One thing we often come across when reading about online dating is the importance of similar interests. We’re told that it’s essential to find a partner who has everything in common with us. We’re supposed to love the same kinds of books, music, sports, movies, food, and on and on. But how important is this really?
When Doc and I met, our online dating profiles had virtually not a single matching item on our long lists of interests. And yet, we never run out of things to talk about. As it turns out, we have quite a bit in common, just not specific interests.
So, why is there so much focus on having similar interests? Does it really matter, or are there are other things that are more important to have in common when looking for a relationship partner?
Why the focus on similar interests?
This has become such a huge deal, in part because online dating sites put this front and center. In fact, many of them use similar interests as part of their matching algorithm. There’s an implication that compatibility means your perfect mate will like all the same things you do. If this is true, it doesn’t bode well for a lot of people in the dating marketplace.
Recently, Evan Marc Katz blogged about women who don’t think they have anything in common with less-educated men: It seems that an increasingly frequent complaint among educated, professional women is that there aren’t enough men out there “at the same level.” They claim not to care about money or prestige; rather, the issue is that a professional woman couldn’t possibly have anything in common with a blue-collar man.
Surely, they won’t have anything to talk about because they don’t read the same books, go to the same restaurants, attend the same museums (if at all), enjoy travel or intellectual pursuits.
Our first reaction to this is: don’t assume. There are plenty of blue-collar guys with varied and intellectual pursuits.
Our second reaction is: is enjoying all of those similar things really all that important?
This particular issue is going to become a lot more pronounced going forward, since women are increasingly earning more than men and are receiving college degrees in larger numbers. So, there are going to be more and more women who “don’t have anything in common” with more and more men.
In light of this, it’s even more important to consider this problem.
There’s no question that the way we view romantic partnership has undergone a sea change in the past 50 years. Marriage used to be a mostly practical arrangement, and romance was nice to have, rather than essential. These days, we have a lot more leisure time, and to many of us, part of the fun of having a partner is that we’ll have someone with whom we regularly enjoy those activities.
The further we looked into this phenomenon, the more we discovered, as we had suspected, that it’s far less important to have common interests than it is to have the ability to get along on a day-to-day level.
Why having similar interests doesn’t matter very much
When it comes down to it, having a lot of similar interests is far less important than being on the same page with your life goals and values. Some people think because they’ve found someone who is obsessed with the same obscure band they are, that they must be soulmates (Like I could ever find a man who loves Franz Ferdinand) In the end, this has very little to do with real compatibility.
A lot of people have learned the hard way that someone can have a lot of things in common with you and still be a complete jerk. I made this discovery pretty early in life. I was entranced by my first boyfriend because he was the only guy I’d met who had actually read and loved Tolstoy. We were meant to be! Well, we had a few nice conversations about Anna Karenina, but the relationship was a bust in every other way. Oh, he liked classical music too, but even that wasn’t enough. Still a jerk.
I’ve also had the experience of ending up with someone who liked all the same things I did, and you know what? It was boring. I like learning new things, and with him, there simply wasn’t any incentive to do that. It was pleasant, but dull.
Also, keep in mind that, just because you’re a couple doesn’t mean that you will spend every waking moment together. In fact, that’s usually not healthy for any relationship. It’s good to have things you can do separately.
Another plus of being with someone with interests different from yours is that you might learn and do some new things, and actually like them. Because of Doc, I’ve learned more about diesel and auto mechanics, philosophy and do-it-yourself thinking than I ever thought I would. Thanks to me, he’s been subjected to a barrage of sometimes useful trivia about just about everything, and could identify a Puccini aria if he heard one randomly. We intersect in enough areas that we’ve been known to talk non-stop from Denver, CO to Twin Falls, ID (about 10 hours).
What should you have in common?
So, if it’s not essential to have a lot of similar interests, what should you be looking for when perusing online dating profiles?
We should probably clarify that it’s natural, and even helpful to look for at least one similar interest right up front, so you have something with which to start a conversation that isn’t totally superficial. So, if you notice that they love the same cult classic movies you do, use that as an in for a conversation. Just don’t believe that you have found your one-and-only because you share a love of obscure zombie films.
As the relationship progresses beyond the first few dates, just keep in mind that how you communicate and get along is far more important than liking the same things. Remember that most of your hobbies can be shared with friends; it doesn’t have to be your partner.
I have to think of my parents and grandparents, all of whom have had (and still have, in my parents’ case) long and happy marriages. In each case, there was maybe one thing that they liked to do together. All of their other interests were pursued separately. For instance, my parents are avid hikers, so they’re out in the mountains once or twice a week as long as the weather is nice.
The rest of the time, they’re doing different things. Dad is usually out with his boat, fishing (which Mom finds totally boring), doing wildlife wood carving, or reading lengthy history tomes (I inherited that particular gene). Mom can’t bear to sit still for a second, so she’s out and about visiting people, walking the dog, or puttering around the kitchen. They have completely dissimilar tastes in movies, food and books.
How did they ever make it? Quite simply, they get along well on a daily basis, they agreed long ago on the kind of life they wanted- a quiet, rural existence, a lot of children, and now, a lot of grandchildren. They get most of their quality time together on their hikes, but otherwise they can spend their time mostly apart because they know they are on the same page when it comes to the important things.
The experts seem to agree. According to psychologist Seth Myers, the most important things in a relationship are kindness, reliability and emotional stability. You should be there to support each other and help each other grow. A good relationship makes you feel accepted. Everything else is just icing on the cake.
Therapist Preston Ni says that the most important factors for relationship closeness are physical intimacy, emotional intimacy, intellectual attraction- best between those who are intellectual equals- and shared activities. It doesn’t matter what those activities are, just that you are doing them together.
According to Rita Watson at Princeton, who has studied what men want from a relationship, shared interests are not in the top five. Men crave sex, freedom, honesty, forgiveness and appreciation. To them it’s more important to have you be there for them in the relationship than to have an activity buddy. In fact, many of them are quite specific about this.
If your relationship is good, you communicate well, and have similar life goals, everything else will fall into place. You will enjoy spending time together, whatever you’re doing. You’ll be able to spend time apart as well, giving each other space to grow as individuals as well as a couple. You will be able to learn from each other as well. Similar interests are nice, but ultimately, you should never get together with, or stay with someone who who might have a lot of things in common with you, but who doesn’t make you happy.