I’ve been thinking a lot lately about shared interests, which dating sites and professions often emphasize as one way to kickstart a relationship, especially as a way to meet new people (whether online or in person). It’s almost a given: of course you want to have shared interests with your partner so you can enjoy doing things together. Some may even make lack of shared interests a deal-breaker, refusing to even consider someone who doesn't like doing the same thing they do.
When I was dating, though, I never thought much about them at all. I shared no major interests with any of my partners; our bonds were based on compatible personality traits and mutual attraction. Of course, those relationships all ended, so that may not speak well for my attitude toward shared interests!
However, all of these relationships ended for reasons that had nothing to do with whether or not my partner and I had shared interests. Furthermore, I think that, in some cases, whatever shared interests we did have may have masked the underlying problems that ended the relationships, making them last longer than they otherwise would have and, in the process, hurting us both even more. (This is assuming the problems were fatal to the relationship and could not have been worked out with more time—which, in my case, is a safe assumption.)
Generally, shared interests serve the same function that commitment does, with the same two contrasting effects. (For more on this, see my earlier posts here and here.) They both provide a glue that maintains the relationship through tough times and gives the people in the relationship a chance to work on it, but may also keep the relationship together long after it stopped serving its purpose of making the partners feel happy and fulfilled.
Narrowing in on the second point, shared interests pose an additional danger that commitment does not: unlike the relationship itself, you’ll probably continue to have those interests after you’ve separated from your partner. If you both like going to see a particular genre of movies, for example, you’ll want to keep seeing those movies after the relationship ends, but to some extent the experience will remind you of your partner, given her or his strong interest in them as well. Even though, as I said, I never shared a lot of interests with my partners, something still stirs when I watch a movie or go to a restaurant we both liked. I would imagine that would happen much more often if someone shared a major life passion with their partner, like going to jam band shows, literary readings, or basketball games, things that you consider central to your life and identity and now are inextricably linked with a former partner.
For this reason, while relying on shared interests may be a great way to meet someone and get to know them better, I would caution against making them a precondition 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 tolerates them in good humor. 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 come to enjoy (even if not always as much as your partner does!).
Shared interests may be a great way to meet and connect with someone new, but be careful about putting too much weight on them. If a relationship prospers and endures, shared interests may enhance the experience, but should not be central to it—there are more important qualities, such as affection, attention, and respect, that most people want and need in a partner more than common activities or hobbies. And if your relationship is faltering, don’t rely on shared interests to hold it together—in the end, you’ll lose your partner and possibly also your passion for the interest that was important to you long before the other person was.
I thank Lauren Hale for invaluable input on this blog post.
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For more of my posts on relationships and other topics, see this categorized list at my website.