I would also make clear what I would like from a partner in terms of it.
Learning from my mistakes…
So when Polar and I started dating I was very vocal about how I enjoy traveling alone, with my friends and how I would like him to be a part of some of those travels. We outlined how often we could travel together (based on our work schedules) and how he would feel when I went away without him. Because make no mistake, I was not going to kill my passion for this relationship. It was rocky at first, due to a difference in the kind of places we like to go to and the fact that he can hardly ever take leave when I am off from work. However we have managed to iron out the kinks. I can’t put into words how important this was and how much smoother our relationship is as a result of it!
Be realistic with yourself…
At the end of the day If you don’t care to be outdoors because you have merciless allergies and find nature bothersome, don’t readily date a person who constantly hikes and camps. If you could care less about the nightclubs and bars, don’t date someone who is going to demand that you dress up and go partying every weekend.
I don’t believe the old adage that you need to make huge adjustments in your interests just because you get into a relationship. Society tells you that at some point you will have to sit begrudgingly in a mall while she shops, or be bored out of your mind while watching him play XBox. This type of interaction isn’t compromise, it’s sacrifice and it creates resentment. I know because I have been there. Both partners are rarely engaged in this kind of interaction, which makes that time spent together hollow.
I want to say that while shared interests is a great way to keep the happiness alive in any relationship, I would caution against making them a prerequisite of a relationship (or a deal-breaker that prevents one). Ideally, you should find someone who appreciates your interests and indulges them when possible, or at least give you space to do what you need to do. Of course, this should go both ways, and learning to appreciate a new partner’s interests may even expose you to new activities and experiences that you will gain some knowledge about.
Common ground is sometimes just a bonus and not an essential.
If a relationship succeeds, shared interests will enhance the experience, but should not be essential to it. There are more important qualities, such as affection, attention, and respect, that are necessary for a committed relationship. Make sure you communicate openly and understand what is important to both of you!
How important is sharing common interests to you? If you are in a relationship, how did you cultivate common interest with your partner? Let me know in the comments below!