The importance of common interests in relationships
January 19, 2013 8:38 PM   Subscribe

How important are common interests in relationships?

I am just ending a relationship with someone I'm admittedly still crazy about, who shares tons in common with me, but who is in other respects emotionally unavailable, addicted to drugs, and dealing with a whole host of other issues that render him totally incapable of being in a relationship with someone. For a long time prior to meeting this person, I never dreamed I'd meet someone who I could possibly have so much in common with, so he was like the answer to all my prayers. Our conversations are and always have been amazing and we could constantly connect over our common interests: philosophy, politics, avant-garde film, strange aesthetics, neofolk and postpunk music, etc. Now that the relationship has dissolved, I am really despairing over the realization that I may never find anyone like him ever again, as it feels very much like a once in a lifetime opportunity to have found him in the first place.

Prior to meeting this individual, I had used numerous online dating sites to no avail (I did finally find him on one, but like I said, it took a LONG time, and he still lived 3 hours away). Time and again, it was impossible to find anyone who was like-minded or had common interests. Keyword searches would always yield individuals who lived in Europe or on the west coast (far, far away from me being on the east coast). I am now 30 years old, and thinking that I probably need to be a bit less picky, but I really do despair at the thought of being in a relationship with someone with whom I have nothing in common. Most of the men I run into at work, in public, or even online that live in this area are into very typical, mainstream, and what is to me very mundane, banal activities and interests. I know I sound like an elitist; it isn't my intent to come off this way, I just want to meet someone I can really talk to, whose company I can really enjoy. If I see one more online profile from a guy stating that he enjoys "having brews with the guys on the weekend" and will "listen to anything but rap and country," I think I will gouge my eyes out.

I have thought about moving out of the area, but I am close to my family, and also kind of tied down to my area for financial reasons. I have tried and numerous other avenues online in terms of meeting people with common interests, but again, no luck. My interests seem to be too bizarre/esoteric.

Has anyone else dealt with this problem, and how did you go about dealing with it? Would it be best for me to just move out of the area? Should I just settle? I don't have any problems getting dates with guys. It's just a matter of finding one that actually stimulates me mentally. Years ago, in my early 20s, I was in a long term relationship with someone with whom I had absolutely nothing in common. He was crazy about me, and I suspect really loved and cared for me (probably more so than any guy I ever dated), but I couldn't get over our lack of common interests, and I ended the relationship. He just couldn't do anything for me.

I'm not trying to be a jerk; I am just super frustrated and really despairing over this. I am not hung up on things like how much money a guy makes, whether he looks like a model or has six pack abs, if he is a doctor, lawyer, etc. I just want to meet someone with whom I can have great conversations, and really bond over the same enjoyed experiences/interests! My idea of fun is not hanging out in bars, going out to Dave Matthews concerts, extreme outdoors activities every weekend, or planning my next international trip which will entail hang-gliding off of Mt. Kilimanjaro (just to name a few cliche interests that seem to appear quite ubiquitously on online dating sites).

So, any thoughts on this? How important are common interests to the rest of you? Can anything else make up for it? Should I, at my age (and with a desire to marry and have children) just give up on this ideal, and settle on someone? Should I move out of the area as a way of having more options (even though I've had quite a few people tell me I'm going to have the same problem no matter where I live)? I know that all sounds pretty bleak, but I don't know what else to do at this point. Any thoughts or advice are much, much appreciated.
posted by loveoracle to Human Relations (47 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Your post made me laugh because it's true. All the hobbies you listed (you forgot to mention the five million guys who are really into photography) are really the new "I like to hang out in the garage with my power tools" which would honestly be preferable to another dude saying how he's so laid back and so adventurous.

I think you just have to be yourself, go out with the guys you find physically attractive, and figure out if they're cool with you doing stuff you like while they're out hiking.

Some guys have friends they can do stuff with and other guys expect their romantic partners to actually share all of their interests because they're not that great at making close friends to do stuff with. You'll have to weed out the guys who aren't demanding that you hike Mt Everest with them while you're five months pregnant and won't resent you or look down on you for not fulfilling all of their entertainment needs.
posted by discopolo at 8:56 PM on January 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

My last boyfriend was much like yours, very similar common interests, a mutual obsession with work, lots to talk about but too caught up in drugs and alcohol. I used to think common interests were really important. Then my husband came along. If I'd seen him on a dating site, based on common interests, we'd almost certainly have rejected each other. I'm into creative pursuits, books, art, reading, cooking. He into finance, surfing, swimming, biking, poker, politics. Aside from watching movies in bed and a mutual love of, ahem, sex, we have very little in common.

But what we do share is similar values and morals and that makes all the difference in the world. I don't need to play poker with him or understand it, as long as he enjoys it and has people he can share it with, that's fine. Now we have our baby son (there's a common interest!) he takes up a lot of our time and focus and we both try to give the other space to enjoy individual pursuits. Not being present for these activities also gives us something bring back and talk about that you might not get if you were always in each others pockets doing them together. From my point of view, being with someone who thinks so differently to myself and past partners has given me an added appreciation of each others differing points of view and opened me up to things I might not have considered before and people I would never normally be exposed to which is invaluable to growing as a person.
posted by Jubey at 8:57 PM on January 19, 2013 [41 favorites]

Common interests are useful as a springboard. I met my husband when we were training for a marathon. That meant that we spent hours together several days a week. Now we really don't have shared hobbies, but we like each other and know each other and are invested in each other's lives.

Over time common interests become less important because you have shared experiences.
posted by 26.2 at 8:59 PM on January 19, 2013 [13 favorites]

I just want to meet someone with whom I can have great conversations, and really bond over the same enjoyed experiences/interests!

Well, thing is- they don't have to have the same interests as you WHEN YOU MEET THEM in order for you to 1. have interesting conversations and 2. bond over shared interests. But you have to leave room for the idea that you could teach them something new, or that they could do the same for you.

Here are some things that I now totally love, which I had absolutely ZERO interest in before a boyfriend or hookup turned me on to them: improv comedy. Arrested Development. Martial arts. Various folk singers. Kink. Raw oysters. Camping. My life is so much richer for all of these things.

If you think of yourself and the men you date as unchangeable, then yes- it may be hard to find a puzzle piece that clicks right into yours. Don't be a puzzle piece. Be putty.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:00 PM on January 19, 2013 [27 favorites]

So, it doesn't matter how important they are to strangers on the internet; what matters is how important they are to YOU. If you can't continue a relationship with someone because you don't like all the same stuff, it doesn't matter if I can.

I've been with my husband for nine years now, and our interests are not really that similar to what they were when we met. I was very into stuff that just doesn't seem that important to me any longer; he was mildly into things that have since become all-consuming passions. You never know how people are going to change. You might meet someone who has a ton in common with you, and find that once you're married he ends up leaving that stuff behind. Would this be a dealbreaker for you? If not, why not? Because you're making it a dealbreaker now.

I have a few things in common with my husband (namely, we both work in the same industry and studied similar subjects in school), but he'll never understand why I like the music and movies I like, and he thinks some things are fun that I think are pretty stupid. That said, I've actually found that some things I've tried because of him are actually way more enjoyable than I would have predicted. Part of the fun of being in a relationship with someone who isn't you is that they can turn you on to stuff you'd never seek out otherwise.
posted by town of cats at 9:01 PM on January 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Common interests are important to me and that's what I look for in a partner. They don't need to match up 100% in fact I'd probably find that boring on its own. Anyway, like you, I've had trouble with this, but I don't think it's because those people aren't out there, but because I don't know where to look for them. Online dating is more common but it's still nowhere near fully representative of the people out there especially if you live somewhere that doesn't have a lot of people from which to draw from.

It's hard to suggest whether moving might help you without knowing more about where you live. Big city? Suburbs? Rural environment? East coast, west coast, midwest?
posted by Green With You at 9:01 PM on January 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think you may place too much emphasis on a specific basket of interests that have to be present, when really the root of what you describe sounds to me like intellectual curiosity. I bet you could have a really stimulating partnership with someone who was curious and loved all kinds of esoteric things that had no overlap with your esoteric things. Imagine the great things you could show each other, and how much richer your lives would both become! But, it is pretty clear that this curiosity needs to be present for you, and it's true that many people (even some really great people) don't place a lot of importance on it. I really really don't think you should settle for someone who does not have this quality, because it has a tremendous impact on the kinds of things you do together, and the kind of life you will have together, and you may find it hard to be true to yourself if there is so little common ground.

Now. I know a lot of people who have this curiosity. It's very common in large liberal cities, for example. Almost everyone on Metafilter has it. If you're not finding intellectually curious people in your community, then you are either somehow not seeing them, or you are in the wrong place. Don't give up, but maybe think about making some changes.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:02 PM on January 19, 2013 [53 favorites]

I think it's important to have some common interests--an ex that I had basically no common ground with didn't work out so well--but you don't need to have all of them. My boyfriend is really into board games, for instance, and that isn't my favorite thing, but we do have similar taste in music and books and stuff. So there are activities we do together and ones we do apart. Maybe you can find someone who shares your musical taste, or your philosophical taste, or what have you, but not every one of those things.
posted by mlle valentine at 9:02 PM on January 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Another question, how much of a chance do you give someone before you conclude you can't have interesting conversations with them? I'm shy and I won't talk about interesting stuff to someone until I know them well and feel comfortable with them. And it's hard to come off as interesting in a dating profile. If you're making snap judgements that could be hurting your chances to meet otherwise interesting people that you could talk to.

Do you only meet people through online dating or do you go out and do things where you might meet a like-minded person? If there aren't places near you where you can do those things then moving might make sense.
posted by Green With You at 9:06 PM on January 19, 2013 [6 favorites]

The answer to your question is, in my opinion, 'Not as important as you might think'.

I am nearly 10 years older than you, and I now believe that I missed out on quite a few potentially good relationships by clinging to the false theory that we needed to like doing the same things.

What is important? Common values, beliefs and life goals. You can go to anime conventions with friends and leave him at home, but you probably can't successfully raise children with someone who thinks religion is a farce if you're a fundamentalist Christian. (Extreme example, I know.)

Of course, I'm generalizing: there are extremes in either direction and you have to have SOME stuff to do together. Just, perhaps, not as much as you expect.

Just one other aside:

I am not hung up on things like how much money a guy makes, whether he looks like a model or has six pack abs, if he is a doctor, lawyer, etc. I just want to meet someone with whom I can have great conversations, and really bond over the same enjoyed experiences/interests!

At the risk of sounding like a cynical old jerk - don't make the mistake of thinking that this makes you easy to please. I (and many of my attractive, kind, smart single friends) could have written this, and meant every word of it, for the past decade.
posted by Salamander at 9:11 PM on January 19, 2013 [10 favorites]

I think that common interests are pretty important, but common values are more important. If you're going to date someone with wildly different interest, then you need to be very open in listening to them talk about the stuff they love, and maybe even participate in it.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:20 PM on January 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

My last five relationships were with guys I had lots in common with. All of these guys were more concerned about me sharing their interests and not the other way around -- if I wanted to introduce them to something I liked, it had to pass a series of tests and filters before they'd even consider looking into it. These guys had nothing else to offer me except mutual interests, and that was what caused the demise of each relationship.... Because when it came down to it, they didn't really like me or care about me. I just fit into their view of their life until I started asking for more than just mutual interests. Then suddenly I was expendable.

The new guy I'm dating makes me feel nervous sometimes because we don't have a whole bunch in common by contrast, but I like him more because he treats me with respect and sweetness. I would much rather be with someone who actually likes me than somebody who doesn't. That's starting to be better than having everything in common with a guy. But it takes getting used to. I'm not there yet. Hopefully I will get there though cause I really like how the new guy makes me feel... And I think I could really enjoy being with him for a long time.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:39 PM on January 19, 2013 [13 favorites]

It would be extremely difficult to find someone who has all the same interests as you. I don't think it's realistic. But I think you can find someone who has some shared interests - I find it hard to imagine that there aren't any guys in your area who aren't like the typical guys you've described.

As others here have stated, the most important things are intellectual compatibility, similar values and goals, and also very importantly a personality that you like and jibes well with your personality. And the person needs to be someone you respect and admire for who they are, what they've done, or whatever reasons there are for you to respect and admire them.
posted by Dansaman at 9:40 PM on January 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good enough has a horribly misleading title, but is a must-read for you right now.

One of the great points that the author makes, like a few other here, is that values trump interests. The way that Lori Gottlieb describes it, in looking for a partner we tend to erroneously concentrate on the external qualities: he has to play an instrument, ski, and be into pottery, for example. But those activities aren't what will sustain a relationship, and they're not what really attract two people to each other. What we need to do is look at what the interests reveal about a person's internal self. Being musical really means that the person is creative and appreciates the arts, but these values can express themselves in a number of different ways. If you only look for people who play guitar, you miss the awesome guys who just love to rock out.

Every guy I dated for 8 years was a lanky, semi-employed musician who wrote and shopped at Hipsters R Us; I was convinced that was my type, and that I wouldn't be happy in a relationship with someone else. My husband is a polo shirt-wearing IT manager and I love him to death. He is creative in so many ways, and does love music, but doesn't happen to play an instrument or write. Because of our differing interests, I've learned so much, met to so many people I never would have been friends with otherwise, and am less rigid overall. I love the joy of introducing him to my stuff.

When we met, he loved low-brow movies, I wasn't much of a film buff at all, but we loved cozying up on the couch together and looked for common ground. Five years later, we're cinephiles who never run out of things to watch. We've discovered plenty of genres, directors, styles etc. that we both love. That kind of mutual growth and discovery is really awesome, and it wouldn't have happened if I insisted on dating my carbon copy.
posted by blazingunicorn at 9:50 PM on January 19, 2013 [20 favorites]

Common values are much more important than common hobbies. Sometimes hobbies can be a signal of a person's underlying values or his temperament, so I wouldn't say that it doesn't matter at all.

I have a friend who is really stuck on the idea that her ideal romantic partner should not just share a specific hobby, but be as passionate and committed to it as she is. However, we've both observed that the kind of man that spends more than 10 hours a week at this hobby is not a suitable partner for her. (Because if they are in our age group and are that engaged with this hobby, they likely do not have much of a career going, and it's important for her to be with someone financially stable.) (Sorry for being vague.) So I tell her, hey, you don't need someone who does this hobby the way you do, you need someone who is a) open to this category of thing you spend time doing, and b) is ok with you having a passion.

But, yeah, when you are evaluating dating profiles the cliches just pile up and up and up. It may be helpful to you identify particular character traits and values that are important to you, and try to think of what sort of signifiers which point to those traits. For example, it sounds to me like you would strongly connect with someone "intellectually curious." So when browsing profiles maybe you could look out for things like variety and depth in their book lists. Or in person, how does he react to your interests? Interested, or pushing the conversation along to favorite brew and backpack?
posted by stowaway at 9:51 PM on January 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

In my experience, shared values are much more important than shared interests. After 17 years together, my husband and I have a lot of shared interests, but we didn't really come into the relationship with many. We did, however, share important social, political, cultural, and emotional values. You're way more likely to find lasting love with someone who agrees with you on whether issues should be talked out or resolved independently, or with someone who is on the same page as to whether arguments or debates between partners are fun, than someone who only shares your interests in silent film or vintage button collecting, for example.
posted by KathrynT at 10:06 PM on January 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

Perhaps you're feeling particularly despairing about the idea of not sharing enough things in common with a future partner because you're just ending a relationship with someone you've really loved, and that love centered around having many common interests. What I'd suggest from my own experience is that you can love people for different reasons. This time the zing centered around shared specific interests; perhaps next time it will be about a shared general attitude toward life.

That said, I agree that the online dating landscape can be pretty bland and depressing. In terms of finding people with specific shared interests, I've had much more luck joining clubs and attending events that interested me, not specifically looking for love, but finding it accidentally amidst likeminded people.
posted by DrMew at 10:07 PM on January 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

Also, a friend recently had an excellent insight about online dating. Online, you whittle people down by hobbies and their descriptions, and later when you meet you get to judge the chemistry. But the chemistry is so much more important. For all you know, you might get along amazingly well with those guys who put two seconds into their profile and sound boring. Give them a chance. You really never know.
posted by blazingunicorn at 10:24 PM on January 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

How important are common interests to the rest of you?

Very important. When I'm dating someone, our interests don't need to be identical, but there should be a reasonable amount of overlap. Yes, as someone said above, "shared experiences" start to matter more and more. But if I meet someone and realize I'm not into any of the same kinds of things she's into, how likely is it that we're going to succeed at coming up with lots of stuff we both enjoy doing together?

Can anything else make up for it?

If you try hard enough, I'm sure it's possible to overcome a lack of common interests. And I wouldn't go so far as to say everything should just flow effortlessly in a relationship. But at a certain point, you're trying so hard to "make things work" that it feels too much like, you know, work.

Should I, at my age (and with a desire to marry and have children) just give up on this ideal, and settle on someone?

You have to decide for yourself what your priorities are. Passion matters, but rationality matters too, and to be rational, you have to realize you have a finite amount of time in which it will be biologically feasible to have children. If that's something you're determined to do, then that puts a limit on how far you can extend your process of finding the exact right person.

Should I move out of the area as a way of having more options (even though I've had quite a few people tell me I'm going to have the same problem no matter where I live)?

I don't know whether you should move, but I can tell you, I've tried online dating in various cities, and it seems that in every city there are tons of profiles with the same old "I like having a girls' night out and letting you have a guys' night out" (in my case), "I like all kinds of music," "I love to laugh and have fun," ad inf. I don't deny that a change of location could be an improvement, but don't get too carried away with the whole dating-profile-cliche thing. That happens everywhere, because most people in any town are going to prefer the option that doesn't require original thought over the option that involves displaying genuine wit and intellect and individuality.
posted by John Cohen at 11:02 PM on January 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

For me, it's not specific interests that are important so much as types of interests: I need a partner who is into scientific study, some variation of nerdy (video games, comic books, something!), and who is willing to share their particular version of these with me. I absolutely abhor being the introductory course for other people into these things but love dating, say, nuclear physicists who are also Trekkies, or material engineers who introduce me to Doctor Who.

So, basically, you have a few options:
1. Broaden your restrictions back out to types of interests or attitudes about said interests.
2. Date outside your optimal zone (which you already did for this person).
3. Try to find another set of interests that your relationship can survive on.

Personally, I just cannot sustain a relationship without nerdy interests. No idea why. We might agree on everything else but if that one thing isn't there, it all falls apart. It doesn't make me a failure, I don't think, it just means that that's a dealbreaker for me. However, it doesn't mean I should ignore other dealbreakers if in a relationship with someone who is nerdy. You made the right decision to end this one - try to find someone with similar good parts and none of the same bad parts.
posted by buteo at 11:47 PM on January 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

In my experience, shared values are much more important than shared interests.

Yeah, you want and need mutual respect for each others' interests. Who cares if he's a knitter and she's a NASCAR addict, as long as they're happy together and make time for each other?
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:16 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Essential. I just recently ended a relationship where we had a shared passion for certain kinds of music. Nobody else I have ever met in my life has even been able to tolerate this type of music, much less listen for hours and discuss ad nauseam.

I'm not sure I will ever bother to date again. But, I never wanted kids, and I've already been married. In a sense I am "free" to never date again, as that won't deprive me of some critical life experience.

This person was absolutely horrible to me at the very end; I had to break up with him, or resign myself to a life of rejection, neglect, and probably disease. But I doubt I'll ever find someone I can talk to on the phone for nine hours straight. And without that, why the fuck ever bother?
posted by like_a_friend at 12:41 AM on January 20, 2013 [7 favorites]

I think it may be just as important to dislike the same things as one another.

If you dislike the same things, it insures that your partner won't be introducing those things into your relationship or living situation. Also, you can bond over your mutual disgust / schadenfreude / feelings of superiority.
posted by digitalprimate at 2:27 AM on January 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

I have no opinion on the ideal importance of mutual interests. But if they're very important to you, you should try hanging out and meeting people in the right places. If you like certain genres of music, go to shows and talk to people. If you like a kind of art, go to exhibits or workshops and talk to people. If you like politics, go volunteer and talk to people.

And don't only talk to the attractive men! Meeting someone who's into your kind of music—even if they don't have the right gender/age/proximity/attractiveness—is a great way to meet their hot friends who are into the same things.
posted by vasi at 3:41 AM on January 20, 2013

It's about character/values (and timing!) far more than shared interests, mostly because interests change dramatically over time whilst character/values rarely do.

What happens in 10 years time if the interests that brought you together are only held by one of you? What's left then?

There will never be another one of this guy because there's only one of that guy, but there's someone out there who may not share your interests to the same extent, but who will be more emotionally available and less drug addled, and you will see that that's more important than anything else.

So, no, you shouldn't settle - maybe you should move at some point, but if you can't right now, then you can't. The only solution I have for you is to just keep trying.
posted by heyjude at 4:05 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't think common interests are very important at all. Hobbies and interests change frequently for many people.

Nthing other commenters - common character and values, on the other hand, are very important. You had to end it with your boyfriend because of a character/values problem. That said, use common sense. I mean, if you hate travelling, extended international travel is probably a no-go hobby for a mate, but that also ties into values quite strongly.

I'm a movie hater computer nerd engaged to a fillmmaker and writer, and things are great because we share our core values. I've learned lots about filmmaking and writing, and she's learned plenty about computers, but our commitment to justice and morality has really made things work. We do share a few things in common, but those have developed over the course of the relationship rather than being present in the beginning.
posted by zug at 4:28 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Your interests are actually fairly common - they're just not the #1 most common type. It might be helpful if you included specifically where you live on the East Coast, or at least describe it in general. I'm less familiar with the southern EC, but up north there are many of this kind. I do think that common interests are highly overrated in relationships (as is the ability to artfully construct an online dating profile). It makes sense to at least test out a different approach; no one is saying you have to marry the guys who like brews and DMB, or even go on a second date. Maybe it works out and maybe it doesn't - no one can say in advance. Even if it doesn't work out with one guy, it could still work out with another, because it's really about the particular person and not which section of the venn diagram they fit. You might find someone who is interested in politics (very common) but doesn't know anything about post-punk (less common). To be honest, your question does read a little like a misunderstood high school hipster to me - I'm your age with similar interests and a very different partner - not that the question itself is that way, just the language you chose to describe yourself and others. The emphasis on/dichotomy between mainstream and banal and cliche versus esoteric communicates all kinds of baggage that might be worth your time to unpack. None of these interests tell you anything about someones' character or how good of a father someone will be, which are by far the most important given their effect on your future family. I don't think this is about settling, which seems like such a down/stagnant word in its metaphor/connotation - its more about growth for you as a person. In the end, though, if common interests are important to you, it is your happiness, no one else's.
posted by decathexis at 5:12 AM on January 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

The variety of answers here raises the question of how values and interests relate to each other. I think you are getting different answers because shared interests sometimes reflect a deeply held value and sometimes do not.

If skiiing is an interest, it's something you like to do, something your family did, something you enjoy.
If it is based on a deeply held value, it is about the value of nature, perhaps family tradition, a certain kind of bonhomie and social life, etc.

For you, "philosophy, politics, avant-garde film, strange aesthetics, neofolk and postpunk music" seem to be more of a value than an interest. Perhaps the value is around being counter-cultural, exploring the boundaries of consciousness, conceiving of the world in an intellectual way, comfort with transgression, etc.

Those are values you shouldn't give up, and others with those values are likely to have at least a passing interest in those things. (For example, since I share many of those values, I know what all of those things are, and I have friends that like them.)

My boyfriend is very different than I am in a lot of ways, but we both love science, he's very open-minded and tolerant of counter-culture, he's not bound to social norms, and he's very entrepreneurial and loves projects. He won't be going to Burning Man anytime soon, but he has many friends that do.

Enough anecdotes. Here are some suggestions:

- You need to get into a bigger social network of people who like these things. Either online, through events, by moving, by making friends with people who have a lot of friends. To this end:

- CREATE your own network. Set up events in your area that center around the kind of art you like, politics, music shows, etc. Form a network around you and you will meet really amazing people that share your aesthetic, some of whom you can date.

- Don't settle for someone who doesn't have your sense of life. He may also drink beers or whatever, but it sounds like you need someone intellectually curious and artistic in some way. There are TONS of people like this; you just haven't found them yet.

- You can be happy in a lot of situations; you may meet someone you really love who has none of these things. But dating someone with a similar sense of life will fulfill you in a way that cannot be duplicated.

- You are younger than you think. There are many ways to marry and have children. When you are 40 and 50, you will not think you were old at 30. If your desires change and these things become less important to you, then that's fine. But if this is what you want, go for it.
posted by 3491again at 5:23 AM on January 20, 2013 [12 favorites]

I'm much more thankful for the many interests my wife and I didn't share when we met; learning those through her perspective has been one if the great joys of our relationship for me.
posted by anildash at 5:54 AM on January 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

Here's a piece of dating advice that I received years back and that has stuck with me ever since: "Put less emphasis on personality and more emphasis on character." Whether someone likes a particular genre of music is personality. Whether they are intellectually curious is a matter of character (PercussivePaul is 100% right when he says that this is something you should be looking for). Your ex's interests in common with you are matters of personality; his emotional unavailability and drug addiction are failures of character.

Find someone who is emotionally healthy, sober, and available, who treats you and the other people in his life well, who treats people well even if they aren't "useful" to him, who can hold a steady job and act like a grown-ass man without a partner playing Mommy to prop him up. Even if he doesn't share the same interests with you at first, if he's smart, curious about the world around him, and willing to try new things, chances are you will find you have a lot to talk about.

I myself don't require tons of interests in common. It makes it a lot easier that I'm one of those people who can find something to talk about with just about anyone, but I find that if someone is sufficiently interested in the world around them, it will work (barring major character defects!).

I see your situation as what can result from what was called The Books That Make You Totally Undateable in a past thread on the blue - "I would never date someone who had a book about X on their bookshelf!" The trouble is that superficial tastes such as what a person has on their bookshelf (aka "rule of thumb tribal-signification dealbreakers" as GregNog put it) can't tell you much about a person's character (unless they read really awful racist hate literature or something), whether they will treat you decently, are free from addictions, can hold down a job, stay faithful (or if you're poly, stay honest and above-board), etc. Character, not personality, is what makes relationships succeed in the long run.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:19 AM on January 20, 2013 [12 favorites]

This isn't the answer to your question but to another question: you are looking for your ex-boyfriend. You need to be on your own to get over this guy and his hold on you. I know from experience, it's just going to take some time. But, in the meantime, you have received really great advice here (I did too, as I am still looking for "the one"). Meeting different types of guys who are at least attractive to you is a great place to start, you will learn a lot about what you really want and this is a very precious, precious time for you.
posted by waving at 6:47 AM on January 20, 2013

For you, "philosophy, politics, avant-garde film, strange aesthetics, neofolk and postpunk music" seem to be more of a value than an interest. Perhaps the value is around being counter-cultural, exploring the boundaries of consciousness, conceiving of the world in an intellectual way, comfort with transgression, etc.

Those are values you shouldn't give up, and others with those values are likely to have at least a passing interest in those things. (For example, since I share many of those values, I know what all of those things are, and I have friends that like them.)

I just wanted to quote this because it's so, so true.

Maybe your next boyfriend doesn't yet know anything about neofolk and avant-garde film- but maybe he likes a different type of music YOU'VE never heard of that fit into the REASONS why you like neofolk, maybe he really loves surrealist novels you don't know about, but hasn't taken the time to explore film much yet...
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:00 AM on January 20, 2013 [7 favorites]

(just to name a few cliche interests that seem to appear quite ubiquitously on online dating sites).

The funny thing is, when I was doing online dating, a list like "philosophy, politics, avant-garde film, strange aesthetics, neofolk and postpunk music" would have seemed equally cliché. I prefer the company of smart, cultured people, but I avoided profiles that gave off the impression that I'd have to pass an entrance exam to be considered dateworthy. If you place too much emphasis on the individual interests, you may be missing out on some great people who might not match up on paper.

I agree with the advice above that you're really looking for a shared perspective, not a laundry list. That's harder to tease out, however. If you're looking at profiles, pay attention to how people write rather than what they list; if you're meeting in person, pay attention to the conversation. Maybe they have fascinatingly nuanced, informed opinions about their outdoor adventures; maybe they like post-punk in a shallow way.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:39 AM on January 20, 2013 [15 favorites]

I think my husband I actually have very few interests in common, but I've grown to like it. I think the key is to date someone who is smart and curious. My husband loves woodworking and programming, I don't do either of these things, but I love to learn from him about it. Similarly, he really likes it when I teach him things about the law. I actually think it's really good that we have different interests. I mean we're hoping to spend 40 to 50 years together. I think it would be boring to spend that long a time with someone who thought the way I do, had all the same interests, and like all the same things. I'm really glad I chose someone whose mind works differently and who likes different things. It gives us a lot to talk about. Plus I live in a house with beatiful handmade wood furniture--something that would never happen if I married someone just like me.

Also should we have offspring, I think we have different skills and ways of thinking to teach.

So in sum, I thing your goal in dating is not to find a doppelgänger. Instead look for someone who finds your hobbies and interests Engaging and vice versa.
posted by bananafish at 7:53 AM on January 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

Nthing values, habits, goals.

Twelve years of marriage with a generally differing set of immediate interests; but we like what we can learn from each other, and how we grow and change over time while pursuing shared values we both understand.
posted by ead at 7:54 AM on January 20, 2013

Let me add to all that is above re: intellectual curiosity. When I was online dating, I was really into philosophy as I had just graduated from St. John's College and I specifically went on dates with guys who I was attracted to and who also had that as one of their interests. My current bf was into philosophy, but had also gone to art school and knew far more than me about contemporary philosophy, visual arts/art history, avant-garde film, experimental literature, all kinds of crazy music, etc. Next to him I initially felt pretty uncultured, but though I hadn't been exposed to those things before, I was interested in learning. A lot of our early experiences dating were going to art museums together, midnight screenings of Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain or Herzog's Cobra Verde, and seeing different experimental bands like "Black Dice" and "Ghost." In the end, I began to share his passion for visual art and movies, though I was never as interested in music as he was. That might be a deal breaker for some, but he is fine with it and goes to those shows with other friends and I come along sometimes as a special gesture. ::shrug::

All this is to say, if someone has one of your interests, you may be able to cultivate the others (and have fun doing it!) as long as they are open to trying new things. Also, I was more culinarily adventurous and that was something I was able to expose my bf to. We now love to cook different ethnic cuisines and try new restaurants on top of doing cultural things together. Also, all of this was while I was living in NYC for 3 years post-college, and I bet you would have a much easier time of it living somewhere that was more of a cultural center. Anyway, good luck, with your search!
posted by amileighs at 7:59 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I came in to say what sebastienbailard did -- shared interests are not critical; respect for each others' interests is. Lack of respect in any area is such a huge death knell for a relationship.

You are in a difficult spot as this seems to be beyond just "I do not enjoy these things myself" -- there's also a bit of condescension (if I read correctly?) for the "mundane, banal" interests of the hoi polloi. That doesn't sound like fun. Not everybody reads things, so to speak, on the same level and -- er, what Metroid Baby just said just now. Some people like to go off into the woods to shoot at things and belch; some people go off into the woods for entirely different reasons, reasons which may be quite compatible with your interests.

That said, I do think it's fine to date to date somebody who likes to shoot and belch so long as you can manage to respect that. Even the most intellectual sorts rarely want to be "on" 24/7, and I have found that the smarter the boyfriend the more likely it is he will browse tabloid magazines next to the toilet. All brains crave junk food here and there.

To me you don't really sound like an elitist, more just...rigid. There is nothing inherently superior about "philosophy, politics, avant-garde film, strange aesthetics, neofolk and postpunk music, etc." It is in its own way as mainstream as "Dan Brown novels, daytime talk shows, Thomas Kinkade scuplture, and Pinterest." I admit I would not be attracted to somebody who liked all of that second list, but it has made my life a lot more pleasant to ditch some snark, some rigidity, and accept that other people's mental junk food is not inferior to my own mental junk food. Stopping the knee-jerking on that front has given me a lot of new experiences, generally good ones.

Most are mentioning values -- yes! Ignore that at your peril; prioritising (neofunk and postpunk etc) risks "emotionally unavailable, addicted to drugs, and dealing with a whole host of other issues that render him totally incapable of being in a relationship with someone," which sounds like no fun at all.

I went through my twenties with a certain intellectual bar guys had to meet -- very, very high; I couldn't abide by any lapses, I was a dreadful snob -- and I dated some very intelligent men, who were also one or more of: mentally ill, workaholic, substance abuser, and in one case outright abusive. Great. I decided I had much higher standards for a partner, that I needed somebody to be good rather than merely smart, and this has worked out wonderfully. You shouldn't "settle" but you should re-consider your priorities, especially given how badly prioritising matching interests has worked out in reality.

You are younger than you think. There are many ways to marry and have children is a bit naff; the non-straightforward ways are often expensive and/or heartbreaking. I'm in my late 30s and secondary infertility is turning into a frequent topic of conversation in some of my circles; 'time is running out' is a valid concern. (FWIW, at 30, I did not see how I would ever have a child, but life is weird and I have a lovely five-year-old daughter.)
posted by kmennie at 8:06 AM on January 20, 2013 [8 favorites]

I am an older guy than you. By far. I can only relate my experience. I dated a woman for 10 years, then, after breaking up, within 6 months, met the woman I was married to for 18 years. In both instances the reason we got together and the reasons we broke up were the same. It had nothing to do with shared interests. For each relationship we has some shared interests and some we didn't.

The reason we were compatible and then ultimately not compatible were what I would call mindset. It was bigger picture than specific shared interests. It was goals and aspirations, it was respect and mutual admiration, it was a curiosity about the other person and not just a willingness, but a desire to learn about them and their interests. Fwiw, I am still very good friends with both women.

I think you were trying to say that you were looking for specific traits in a person that were represented by your list of interests. That is good. Looking for people only interested in your list who do not share your mindset, ethics, etc., not so good.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:16 AM on January 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

Shared values >>>> shared interests. If you have the same values, you'll find things together that appeal to both of you. But, I think one of those values needs to be "openness and interest in new things," if the goal is to develop shared interests over time.

As an example - my husband had never traveled before we got together; I was an avid traveler. I suspected that his intellectual curiosity and open, generous nature would make him a wonderful travel partner once I showed him the ropes. And it has. (On the other hand, I haven't been able to muster any interest in D&D; and he certainly couldn't give a crap about candy-making and other fidgety hobbies of mine -- that's fine! The values are more important than the individual hobbies.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:31 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Over time common interests become less important because you have shared experiences."
I have had this experience.
posted by zdravo at 11:14 AM on January 20, 2013

I'd also like to add that, in my experience, relationships work over the long term because both people *want* them to, and are willing to do what it takes to make that happen. So part of what makes you (and your partner) willing to make it work depends on shared perspectives and values, and part on sheer stubbornness and valuing being in a relationship.

So over time, these interests are less important, but they are important in the path-dependent process of deciding whom you will try to make it work *with*.
posted by 3491again at 11:22 AM on January 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

In my experience, not that important right off the bat.

I also want to caution you against putting an inappropriate amount of weight on what people "say" are their interests online. I think a lot of people suffer from being unable to really "sell" themselves and they overdo it with the lists of hobbies and interests. They end up being more aspirational/"this makes me sound like X type of person" than descriptive.

To me, it sounds like you're just plugging in variables that you think will lead to someone with whom you can have a relationship, like interests, but what you really need are the other connective things too - emotional/physical availability/proximity, for example. I don't know if you need to move, or if it's the age group you're looking in, and I don't think anyone should ever have to settle, but I think that you may find opening up your search to people are not an exact interest-match but who are open-minded ins (if you are too) might yield better results. My experience with online dating is that the people who tend to be most successful with it are at least a little flexible.
posted by sm1tten at 1:07 PM on January 20, 2013

My wife and I have very little in common on a lot of things.

But we have a common interest in loving each other a lot, valuing each other deeply and endeavouring to ensure our children grow up to be the best people they can be.

And I reckon that is important, and continues to prove to be important.
posted by chris88 at 1:11 PM on January 20, 2013

I think a lot people are missing the point in their responses. What the OP seems to be looking for isn't someone who has all of the same hobbies as her (that would be a pretty superficial basis for a connection), but someone who has a similar intellectual and spiritual orientation to the world. The common interests are simply a shortcut for her finding a kindred spirit. Maybe "taste" is the right word? I don't think it's as simple as finding someone who is also intellectually curious.

To me this kind of connection, I'm not sure what to call it, is essential in a partner. I can totally understand where she's coming from.
posted by timsneezed at 1:33 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure how you can solve this problem but please don't settle. Just because other people are happy without this kind of connection doesn't mean you will be. You've already tried it before with one partner and it didn't work.
posted by timsneezed at 1:35 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wow, many, many thanks to all of you for the overwhelming abundance of great insight and helpful advice! I've read what each of you had to say very carefully and am in the process of taking it all in and evaluating my own approach to dating and how I can modify it to assure that I meet someone who will be a good fit for me. I wanted to add that it was wonderful to also hear from a spectrum of individuals from different viewpoints and backgrounds, those who have been married for many years, singles my age and up, etc. I really value your perspectives on this so much. Thank you all, immensely. (I wanted to add this is my first ever question here, and I am thoroughly impressed by the volume of thoughtful, intelligent responses. I'm excited to be a member of this community and to also hopefully help others as you have all helped me).
posted by loveoracle at 2:07 PM on January 20, 2013 [8 favorites]

I don't think common interests will seem as important later on. You mentioned that you want kids, and my guess is that you'll have way less time to spend on your hobbies/interests once the kids come along.

Also, do you have friends who are interested in the same things as you? If so, I think you should strongly consider that those interests may be things you do with and discuss with your friends whereas your significant other fulfills other needs for you (emotional support, sex, etc). It would be wonderful if we could all find significant others who were similar to us in every way, but unfortunately that's unlikely to happen for most people. (And now that I'm actually writing this, I realize how boring it sounds anyway - wouldn't it be more fun to go do a hobby with a friend and then be able to come back to your significant other at the end of the day and tell him about it?)
posted by whitelily at 8:53 AM on January 21, 2013

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