Does It Matter If You & Your Partner Love The Same Things?

Photographed by Anna Alexia Basile.
Kristin D. was overjoyed when she received a trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter from her fiancé for Christmas. He’d never shown interest in the books or the films, she told me, so she was surprised and delighted when she opened the gift. Then came the explanation. He literally meant a single trip to Harry Potter world. One trip. For her. He wouldn’t be joining.

“I tried to convince him to come with me, so that he might be overcome with the magic that is the world of Harry Potter, and possibly be converted. Then, I realized he is more likely to be a buzzkill for me when I start crying [tears] of joy in Hogsmeade,” she said. Her decision to go alone posed a tough question: What do you do when you can’t share the things you love with your partner?

I can relate to Kristin’s dilemma. I’m a card-carrying member of the “Britney Army” and I’ve made the pilgrimage to Las Vegas twice (so far...) to see the legendary Ms. Spears’ show. I tried to imagine what it would be like to see the show with my husband and immediately understood what Kristin meant — it would sap all the joy out of my experience to have someone alongside me who wasn’t among my fellow Britney-fan ranks. But then, I felt guilty. Why should the thought of being in the company of someone I love affect my enjoyment of something else I love?

“Obviously, the ideal is that you and your partner have passions which you share and enjoy together — it just makes the things that you like doing easier if you’re able to do them with the one you love. However, that’s rarely the case,” Dr. Jane Greer, relationship expert and author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship. “More often than not, the things we really love are things that our partners not only don’t like, but they hate!”

I’ve heard the phrase “we have so much in common” uttered about countless successful relationships, but in the end, sharing interests might not be that important. “It brings us together in powerful ways when we can be apart,” says Wendy Newman, a dating and relationship expert and author of 121 First Dates. “Every time you come back to your significant other from something new, you’re new. It’s this really delightful way to keep it spicy.”

Beyond Fandom

Okay, fine, not sharing a love of Britney Spears or Harry Potter is not a huge challenge to overcome in the bigger picture. But what if your significant other doesn’t enjoy something that is core to your identity? Alex S. told me that her girlfriend, who has a master’s in public policy and works for Planned Parenthood, has made it her mission to spread messages of social justice wherever she goes.

“I stand for a lot of the same things, but get embarrassed when anyone causes a scene or informs ignorant members of the public the truth when their conversations are overheard,” says Alex. “I remind myself that I believe in the cause and support her, but the public scene can be a lot to manage.”

The reminder of support is the key, Dr. Greer says: “There’s a big difference between someone not sharing your passion and not being supportive,” she says. By expressing her support, Alex was able to see that even when her girlfriend’s public speeches are embarrassing, they’re also endearing. “[Nothing will] stop her from speaking up. It’s something I like about her — but can't stand at the same time!”

The Price Tag

My two trips to Las Vegas didn’t come cheap. If a passion becomes a sinkhole for disposable income — and the other partner doesn’t share it — it can quickly cause friction. Rachel A., an animal lover and senior dog owner, knows she would do anything to save or extend her pet’s life, no matter the cost. Her husband, a pragmatist, loves their dog, but is a bit more practical with their finances. “[My husband] ordered pet insurance for my birthday one year, because in his words, ‘I have a number for Cooper (a limit to what he would spend to save our old and frequently ailing dog) — and I know you don't. And I didn't want that to come between us.’” (So basically, the perfect answer.)

And while such a mutually agreeable financial compromise is not always an option, you can create some ground rules, says Dr. Greer. “The real issue is not how much you’re spending on your interest, but whether you have enough for mutual goals that you are planning together,” she says. So as long as we can still take a yearly trip together, I can keep going to Vegas. (Right?)

Losing & Gaining Interests

In my teens, an older, wiser adult once told me not to screen dates based on whether that person liked the same things as me, because eventually I would stop liking those things anyway. (Although...it’s like 14 years later and I still love Britney, guys.) But I asked Dr. Greer if maybe that was a helpful thing to remind myself of when I am at a concert without my husband — who cares if we don’t agree now, because maybe in 20 years, I won’t care about her anymore, anyway?

“I don’t think you have to worry about that,” says Dr. Greer. “I don’t think you should try and constrain a passion and say, ‘I love it now, but maybe I won’t [later].’ Why detract from what you enjoy in the moment?”

Newman agreed and also pointed out that passing years can help create new, shared interests — without abandoning your old ones. “We constantly throw ideas around with our partners,” she says. “Just make time for the ones that sound fun.” They could develop into something you’re both truly passionate about.

So What’s Really A Deal-Breaker?

We can be quick to categorize a mismatch on one hobby as a deal-breaker — one friend told me that on her second date with her now-husband, he revealed he didn’t like dessert and she almost ended it then and there. “But it’s not the things that you do together that matter as much as the way that you are with each other,” says Dr. Greer. It’s a mismatch on values, not movies, that should be a red flag.

Still, I don’t think I’ll be taking my husband to a Britney show anytime soon. But I have come to be thankful that even though it’s not something we do together, he was supportive enough to once look up when her next leg of shows started and suggest I go to one. “You don’t have to love [their passion] with them, but you should want to share it with them somehow,” says Dr. Greer. “That’s what’s known as love.”

This month, we're sharing steamy personal stories, exploring ways to have even better sex, and wading through the complicated dynamics that follow us into the bedroom. Here's to a very happy February. Check out more, right here.

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