How do you balance your interests/passions with being in a relationship?
January 23, 2014 5:29 AM   Subscribe

My significant other and I do not share many common hobbies/interests. I feel that the limited free time I have is going more into the relationship and less into pursuing my personal interests. Has anyone dealt with this situation successfully, or is a relationship without much hobby overlap doomed to fail?

I am 29. I work pretty long hours and have only a few hours of free time at night each day. I am also in a serious relationship, and the majority of my free time goes toward being with my girlfriend. We don't overlap in tons of different interests, so that time is usually spent eating together, talking about stuff, watching something, or cuddling. These are important things to me, but it leaves much less time for my own hobbies (reading, golf, introspection/writing, seeing my guy friends alone), self-improvement (I want to learn to code, take classes), etc. Just in general, I am someone who really appreciates alone time. At the same time, I appreciate her in my life as she keeps me grounded in reality and lets me take the focus off of myself (can lead to depressive symptoms for me).

In an ideal world, we would share a lot of the same passions and would be able to do these things together. But we just don't really share that many interests.

Is this just "the way it is" or have people made this work even without sharing the same interests? Is cohabitation the answer since there is more passive time spent together and more justification for doing something without the S.O. several days a week? Does this change over time? Or am I doomed?
posted by Anon500 to Human Relations (24 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Being in a committed relationship doesn't mean that you have to spend all available time with them. You shouldn't have to justify spending some time apart or spending time with your friends without her. That said, looking to spend several days a week doing things without your partner in a serious relationship seems like a lot, especially if you only see her a couple of hours in the evenings as it is. I can see how your girlfriend would possibly feel pretty hurt and rejected if suddenly her boyfriend declared he only wanted to spend half as much time with her as he had been.

Do you love her? Are you sure this is a good relationship for you? You say you appreciate her but I hear nothing about your caring for her apart from how she keeps you grounded in reality. No "She's my best friend" or "we have a great time together" or "she makes me happy" or even just "I love her". I read this very much as your not being entirely happy in this relationship, you clearly aren't getting what you need, but because she isn't a bad person and because you like her you don't want to end it. A relationship doesn't have to be horribly bad, screaming, fighting, awfulness to be able to break up. You don't seem happy with the relationship at all. You're allowed to want to be in a relationship where you share interests and passions with your partner.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 5:38 AM on January 23, 2014

I'm pretty sure the problem here isn't that you want to both spend time with your girlfriend and do other things, it's that you are working the sort of hours that are not conducive to having a life. Working long hours is a thing that can work okay with some low-maintenance kind of relationships, but you can't have your cake and eat it, too--at some point something has to give.
posted by Sequence at 5:39 AM on January 23, 2014 [22 favorites]

Insofar as the day is only 24 hours long and you have to choose how to spend it, yes -- this is just the way it is. I don't know anyone who has the resources (time, money, innate ability, etc.) to do everything they find interesting or aspire to. Them's the breaks.

I wouldn't say that cohabitation is "the answer," but it definitely changes the equation. I don't think we have any basis on which to make guesses about your compatibility. How does your girlfriend feel about all this?
posted by jon1270 at 5:44 AM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

At a stage in the relationship it us normal to spend tons of time together. Later on you will both need to find ways to spend some time apart, and if you have your old hobbies to fall back on that she doesnt partake in, it will be much easier to give yourself that alone time.

My 2 cents, ymmv
posted by cacao at 5:45 AM on January 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

Lack of hobby overlap isn't necessarily doomed to fail, by any means. But this isn't going to fix itself - you need to talk to her about working out a way to give you room for your interests. Maybe that's more proactively scheduling your time - you generally plan to have Tuesday/Thursday nights alone or with your friends, and Saturday is for golfing, but Sunday is for quality couple time. Or whatever.

This can work out just fine if the other person is amenable - maybe she secretly misses her hobbies too, or would like some alone time.

If she's not okay with it, then it may be that with this particular person, this isn't going to work. But then it's probably not about the hobbies, it's about a general outlook on how much hobby-time vs. couple-down-time you each want.

Personally, I have high alone-time needs. I found a partner who is fine with that. We have some shared things we like, and separate things that we're both very happy to go off and do separately. Works out just fine.
posted by Stacey at 5:46 AM on January 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

My wife and I have found that sports is the great uniter of couples everywhere. My wife and I have very different hobbies and interests but one thing that brings us together like nothing else is sports. When we first got together neither of us were huge sports fans but she took me to a baseball game for my birthday when we first moved in together and that's all it took for us to find something we could both enjoy together (or alone).
posted by playertobenamedlater at 5:47 AM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Agree with cacao - a lot of relationships start out like this but settle down later. You might need to be up front with your girlfriend now and negotiate some time apart if it's not happening organically.

I don't think this has anything to do with how much you love your girlfriend. You can love someone but still have a big need for alone time to pursue your own hobbies and that's perfectly okay. The question is whether you are compatible with her if she doesn't have a similar need for personal time.

Living together can make things easier but you really need to hash this out and come to a workable arrangement before you make any kind of serious commitment such as moving in together.
posted by RubyScarlet at 5:48 AM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just because you don't have the same interests doesn't mean you can't do them "together." In most of my close friendships and relationship, a lot of time is spent together (as in we are in the same geographical location) but we're working on separate things. So, for example, you could bring your laptop to her house and work on coding, while she's in the next room practicing her tae kwon do or knitting or playing video games. Then, hopefully you can kind of time your breaks together, make something to eat or cuddle for a bit, and maybe discuss your excitement/frustration of whatever you're working on.

I've found this to be incredibly satisfying way to "spend time" with people. It helps to keep me on task, and when I need a break, it's great to have someone there to be with.
posted by hannahelastic at 6:12 AM on January 23, 2014 [30 favorites]

It does depend on what you want. I live with my fiance and I still spend everyday with him. This is what we both want and I would be sad to spend less time. I also know couples who spend more time apart than we do. Do it is all about figuring out what you want and finding someone to fit that.

Talk to your girlfriend and see if you can set time aside for yourself. Maybe golf one a month and Tuesdays are with your friends. It can work, but it depends on what the two of you decide. She might want to spend every moment with you and therefore alone time doesn't work for her.
posted by Jaelma24 at 6:12 AM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

reading, golf, introspection/writing, seeing my guy friends alone

Other than golf, it's hard to picture how your girlfriend could "share" these hobbies, so this particular relationship is not the problem--your lack of free time is. If you want to add something to your day, you need to take time from something else. I suggest work, but YMMV.
posted by chaiminda at 6:25 AM on January 23, 2014 [18 favorites]

You list reading and writing and "wanting to learn to code" as your interests, all of which could be done while you and your girlfriend are together. Are you sure you're really worried about not having shared interests and that it's not the case that you just want some time away from her? It's okay to want that...alone time is very important to a relationship, sometimes moreso than together time.
posted by xingcat at 6:30 AM on January 23, 2014

Yeah, it sounds like your problem is more like a severe lack of free time.

But it is totally normal and in fact healthy to have some time away from your partner now and then. My ex used to go do weekly D&D stuff with his guy friends in New Jersey, and I was totally cool with it - it was actually kind of funny, because that was the same night I had my knitting group and it felt like we were doing one of those stereotypical things from 50's sitcoms where the guys have a poker night every week and the girls have coffee every week or whatever. (Except he was doing D&D, which somehow made it funnier.)

And we both agreed that it was actually a good thing - it gave us a chance to not be all up in each others' pocket all the time, and gave us both a chance to pursue our own interests.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:34 AM on January 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm going to agree with Sequence (and on preview chaiminda) here and suggest considering re-wording the question like this: "I'm in a good relationship and have several non-relationship activities I enjoy but since I work long hours I'm having trouble fitting all these things in. What aspects of my work life can I adjust to fit more of the good stuff in?"

If you're working long hours because you need the extra money, the question becomes one about cutting expenses or finding a better-paying job. If you have an over-demanding boss it becomes a question about handling the boss or finding a better job. If you have a long commute you can move or, again, find a different job that would cut down on the commute.

If you're working long hours because you're in residency to become a doctor or something, then you're pretty much stuck and have to do the best you can with your other time management.

If you're working long hours because you enjoy working, then you have to make some decisions about the things you enjoy.

For things like golf, try to coordinate this with times when your girlfriend is busy with her own activities/life.
posted by mikepop at 6:35 AM on January 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

Something missing from the question:

How long have you two been together? That plays a massive role in how much time you both want/need together or apart.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:57 AM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nope, you're not "doomed to fail".

In my experience, yes, cohabitation definitely gives you more time to pursue your personal hobbies and interests because you don't have to spend time traveling in between your two different places. My SO and I don't really share any common interests except for very general things, i.e. movies, reading, eating out at restaurants, and traveling...but we both respect each other's needs to do our own things, and have an open dialogue when it comes to that. I feel comfortable telling him I need to spend time sewing, and vice versa (just replace "sewing" with "guitar playing"). Have you had this conversation with your girlfriend? Do you feel comfortable doing so?

It also sounds like your general free time is a big factor in this as well. It's a balancing act for sure. Here are some ideas:

- Read on the couch while cuddling together
- Code while watching TV with her
- Hang with your friends when she hangs with hers
- Spend time with both sets of friends all together
- One of you works on your own thing while the other prepares dinner, then reconnect over the meal.

As far as getting her into the things that you're into, I can't comment because I haven't had much luck on that front myself. But I ytulu enjoy being in a relationship with someone who has different interests. We have a lot to talk about and learn from each other.
posted by Shadow Boxer at 7:43 AM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Get married and live together.

This double whammy of commitment should give her enough comfort to keep you free until the weekend.
posted by Kruger5 at 8:02 AM on January 23, 2014

Except for golf, none of your hobbies could really include your gf even if she was interested. My husband and I have a lot of solo hobbies we enjoy, one way we've found around this is to do our own thing together. Some examples, I craft or paint, he does his computer thing, there's may or may not be a show or movie we like playing at the same time and every little while one of its will wander over and admire what the other is doing or offer a coffee or comment on the show. He'll sit on the couch and read, I'll be at the other end with my garden catalogues and every so often one of us will touch base with the other, I will ask what he thinks if I do xyz in the garden or he'll share an idea or quote from his book. As a massive introvert and loner being alone with someone else like this is the best part of being in a relationship, it does, as others have said, take time to get comfortable enough together to do nothing together there and is probably harder to sort if your relationship is new and there are time issues.
posted by wwax at 8:05 AM on January 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think what you need to do is pick one thing, for now, from your list, and decide you're going to incorporate more of that into your routine. That won't fatally upset the balance in your relationship. Bonus points if you can find something on your list that you both like and can do together. If you're like me and you're getting cagey, the tendency may be to look at this list of all the things you're not doing and decide you have to do them all immediately or you won't ever be able to do any of them. Build incrementally. That's much less likely to fail, and much less likely to interrupt what you're already building with your girlfriend.

This method also won't send you into the sliding-vs-deciding loop, where you're living together before you're both necessarily ready to take your relationship to the next phase. That's a major danger here because living together seems like it solves a problem. But, in fact, it doesn't solve the problem. It attempts to make the problem go away so that a solution isn't necessary. Much more important to the long-term health of your relationship is actually knowing how you and your partner confront problems together and seek solutions together. You won't have a "get out of jail free" card (like cohabitation might be here) for every issue that comes up.

You really need to set your joint expectations for the relationship at a place where you can find success. By which I mean, if you need alone time in an ongoing way, you need to build that into your relationship now because if/when you move in together that alone time will unquestionably decrease in quality/quantity. And building it in later can lead to unnecessary hurt feelings. My partner's schedule has been no mystery to me from the beginning. It isn't my preferred schedule, and we've negotiated it a bit over the years, but it makes him happy and that's my ultimate goal. So when I am going stag to parties or doing things with friends, and someone remarks that it must be so hard not to have him with me at social functions or when I'm doing things that interest me, the thought usually hasn't even crossed my mind. Nope. This is just how we roll. And it's how we've always rolled.
posted by jph at 8:29 AM on January 23, 2014

Yes, work on your job first. Do you have one of those jobs where the work is so chaotic and unpredictable that you just stop trying to plan things and have to take time to live your life whenever the opportunity presents itself? Those jobs are great for people who are intensely focused on career advancement, but that lifestyle isn't for everyone. Most of us just want to do a good job during normal working hours and go home. If you're waking up at 7am to catch the 8am train so you can be at work by 9, then after a grueling day of work leave the office at 7pm to maybe get home by 8pm and have a half hour to read that novel you've been pecking away at for a month before you collapse from exhaustion at 10pm, then of course you're going to feel like your girlfriend is demanding too much of your time.
posted by deathpanels at 9:08 AM on January 23, 2014

I think I have a good perspective on this as I've been in two serious relationships in which this was handled differently.

1) My wife really valued time together over almost anything else. She would force compromise so that we were always doing something that we both were OK with doing, and were never doing anything that just one or the other of us *really* wanted to do. I'm exaggerating a bit here, as either of us could take two or three hours once or twice a week to do our own thing and it wouldn't be a problem, but mostly, I cut back on participating in my hobbies (surfing, sailing, and cycling mostly) because she didn't want us to spend time apart (and she wasn't particularly athletic and was sort of afraid of the water). I tried to participate in her hobbies, and didn't necessarily mind them (birdwatching was a big one), so that was something we could both do together that we both enjoyed, but still, I'd have rather been doing something else a lot of the time, and I definitely felt like there were going to be dreams I could never realize with her (like sailing across an ocean).

My current girlfriend and I do not have this dynamic. For one, we share more hobbies (I met my current girlfriend sailing, which I got back into after my wife died), but more importantly, we are *ok* letting each other go off and do our own things. My girlfriend occasionally goes off for the weekend with friends or family to do something she's interested in. I went fishing for the weekend with a friend just before Christmas. These are things my wife wouldn't have been OK with because we'd have been spending nights apart. But for me this has made all the difference. The attitude that we are separate people who don't have to share all of our interests or be together all the time makes it a lot easier to participate in the things that you want, rather than making every single activity a compromise.

I do live with my girlfriend and (perhaps obviously) also lived with my wife. This difference is actually the single biggest thing that I feel like is an improvement in my current relationship over my previous one, I feel like I have the freedom to pursue my own passions to a much greater degree than I used to.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:19 AM on January 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

In my experience, you do not have to have that many 'shared interests' as much as you need to have an interest in seeing your SO happy and fulfilled. And appreciating their interests and gifts!
Like wwax above, my SO and I often do our individual things 'together'...while she is computering, I'm reading about the origins of plant names, for instance, and we share with each other the interesting/salacious/hilarious tidbits. Now, I probably couldn't tell you what in the world the last technical tidbit she shared with me actually meant, but it made her happy to share, just as it made me happy to have her share an important part of her life with me. And, later on, I tried to educate myself just a bit further so I'd have a better understanding next time - just like she tries to remember that "tall pretty blue flower" is actually an Aconitum in bloom.

Our free time together is quite limited (we live in different cities at the moment), but, while we enjoy myriad activities together, we also realize that having different interests / hobbies is part of what keeps life fun and fresh. The key is appreciation.
posted by PlantGoddess at 10:34 AM on January 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Talk to your girlfriend, man, not to the internet. She could be totally cool with giving you space and time to do your own thing, but have no idea that's what you're itching for.

Alternately, she could be less cool with it, but willing to learn. Like a few people have mentioned above, I've had to take a more active role in building out my "free time" since dating someone who has time-intensive, attention-intensive hobbies. (As well as a high-pressure job that is really taxing on his natural introversion.)

It isn't always pleasant to have to fill my nights, and sometimes I do find myself thinking "um, why am I looking for something to do on Friday night, isn't this why i have a boyfriend?" But I think in the long run I benefit hugely as an individual for having to maintain this self-reliance.

If she isn't down for that, or if you find that spending any further time apart basically makes you emotionally detach from the relationship, then perhaps things have run their course with you two. I do agree with those above who hope she brings more to your life than "grounding in reality"...girlfriends aren't just an over-the-counter depression treatment, man.
posted by like_a_friend at 11:04 AM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

When, not if, the GF is history, you will be passionate about what you are passionate about.

"Common interests" might be a good thing to screen for on OKC next time.

But in the interest of fairness, how many of your SO's common interests do you pursue? How many of them do you encourage her to pursue on her own?

A growing trend in my posse is folks who live apart together.... different houses and towns in some cases, and formally married. Plenty of time to do "me" things and good partitioning of life into "us" and "me" slots.

You could change it up? You are in charge. (Of YOUR life, that is.)

Good luck. No matter what you do, life is finite and perishable. Do what you love.
posted by FauxScot at 2:43 PM on January 23, 2014

My husband and I have no overlap in hobbies. We schedule date nights and free nights where you et to do what you want. Mostly works, though occasionally it's too much time apart.
posted by bananafish at 11:56 PM on January 23, 2014

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