Opposites have attracted. Now what?
January 4, 2013 6:54 PM   Subscribe

How do I reconcile a basic difference between my live-in-partner and myself about recreation? One enjoys something active now and again, the other always wants something passive. What is a happy compromise?

My partner and I have lived together for several years. I work from home; she works in an office. Our work schedules pretty much match up in the standard fashion - for eight hours a day we are sleeping, for eight we are working, and the last eight hours we have free. It is the third eight hours that is tricky.

During her work day, she is talking to customers and colleagues, doing site visits, making orders, and do on. I am reviewing code, writing reports, answering e-mails and occasionally getting in touch with a colleague or customer by phone.

After work, she wants nothing more (essentially every night) than to eat dinner, watch TV for six or seven hours, then perhaps read for twenty minutes before going to sleep. Maybe one evening a month we will go out for dinner and/or to see a movie, or visit a store or library or something. After eight hours of sitting staring at a screen, eight more hours of sitting staring at a screen is not appealing.

Complications: we live in a somewhat remote area, poorly served by public transportation. She drives, but due to a disability, I do not. To go to a relatively nearby movie theater is a twenty-minute trip each way by car, so to see a two-hour movie there would take up maybe 2:45. On my own, it is about a seven-hour round trip.

Also, she has a bad back and always pleads that she needs to rest. On top of that, she is on medication for bipolar disorder and says she has to do "something to turn her mind off," otherwise she says "my thoughts just go around and around."

I want to support her in being comfortable, and she tells me if I do not want to watch whatever marathon of TV is currently coming through NetFlix I do not have to, but any attempt to make any baby step as meager as maybe playing cards is met with complaints and a long face. I an go out on my own, of course, but it is a considerable time investment and it drops our waking hours together considerably.

Also: I moved from the core of a large city to a remote town to be with her, and where I used to be out three or four or five nights a week (not clubbing or anything, but to see a movie or have coffee with a friend or to go to the gym), now I am a total couch potato, watching my waistline grow by the month.

I am not interested in DTMFA advice: we get along quite well, are very sympatico, have a fairly awesome sex life, like each other's friends and family and all. However, looking ahead to the 361 evenings left in this year and thinking 340 of them will be spent watching marathons of TV shows is making me crazy.

Suggestions? Should I readjust my conception of leisure time to being essentially just sitting on my ass watching TV? Or do I ignore her and do what I want?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Do things you like on your own when possible. Couples don't have to do everything together. I love orchestral music, chamber music, opera, and ballet, which my husband loathes, so I go alone or with friends who dig that stuff. My husband is really into the acoustic music scene, both as performer and audience, and I have a limited tolerance for it, so he mostly goes alone or with other friends.

Just be bold and ask people stuff like "are you going hiking soon? I'd love to join you sometime" and then follow up.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:01 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

: " I an go out on my own, of course, but it is a considerable time investment and it drops our waking hours together considerably. "

Your waking hours together aren't really quality time, anyway. You should go out on your own. Since she works from home, perhaps you should ask her to consider moving somewhere you are closer to things to do.
posted by notsnot at 7:02 PM on January 4, 2013 [13 favorites]

Do you have local friends outside of your partner? Perhaps you could arrange a regular "date" with one or some of them to go out once per week, so that the trip isn't so daunting for you?
posted by xingcat at 7:04 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

do I ignore her and do what I want?

You don't have to 'ignore her' to do what you want. She's articulated that her main need is rest; as someone with a similar intense job, I understand that. A lot of what you're craving - interacting with other people, being out and about in the world, small talk, activity and color - well, she's getting that during every day while you're in a peaceful home environment. It's no surprise that your needs in the evening are different.

But a lot of couples do different things at least some nights per week. If you want to, take a class, go to pub trivia, or hit the gym 1 or 2 or even 3 nights a week. You may be gone an hour or three, but it sounds like you won't miss out the whole evening at home. Your outside activities will give you a little something more to talk about and make you more interesting to one another. Find one or two things to do each week outside the house, and don't insist that she take part. She wants to relax.

Aother alternative - toward the end of the week, maybe you can knock off early, go meet her at work, and go out somewhere for early drinks, dinner, or movie before you come home for the evening. That's a form of "going out" I really like, even with a busy schedule. Once I get to the cushy safety of home I often don't want to leave again, but if I can walk out of work knowing I'm heading to a fun happy hour or short-term activity and will be home by 9 to chill out, that's a lot better of a prospect. That works really well on Thursday or Friday night when there's not much more week to gear up for.

tl;dr: it's more draining commuting and dealing with people all day than you might remember. Respect her needs, but meet your own. You don't need to do the same thing every night.
posted by Miko at 7:06 PM on January 4, 2013 [25 favorites]

Move closer to amenities. If you were near a community centre, movie theatre, pub and other activities, it sounds like this would be less of a problem. I'm not sure how this trades off with your commutes, but it might help you find more balance. She can watch TV anywhere. It's a lot harder for you to get to the things you enjoy. Also, if you moved even a bit closer to amenities, you could probably better afford a cab. (Note that taking cabs a few times a week is probably still cheaper than owning a 2nd car, which you can't drive anyway.)
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 7:06 PM on January 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

You need to move to a city where you can go out and she can stay in. It's really that simple. I mean you live in either the burbs or a rural area. There likely isn't a ton of stuff to "go out" and do anyway. It also doesn't sound like you have any friends who could take you out. It's crazy to be unable to drive and to live somewhere where you have to drive. No wonder you are unhappy. She doesn't want to be your chauffeur and you don't want to be stuck in the house. Who can blame either of you?

I realize this is easier said than done, but you need to start making big life plans to get back to a city. Tons of couples have one half who is a homebody and the other who is more active, but the key is being somewhere that enable the more active one to have an independent life.
posted by whoaali at 7:09 PM on January 4, 2013 [22 favorites]

Do you have hobbies? On your own, while she is watching TV you could be learning how to play an instrument, woodworking or other crafts, lifting weights – there are a few things that you can do at home without sitting in one place.

Get a dog, walk him. I had always wanted a dog and finally got one over the summer – it's so wonderful when it comes to having to be out and about for a couple of hours at least, twice a day, every day, rain and shine. And then you can spend time training him to be even more awesome, which is incredibly rewarding and is a shared experience with your partner since she'll get to reinforce all the new tricks. Of course, don't adopt a living being just for the exercise.

Buy some European board games. Just as entertaining but with less screen staring and more thinking.

Also, is there any reason you live so far from civilization?
posted by halogen at 7:12 PM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Do you want to do active things, or to do active things with her? I hope it's the first one because I don't think making her do what she doesn't feel like doing will help at all.

I think all you can do is find activities you can do on your own or with other friends. Since you work at home, do you have to always keep standard office hours? If not, it might be easier for you to do things during the day. So if you were out for several hours in the morning, and then worked a few hours later into the evening while she watched TV, you'd still be together in your living room - you wouldn't be leaving her alone to go out at night, if that's what you wanted to avoid.

On preview, this is assuming you can't move. If you can, you need to live elsewhere.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 7:12 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Might she agree to drive you to activities and pick you up a few hours later? That could be a reasonable compromise and I suspect that a lot of the need would be relatively temporary -- once you build a network of people doing the same activity, you'd likely be able to coordinate rides with them.
posted by susanvance at 7:18 PM on January 4, 2013 [11 favorites]

Don't rely on her to go with you everywhere. Be independent and do whatever you want. Also, be sympathetic to her. She works all day in an office where she probably has to dress for work (bra, heels, makeup),deal with multiple demands and has to commute to and from work. That can be exhausting for someone who works really hard and just wants to unwind at the end of the day. It's not fair to expect her to go out and be active if she feels best staying put. Cut her some slack and figure out how to meet your own needs by getting a pet or making friends online who want to hike or whatever.
posted by discopolo at 7:21 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

This might wind up being an incompatibility, but since you don't want to hear that and aren't there yet... Compromise. Get her to do a little more of your stuff. And you do more of your stuff without her, and be more understanding of her position and feelings.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:43 PM on January 4, 2013

Don't rely on her to go with you everywhere. Be independent and do whatever you want.

Keeping in mind, of course, that the OP who cannot drive due to a disability moved to a remote town poorly served by transit to be with his/her significant other. I get the gist of what you're saying, but given the situation I feel it's more complicated than "stop bothering her and go do your own thing," hence some of the advice to move to a city.
posted by andrewesque at 7:44 PM on January 4, 2013 [19 favorites]

I have a similar dynamic in my relationship. I love hiking, while my wife likes to relax at home after her day of work. Early in our relationship, I felt like I was abandoning her, or looking down on her choices for entertainment and relaxation.

We came to terms with our disconnection between our preferred choices. I go out some times, less than I used to, but we also go out together.

If your partner is OK with you going out with on your own for a while a few days a week, do so. Talk wit your partner about going out together on the weekends, when she hasn't had a full day of up-time and people-time already. As others have said: compromise. This doesn't have to be either/or.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:46 PM on January 4, 2013

"... but any attempt to make any baby step as meager as maybe playing cards is met with complaints and a long face."

I'm sorry. That sounds tough.

You also write:

- She wants nothing more than to watch TV for 6 or 7 hours and then go to bed.

- She has a bad back and pleads for rest when you suggest anything other than TV.

- You moved from the core of a large city to be with her, even though you have a disability which prevents you from driving.

It seems your SO gets her way 99% of the time. This is not working out for you.

You are starting to gain weight, you are bored and frustrated. Sadly, I fear your next step will be to develop depression, if you haven't already.

How do you want to handle this?

Plenty of people remain in partnerships but don't live together. You might consider this.
posted by jbenben at 7:50 PM on January 4, 2013 [13 favorites]

What has worked for me and my husband in a similar situation as you is to make plans ahead of time. If I know in advance that we're going out to dinner and a movie, then I can (usually) plan my work day to not be so draining, leaving me with some energy when I get home.

I wonder if it would be a good compromise to set up a regular "date night". You don't even have to do anything "date-y" - just a drive into town to pick up groceries or whatever occasionally to break up the routine might be enough to make you both happy. For me anyway, it's easier to deal with the endless TV marathons if I know that the next evening we'll be going out.

Another thought - can you encourage your partner to join a gym with you? It gives you two something to do together that benefits you both.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:55 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is really common when one partner works at home and the other works in an office; when the workday is done, you each crave the opposite thing. It's not necessarily a relationship problem, but if it goes unresolved it can develop into one.

You don't have to spend all or even most of your free time with your partner; almost no one does that in practice. You do need regular quality time with your partner, but you will also have social needs that she can't meet.

I really encourage you to move back to the city, or at the very least to a walkable neighborhood. Without adequate public transportation or the option of driving, you're essentially stranded and dependent on your partner for all outside activities. No wonder you're unhappy.

And although it's not always possible for you to venture out on your own, do so when you can. If you can find friends in the area, even better. Would your partner be willing to drive you to and from a once-a-week activity - say, a meetup or a class? If so, it might be good for you, but if she'll just resent being your chauffeur, maybe that's not such a good idea.

Your need to get out of the house and experience things is just as important and valid as her need to relax. Neither of these things have to be partner activities. She doesn't have to go out with you, but she does need to understand your need to go out. If she doesn't understand it, or dismisses it, then you have a relationship problem.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:05 PM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

Your work from home scenario makes your needs for those eight hours after work very different from hers. Just as real, just as urgent, but very very different.

It's clear you need to move to a place where you can get around without her chauffeuring you. Really, how else can this possibly work out? She doesn't want to drive you around when she needs to be resting and you need to get out of the house after being stuck there all day. This is totally common and reasonable on both sides, and the solution is for you to sometimes do different things; but you can't do that when you can't drive and you're stuck in the boonies.

For the love of God don't badger her to join a gym. Girl has a bad back and a physically demanding job. If she wanted to be at the gym in the evening you'd have heard about it by now.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:06 PM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Can you work outside the home, at a cafe, in a shared office near your partner's office (so you can share the commute) or else timeshift some of your work commitments so you are doing active things during the day and working beside her on the couch in the evening, her watching TV, you on your laptop.
posted by saucysault at 8:25 PM on January 4, 2013 [11 favorites]

I also work from home. One way I manage my "at home but not working" time is to focus on producing rather than consuming things. To that end, I knit, play piano, cook and bake, exercise, clean, write in a journal, and comment on AskMe. I've found that this is a really good way for me to stay home (which I like to do most evenings) and not feel like I'm being too passive.

You should also really look into moving, but a hobby where you make stuff - that's not on your computer, since you're a programmer - might really help mitigate the problem of staring at a screen for your 8 hours of off time.
posted by k8lin at 8:28 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Saucysault has a brilliant idea. You could drive in just a few days a week, spend time working in a coffee shop, go out to lunch, walk around town, hike, volunteer. You will be able to be her company on the drive home, then, when she is crashing in front of the tv, you can fill it with some work time that you missed out on from doing stuff part of the day. It's just reversing your private/social time to meet up with hers. You can come home and both be passive together.
posted by Vaike at 8:34 PM on January 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

I agree with the moving advice because I've lived in places there isn't much to do and as a person who likes doing stuff, it drove me up the wall. At one point, my wife and I lived in a place where we were essentially stuck in the house for 6 months and I was going bonkers. It's worth whatever it costs to move, trust me, the several thousand dollars I spent to get out of that place and move somewhere with stuff to do, I'm still paying it off and STILL count it the best money I ever spent.

In terms of the recreational stylings: My wife and I are similar, down to the me working from home and her not. The way I dealt with it, and this is going to sound harsh but it's the way it is, is I don't let her get in the way of doing the things I want to do, because if I left it up to her, we'd both sit in the house playing Farmville forever. When I want to do something, I say, "Hey, I want to go see Django Unchained, what about you?" If she does, I pick a time that works for both of us. If she doesn't, I do it when she's working or asleep or farting around the house. It works for us because we're both pretty independent and I don't get resentful that I don't get to do fun stuff and she doesn't get resentful because I'm dragging her to another late-night ultraviolent flick when she really just wants to click around her virtual farm.

In terms of activities: What you need is an away-from-the-computer hobby. A man needs a shed, as they say, be it literal or metaphorical. If you want something that's couple-time but doesn't require watching 7 hours of TV every night, you could do something kind of crafty like knitting or crocheting so she could watch her shows and you could hang out with her but be doing your own thing. Or you could get yourself a little work bench and start making stuff. Me, I mess around with electronics kits and learning electronics and also am just starting working on learning to draw.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:50 PM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

You gotta move. Seriously, the isolation and decreased independance is not going to get easier to deal with.
posted by windykites at 10:23 PM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Would she be into listening to podcasts together? Turns your brain off like tv but doesn't involve a screen. And maybe playing war or some really low-key card game during?
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 1:04 AM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've been in similar situations and it does kind of suck. I think that you guys need to talk about how this situation isn't going to work for you long term and work towards making some kind of change, moving, you getting a job in town, her getting a different job, something.

In the meantime, I think you do need to spend more time taking care of your own needs. Is it possible for you to exercise out where you are? My husband has been the at home guy so he would go out for a run. It's not social but it does get you out and about and blow out some cobwebs, plus it can be done at lunchtime and doesn't need anything besides some shoes. If not running, maybe there's something else you can do at home/in your area? Also, right now we don't have a car but he plays a team sport (soccer) and it's totally normal for the team to arrange rides amongst themselves so everyone can get to the game and practise and whatever. Sometimes those always getting rides will put in gas money. If you could find something similar then that would give you exercise and social contact even with your lack of transport options.

I also think it would be reasonable to get your partner to give you rides occasionally so you can go out and she can go back home to blob. It would probably be easier if you had some kind of set thing you were going to, a regular club night or class or something so she can plan for it, and once per week max also seems fair. It will kind of suck for her but being stuck at home every day kind of sucks for you, and you don't really have other options.

Lastly, I totally get that she needs to rest after work. I'm the same. But is she recharged enough to do stuff with you at some point during the weekend? I generally get into such a rut that I'm happy spending Saturday night blobbing in front of the computer but recently I've been making an effort to do something with my husband, and it turns out that it's worth the effort. We play boardgames quite often and sometimes go out somewhere. It's usually only one thing per weekend, not too energetic or scary, but the focus is on interacting directly with each other in a way that television prevents. It totally helps.

I think all of these options involve talking to her about this regardless. It sounds like you guys have a solid relationship and having a discussion about how to make your shared life work better for you shouldn't be too scary. The balance is definitely off at the moment for whatever reason, see if you can move it back towards something that works for both of you. If you can work it out with your current jobs and location then good, but, in my experience, making a larger change will probably end up being the answer.
posted by shelleycat at 4:31 AM on January 5, 2013

Can you get more involved with what's going on in your 'remote town'? I live in a little village of 2k -- I like going to the city a lot, but I'm also fairly well-entertained locally; there are plenty of friends I can bother to come round for a drink or go and visit, and little this and that going on that I can participate in without car travel.

(How long ago did you move? Because this was not the status quo initially; it was quite lonely at the start, and all local goings-on seemed to have a high knowledge bar to entry -- you'd see vague mentions of events but were just supposed to automatically know where they were! Drove me mad. Now I know that the Shoe-Shining Festival always goes on in the fire hall, etc.)

Also, rural folk tend to have hobbies. If you are seeing your evening options as teevee or get out of Dodge and those are the only two possibilities, perhaps you are still living as a city person in your head -- where entertainment is very largely external to the home, restaurants and theatres and shops &c. People I know here in the sticks are into: leatherworking, pottery, sewing overpriced fetish clothing for Etsy, building a boat in the yard, making their own soaps and lotions... And of course since it is Canada a large number hit the curling rink regularly. If your town's equivalent of the curling rink is not in walking distance, post a notice on one of the local bulletin boards (physical, not virtual, though I suppose the latter would work if there's a sufficiently populated Facebook group, but there usually isn't) indicating that you are looking for a ride; somebody who wants to keep [curling] a booming community thing will want to bring you along.

I have a, uh, Netflix-y boyfriend, and one thing that works for me is to invite people over for dinner or drinks. It means I 'do something' and he gets to participate in a low-key way. It may be that socialising is too much work during desired downtime for your partner, but it could be a good occasional option. Especially as you are ex-city-folk now in the boonies -- if you have maintained ties with city friends you may find that they enjoy the odd trip out to your home, and that all concerned will enjoy that more intentional sort of visit, as nobody comes from town on a whim to drop in for a half hour; you've got a dinner-boardgame?-drinks-etc stretch with them, and it's a nice, friendship-cementing thing to have those interactions.
posted by kmennie at 5:00 AM on January 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm just going to repeat this because it seems like half of the responses are missing a major point:

posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:41 AM on January 5, 2013 [14 favorites]

Am I the only one who thinks it's worth asking her to talk to her doctor about a change in her medication? She may simply be a homebody, but she may be using all that television to self-medicate.
posted by Specklet at 5:44 AM on January 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I agree with halogen about getting a dog. My husband and I had this very same problem; I like to be active in my free-time but once he gets home he'd rather relax and play video games. Getting a dog was a perfect solution because I instantly had a companion who was thrilled to go walking, jogging, and explore the world with me. My husband even occasionally joins us on some of our daily walks.
posted by Nematoda at 6:26 AM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Regardless of whatever practical steps may come afterwards, the first step is to figure out whether getting your needs met is sufficiently important to her that she is willing to discuss practical steps and make some compromises.

I understand that you get along well, have a good sex life, etc. etc., but being a long-term relationship with someone who is not willing or able to prioritize your needs and compromise so that they get met will--over the course of many years--erode all that happy happy joy joy.

any attempt to make any baby step as meager as maybe playing cards is met with complaints and a long face.

This, I think, calls for serious consideration on your part and serious discussion between the two of you. There is nothing wrong with taking the initiative to get some of your needs met on your own (hobby, local friends, dog, etc.). And it is possible to get your relationship/companionship needs met on a less-than-7-evenings-a-week-together schedule. But the fact that she doesn't seem interested in taking a step toward your position--let alone meeting you halfway--is really going to cause problems down the line.

The other thing that is going to erode your happiness in ways that are difficult to undo is when you frame your partner's choices as inferior (sit on one's ass watching TV) rather than different. (I'm in somewhat the same position as you in my relationship, although without some of the constraints, and I struggle with this "contempt" issue mightily.)
posted by drlith at 7:10 AM on January 5, 2013 [7 favorites]

Without adequate public transportation or the option of driving, you're essentially stranded and dependent on your partner for all outside activities. No wonder you're unhappy.

Metroid Baby speaks the truth, and it would apply even if you and your partner had the same needs for outside recreation. Someone who is unable to drive should not live in the boonies. Period. Even if your partner was as enthusiastic about going out as you are, you'd still be dependent on her for your transportation. The little things - not being able to pop over to the grocery store for a whim or last-minute purchase, not being able to go to the library for some new books when you're bored, etc. - will wear you down. Trust me. I've known people in your position and they always wind up stir-crazy and resentful, depressed and often with eating or drug issues because they are trapped. And what if there was an emergency and you needed to get your GF to the ER or something like that?

You really, really, really need to reconsider living where you are. Non-drivers need to be able to access some form of transportation that isn't "a friend, family member or SO with a car." Otherwise you will wind up trapped and depressed. Where you live now can't possibly rock your socks (or your GF's) enough to be worth it.

tl;dr: You must move. You won't solve anything else without moving to where there is transportation.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:15 AM on January 5, 2013 [13 favorites]

Perhaps it would open things up a little bit if you clarified how it feels to you when she responds in the way she does--and for you to know exactly how she is interpreting your invitations to do something else. I would maybe take some time to let your partner know how you are interpreting it when you suggest something low-key.

For example, some keys are that it seems you feel you are suggesting a fun thing and you interpret her reaction as if she thinks you are trying to persuade her to do something totally gross and un-fun. You feel like this is ALWAYS the response and so you feel it's hard to get anywhere. I'm saying this because she might not be aware that that is how she is coming across; it's so easy to get into a "I love TV and this is what I do" rut and just think that any suggestions to do something else are optional, not really important, not priorities, take-or-leave-it... but that is not how it feels to you.

One example of a result that could come from this conversation is you might both discover she isn't receptive to new ideas WHILE watching TV or relaxing, and therefore you'd talk about what you're going to do and the ideas for the day at another time, such as the morning or right when she gets home.
posted by ramenopres at 10:44 AM on January 5, 2013

Short term, you should look for something you can do while walking. How about geocaching?
posted by bq at 2:25 PM on January 5, 2013

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