I don’t write about dating or romantic relationships here on the blog. That is a deliberate choice. I once had someone tell me they thought I must be anti-romantic relationship since I never talk about it here, which I thought was hilarious, and also a good illustration of how much people can read into this blog that simply isn’t true. (Yes, sometimes people read a lot into this blog. It is unfortunate. I’ve also decided it’s probably inevitable.)
Anyway, today is different! Today I’m going to talk about dating! And it’s because of my friend Rahul, who wrote this fascinating blog post about the novel Ready Player One, among other things, called “Why do all sci-fi novels assume that if a person likes the same stuff as you, then they’re your soulmate.” I suggest you go over and read the whole thing so you have context, but this is the paragraph of particular interest to me:
“What we forget, though, is that friendship and love aren’t about shared interests. They involve a sense of connection and understanding that goes deeper than that. They’re about…a…a…a sense of fascination with each other. And that loving the same geeky shit really does nothing to provoke or prolong that sense of fascination. All it does is give you something to talk about once in a while.”
Many of my friends and I spend a lot of time talking about dating and relationships. And over time, I’ve developed a few pet theories. One of them is about just what Rahul is talking about here, the idea of the importance of having interests in common. Because we hear about this so much! The online dating sites are set up to highlight common interests, and when people talk about their ideal dates, they often bring up interests they would like to share.
But I agree with Rahul. I think common interests aren’t actually all that important. I’m not saying it’s great if you have absolutely nothing in common. And I think shared interests can be pleasant, like a nice bonus. They can smooth out beginnings, in both romantic and friend relationships. Shared interests give you an excuse to hang out, basically, and they give you something to talk about when you’re not sure what to talk about because you don’t know each other very well yet.
But in my experience, not sharing a particular interest hasn’t usually been a big downside in a relationship. I haven’t dated a serious musician since right after college, and music has certainly been important to me since then. I think I’ve dated more people who didn’t care about board games than people who really liked them. Certainly I’ve never dated somebody who shared all my interests. And I never felt like I had some big void in my life as a result. Plus sometimes I’ve picked up new interests and learned new things because of someone I’ve dated (or someone I’ve been friends with, for that matter), and that’s pretty cool.
I’m not saying that sharing particular interests can’t be important. For example, it gives me pause to consider the idea of dating someone who doesn’t read. The written word has become so intrinsic to my life, and I think I probably talk about it all the time, or at least I’d want to, and it would maybe be a little weird to talk about it with someone who never actually reads. Or even worse, someone who doesn’t even have an appreciation for the art form that is the novel. That being said, I have many friends who don’t read, and that’s fine. I just don’t talk with them about that part of my life. But with a partner? Yeah, I think it might be weird.
And of course, it’s great to spend time around people with whom we can have interesting conversations. But I’m not convinced shared interests are the key to having interesting conversations. They help, certainly, but equally important can be some combination of knowing how to ask good questions, knowing how to listen, having a lively sense of curiosity, having compatible senses of humor, being a good storyteller, having things in our lives that we are passionate about, and using empathy.
Overall, Rahul’s idea about fascination seems more important. Fascination causes us to enter the realm of something deeper, of something not simply based on a shared interest for an activity, but instead on a shared interest in each other. It is at this stage in a relationship that we can talk about the things that shape us, the truths that are more personal, the vision of who we truly are or want to be or are afraid to become. Fascination causes us to be interested in someone else’s history, in their opinions, in their emotions, in all the components that added together equal themselves. And of course, fascination can be related to chemistry, whether we’re talking about physical chemistry or conversational chemistry (for example, the friend you can talk to for hours without effort in a satisfying back-and-forth).
Where does this fascination come from? I’m not really sure. From some magical combination of chemistry and curiosity and expression and appreciation and paying attention and who knows what else.
Shared interests are fine and good. But fascination, I think, has the potential to make a relationship truly extraordinary.