When Your Partner Isn’t a Reader (or Athlete, etc.), and You Are

Call me irrational, but I used to get nervous about the idea of dating athletic or active men. My big fear was being expected to go hiking or camping or rollerblading, and thus having all my non-athletic, non-rugged characteristics exposed and losing the guy’s interest.

So, of course, with my luck, I somehow ended up not only dating but marrying an athletic man. He’ll stop short of jumping out of an airplane, but he has done and enjoyed most of the sports that I can think of: soccer, basketball, baseball, swimming, surfing, scuba diving, skiing, golf, and on and on. But our relationship went off without a hitch in this department because he never pressured or expected me to do sports, and always met me where I was interest-wise. On our days off together (pre-parenthood) we ate out, shopped, took walks, watched DVDs and talked. Then, because I like to dig in places where I really don’t need to, I learned that his ex-wife was an athlete like him, and concluded that in this past life Max actually had a partner in the activity he loves most. Of course, a shared interest clearly wasn’t enough to have kept them together, but I’ve often wondered about the significance of being able to share a passion together.

I’d like to consider myself a reader, even though there have been huge gaps in my life when I wasn’t reading much. But books have been a significant part of my life for the last couple of years now. Because it’s important to me, this has inevitably spilled over into our family life.

Max does read. When we were dating, I was surprised to learn that he had read Wild Swans, a biography of three generations of women in China. He had a bookcase of books at home, and he enjoyed browsing in bookstores. Now that we live in the U.S., it is harder for him to access books in his native tongue. He used to stock up whenever he visited Japan but recently became reluctant to lug books back. There are weird issues with the Kindle in terms of accessing and purchasing books outside the U.S. Max does read books in English, but it’s a slower process for him, which means that overall he ends up reading less.

I think he finds all of this a slight disappointment, but he is surviving without undue pain. He is not a book fanatic the way I am. His preferred way of going about his day is still through physical action. He enjoys working and working out. He likes to lose himself in a video game or an episode of “24” to combat stress. The library is not his “happy place.”

We also have very different tastes in reading. Whereas I read a lot of literary fiction, he tends to gravitate toward books about business and spirituality.

And for me, that’s okay. I’m realizing that, as I’m writing this, it is okay because he’s never questioned or judged my interest in reading or my obsession with book hoarding. I’ve snuck around with my book purchases the way some women might with new shoes, but he has caught me and never complained. In fact, he will drive me to book sales because of my anxieties with driving. He agrees it would be nice to have an at-home library and recently built me a bookcase. And he doesn’t seem to mind listening to me talk about what I’m reading. I can still share my reading life with him and not feel shut out (or shut in?) in this area. In other words, having a somewhat separate hobby has not made me feel disconnected. I wonder how I would feel if he actually disapproved or judged my interests in reading and/or buying books, which has happened with friends.

In the meantime, I’ve learned to get out of my head – and my chair – more often. Living so closely with two active boys has meant that I’ve had to allow myself to be changed by them. They’ve taught me that not everything in life needs to be thought out thoroughly or picked apart. They’ve shown me that meaning can also be found outside the written word. Since being a part of this family I’ve taken up running, hiking and swimming. Exercising the body and mind. Our seemingly opposite interests have been a gift.

Mary Cassatt’s “Young Woman Reading”

I am curious to know: Does your partner read, and if s/he doesn’t, does that bother you? What hobbies do you share or not share? 

11 thoughts on “When Your Partner Isn’t a Reader (or Athlete, etc.), and You Are

  1. It sounds like your differing interests have actually worked out really well for you two! Or, maybe it’s the fact that you are careful to pay attention to each other’s interests even if they are not your own. But, it also sounds like you might be rubbing off on each other a bit. 🙂
    My husband has never been much of a reader (as you already know), but he has read a few books in recent years, because my mother buys them for his birthday (when in doubt, she buys people books). And she’s good at it. So, he has read some of them. He also read the biking memoir I bought for him in May. It has always bothered me a little, but only because there was a time when I felt he was floundering for a hobby. Right now he is so busy that he doesn’t have time for his hobbies, which is a whole other issue. I think the important thing is that he lets me read and buy books, like your husband does. I can’t imagine feeling like he disapproved- that would be awful! Also, there are many interests that we do share- camping, swimming, biking, spending time with the kids, trying to reduce our footprint on the earth. He is much more into the camping/hiking/canoeing/biking than I am, and all the gear that goes with it, but I still enjoy a lot of it. Just maybe not the winter camping right now. Luckily, our two youngest love to go winter camping with my husband and the rest of the scouts and cubs, while my older daughter and I stay home and read. Those weekends are very peaceful. 🙂

  2. The way I look at my greatest someone is that he is also my adventure partner (adventure is different as well as the same in some areas for us). I love that we are opposites and balance each other out too. I just love the time I spend with him doing whatever or nothing at all 🙂 Great Post – Happy Day!

  3. My husband is a reader BUT we read incredibly different books. He doesn’t really read literary fiction, or fiction of any type for that matter. He reads travel books, biographies, sci-fi and non-fiction. His taste has however rubbed off on me a bit and I’ve read some books I wouldn’t consider before because he was reading them.

  4. My husband is a reader, thank goodness for me! We have slightly different reading interests – he reads more about education and sports and I read more about law and relationships, for instance – but we do have similar tastes at times. He recently suggested I read All the Birds Singing, which I enjoyed quite a bit. We are lucky to enjoy hiking and yoga and some other activities together, but largely, we do our physical activities alone (I go to spin class, he plays basketball with his buddies). As you noted, having exactly the same interests isn’t necessarily the mark of a long-lasting or enjoyable relationship. We subscribe to the theory that if we are happy individually, there is a greater chance of us being happy together.

  5. I like how you guys meet in the middle on two vastly different passions. But it makes perfect sense because it’s hard not to be influenced or to influence when two people share so much together in so many ways.

    N isn’t a reader either, and when he does read, it’s blogs and business books, or audio fiction books. I’m mostly a fiction and memoir kind of girl. I’m also more likely to be active and he’s a gamer (who doesn’t move from his chair), although he hasn’t been able to indulge as much lately. But we do have plenty in common so we spend a lot of time doing the things we enjoy together, but we learned that where we differ is also when we carve out time away from each other, which is nice too. After all, that space is healthy for all of us.

  6. My boyfriend is a reader and I love that about him. Even though we don’t always read the same things, I enjoy knowing that there is a quiet activity that we can do alone together. It’s comforting!

  7. This is a beautiful post to me; I love it! Maybe that’s because I strongly identify and share your same experience and feelings in this area. When I was growing up, I always imagined that if I ever married, my husband would have to be intellectual, deep, and into reading and studying the way I am.

    When I met the man who would become my husband, I actually turned him down when he first asked me out, because he seemed so opposite of all the things I thought I wanted in a husband. But it turned out, I was wrong! As I got to know him more, I realized that he really was perfect for me, even though he liked watching movies more than reading books and doing outdoor activities more than sitting down and having a deep conversation.

    He enlivens me and brings me out of my stress-prone mind, and I think I add new depth and thoughtfulness to his life. So we complement each other. We support and share in each other’s separate interests, and we each expand by doing so.

    I think now that if I had married someone exactly like me, we would have driven each other crazy!

  8. Such a great post! My hubby is not a big reader, and he’s a huge athlete (our husbands sound similar!). He doesn’t live in his head the way I do. I used to worry that we would run out of things to talk about or that I wouldn’t be able to share with him the things that interest me. But that hasn’t happened. He asks me about the books I’m reading, and he’s super sweet in that he always reads my blog posts. I know the only reason he’d ever read a book blog is because he loves me. And I try to make time to do the things he loves, too (though I’m terrible at them!). We watch football together now and I even joined a fantasy league. 🙂 That’s what marriage is all about.

  9. So sorry I am late to the party, Cecilia. Yes, my husband is a reader, but our book interests don’t overlap. He likes longer nonfiction reads, like Doris Kearns account on Lincoln or more economic based books. Occasionally, I will recommend a fiction book that I think he might like and he will read it. He, like Max, is also into sports and will readily dive into some adventure. Whereas, I usually stay back. Differing interests liven up a marriage and help expose each other to new worlds. Enjoyed this post, Cecilia.

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