I have a romance/friendship/life problem that I hope you can help with. I have been seeing a very handsome, compassionate, communicative, hard working man for the last seven months. I’d known and admired him for years in a professional setting before we finally started dating last fall. I adore him and hold him in the highest esteem. The problem is that we have no overlap in friendship circles, (aside from a handful of work friends) and our interests are very different. We each appreciate the interests and lifestyle of the other, but don’t exactly share them, if that makes sense. Like, I appreciate that he climbed Mt. Hood last year but I will almost definitely never climb a mountain with him. And he appreciates that I watch a number of television shows religiously, but doesn’t have the patience or motivation to stick with a series (although we did find common ground on Friday Night Lights.) Also: friends. We have been to plenty of parties and events together, and while we enjoy each other’s friends, neither of us have yet found the person or people in each other’s friend group that we could imagine developing our own deep friendship with.
I should say that this Venn diagram, with barely intersecting circles of friends/interests, bothers me more than it bothers my boyfriend. His position is that we love each other, we share the same values in regard to relationships, family, the planet, work, etc., and that the more we learn about and spend time in one another’s lives, the better we’ll understand each other and the communities we come from. Sometimes I agree with him, but sometimes I get bummed and worry that if we stay together we’ll always be appreciating each other’s pleasures but never sharing them. Also I am scared that I’ll subconsciously let go of some of the events and people that make me happy as my boyfriend and I sort out a life together.
My question is: how important is it that we watch TV or climb mountains together or whatever? Also, how long does it take to find that sweet spot of “sharing” each other’s pleasures and friends? I want to emphasize that I really do love this man; I want to find a way to have a healthy relationship where we can each maintain what is essential about ourselves while still inhabiting and enjoying a life together. Please advise?
My knee jerk reaction to this is to say “Girl, don’t worry so hard!” I think your boyfriend is right, actually. But I also appreciate that this is something that worries/bothers you, and thus should be discussed. But seriously, don’t worry so much!
To begin with, I’d point out that dating someone who shares your friend group, while awesome in many ways, also brings with it its own issues, especially if you ever break up, which, I don’t think this will happen to you, but I’m just saying. Or like, sometimes it’s nice for it to just be a given that you are invited to something and he isn’t. It’s nice to not be a couple at every single event. Go solo! I just think having separate friend groups can be nice, in some ways. It’s nice to have your own scene where you go do your own thing! Just keep that in mind, as you work through this stuff. A little separation can be a very nice and healthy thing.
The other thing that’s nice is that when you have weird separate lives/interests, you get to learn from each other. Was I interested in avant garde film sound before I met my match? No I was not. But now I know kind of a lot about it, relatively speaking, and my life is better and I am interested in it and hooray! EVEN THOUGH, no, under no circumstances would I ever just throw on Walter Rutmann’s Lichtspiel Opus 1 to enjoy by myself of an evening, in lieu of Arrested Development. NEVER WILL I! But still, I have developed a fairly deep and sincere appreciation, even if it never matches my old man’s towering passion, and even if I OFTEN do not join him in that pursuit. Right? And the same goes for him and whatever weird shit I’m working on. Now he knows kind of a lot, relatively speaking, about nineteenth century art music, and it is very cute when he talks about it and I get to hear his outsider insights into my field, which are often totally brilliant. It’s fun to have stuff you can educate each other about. Or like how he is obsessed with fantasy sports, which, if there is something more boring in the history of the earth I legitimately don’t even want to know. But it is fine! He checks his stats and talks shop with his nerdy friends and he leaves me the hell out of it. And I make sourdough starters and watch Downton Abbey and I leave him the hell out of it. I think this is more than reasonable.
Okay but I get that you are talking about a somewhat more extreme separation; a more extreme non-overlapping Venn diagram. And I do understand how that can be worrisome/stressful/emo. Because it IS really nice to be able to hang out in a group with your partner and not feel like he is the Outsider, and vice versa for you when you hang out with his friends. And it IS really nice to share passions and lifestyles, and of course some overlapping is necessary if you are actually going to have a life together.
One thing that I think is probably a challenge for you in this regard is that you are both older (i.e. not in college), and have lived in your city for years and years. So you are both very firmly established in terms of friends, vibe, interests, etc. It is hard to develop new passions later in life, frankly. And it is a lot harder to make new friends the older you get, just because it’s maybe a bit exhausting? You maybe are like “I have enough goddamn friends.” Or something. Or, you’ve really figured out who you are and how you like to relate to your friends, and having to find your footing in a whole new group is just not as enticing as maybe it once was. And in terms of interests, god help us but we do get set in our ways. Maybe 20 years ago I could suddenly have become a devoted mountain climber, but it’s seriously just not going to happen now. All of which is more than reasonable–I don’t think it’s depressing or bad. You slowly learn who you really are, as you age, and that’s a very good thing.
But I do think this just means it’s going to TAKE LONGER. Seven months actually does not seem that long to me, for your friend groups to still not be integrated or whatever. These people are all grown-ass people, with careers and kids and routines! It’s going to take way more time to feel integrated with them, and vice versa, than it did in college when everyone was basically the same and we all just hung out and partied CONSTANTLY.
So my first piece of advice is to just chill out and give it way more time. You’ve established that you LIKE each other’s friends (this would be a whole different issue if he was like “your friends are all horrible a-wads”), and you’ve established that you appreciate, respect, and understand each others’ interests (again, it would be different if you were like “his ‘interest’ is being a drug addict and I don’t relate to that” or something, or like if he was a bowhunter and you’re an ethical vegetarian, or if he’s obsessed with Nazi paraphernalia, etc.), which to me all sounds like a perfectly solid foundation upon which to build a relationship. Right?
I think you will develop at least a few more shared interests just over time. Like, again, I did not set myself the task of learning about avant garde cinema—I just sort of learned about it and came to enjoy it through osmosis, just via hanging around with this dude for years. Right? At first, I sincerely did not enjoy watching these films with him. They made me mad, which is a very normal response to intentionally opaque works of art. But after awhile, I realized with surprise that I was actually looking forward to watching them. It happens! You may never want to climb a mountain but you may develop a more sincere enjoyment of going on a mellow hike, e.g. Or you might enjoy going on a vacation with him where he climbs a mountain but you stay at the cabin reading by the river and then he comes home all tired and you make love in the field with the unicorns running by. Like after awhile, you’ll find that you’ve come to more fully appreciate or even enjoy SOME of his interests, and vice versa, AND/OR you’ll just naturally figure out how to include each other in some of your interests at whatever level works for them (i.e. the cabin vs. the mountain). And if this doesn’t happen with ALL your interests, that’s fine! I would hate it if my old man shared all my interests, honestly. It’s nice to have some stuff that’s just yours. Weirdly one of mine is Ingmar Bergman, which you’d think he’d be super into but for some reason that is really my thing. And I like that! I watch them when he’s not home, and it’s my special time. (I think it’s because I hate humanity and really pride myself on being a super judgmental atheist, and my partner doesn’t, and isn’t (he’s just a regular atheist). There’s another non-shared interest!!!!)
My second piece of advice is just about changing your ‘tude a little bit w/r/t friends. I totally get that it would be nice if he had deep abiding friendships with some of your friends, but also if this never happens, just say OH WELL. It would be nice if he was a millionaire too. It would be nice if he had magical powers and could take you back in time to see a dinosaur. It would be nice if he was friends with Johnny Depp. But like, oh well! As long as your friends/him and his friends/you all like each other, which they totally do, just let it be what it is. You both understand that it’s important to hang out with each others friends; you both enjoy each others’ friends, it’s not like it’s a drag or anything; so don’t try to make it something it’s not. We all have acquaintances who aren’t necessarily “close friends,” but who we enjoy so much and are always happy to see. That’s fine! We don’t need to make every pleasant acquaintance into a best friend just because they are our partner’s good friend or something. Having separate good friends is a good thing, a lot of the time. It’s totally fair that you wish there was MORE overlap, but also, it’s not that big a deal I think.
I do think you should be cognizant of this and that you should consciously make sure you don’t give up people or activities that make you happy, just because of this issue, like you say. It sounds like your boyfriend is not someone who’s going to make that demand of you (“I hate when you go hang out with so-and-so without me or whatever”), which is good, but I do think you’re right to worry a bit that you’ll just sort of slowly and inevitably give stuff up. JUST DON’T DO IT! I really think it’s about ‘tude. Just cultivate an attitude of, like, having these separate things and really appreciating that, and appreciating that you get to go off and do this stuff you enjoy with your close friends, and then you come home and tell him about it and he laughs and you are happy to see each other and then you do something together that you both enjoy. Totally a normal way to live! And over time maybe you realize you are really vibing with some friend of his, and maybe one of your friends invites him to some weird dude party, and anyway after awhile you won’t feel this crazy gulf and it will just be normal.
Overall, I think this issue is more like, this is something that is mildly less than ideal. Rather than a Huge Problem or a Dealbreaker or something that Prophesizes Doom. It’s just something that could be better but isn’t that bad so oh well! We all have stuff like that.
1. Give it way more time to change slowly
2. Don’t worry about it!
3. Enjoy it the way it is and accept it the way it is, and after awhile it will seem more and more normal and eventually you probably won’t even remember why you were so worried about it.
Also make a list of all the things that would actually be worse problems than this one:
– he refuses to do housework, ever
– you don’t trust him
– he’s a drug addict
– he blows every paycheck at the track
– you legitimately think his friends are dicks
– he still spends the night at his ex girlfriend’s house but when you tell him this bothers you he accuses you of being “controlling”
– you fight all the time
– you make ten times as much money as he does or vice versa (this would be fine with me but I know some people find it difficult)
– his parents are insane
– he has debilitating night terrors every night
– he has troubled teenage children from an earlier marriage
– one of you has some deeply niche sexual fetish that the other one would rather die than partake in
– he actually embarrasses you in front of your friends
– he thinks Anna Paquin is “our greatest living actor”
– you have profoundly different political beliefs or lifestyles
– he’s a Mac guy and you’re a PC guy LOL
In conclusion: THIS IS NO BIGGIE!!! Don’t let it be a biggie because it really doesn’t have to be one, in my humble opinion. It’s totally fine if it worries you but try not to let the worry get too big, because I really think time and mellowness is going to take care of this. You guys are obviously an amazing match and you make each other happy and the rest is just going to be a fun process of experimentation and discovery to fit ever-better together over time. FUN!