How To Indulge Each Other’s Hobbies

A partner with an unusual hobby can spark your fascination and lead you to new, shared interests. But if you’re not into it, having time apart is just as healthy for the relationship.

By Bob Strauss

ne of the wondrous, ineffable joys of dating is learning all about your partner’s quirky hobby — whether it’s spending hours hunched over 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzles, rifling through Dumpsters for rare bottle caps, or dressing up like Capt. Janeway at biweekly Star Trek: Voyager get-togethers. Such hobbies bear the indelible stamp of their
Before you do anything else, be straight with yourself.
owner’s personality and were likely forged during childhood or inherited from eccentric aunts. In other words, they’ve progressed long past the point where you can redirect your sweetie to more conventional pursuits like Scrabble or stamp collecting. So how do you cope? Here are a few tips.

Examine your motives.
Before you do anything else, be straight with yourself: Are you genuinely curious about your partner’s hobby or simply jealous that it’s cutting into your together time? Advises relationship expert Debra Berndt, author of the forthcoming book Let Love In: “Before jumping into your partner’s hobby, you should determine whether your intentions are purely out of love or a fear of losing the other person if he or she spends time away from you. There’s a difference between enhancing your life with new activities and shrinking your life for fear of abandonment.”

Keep an open mind.
Okay, so you may or may not be convinced that collecting different kinds of barbed wire is a genuine hobby (it is, as a matter of fact) or a healthy way to spend the weekend (experts are still divided on that). But sitting on the other side of the room, arms folded, with a scowl on your face is a sure recipe for souring your relationship, and who knows: like the Grinch, you may discover that the act of unpacking lovingly bubble-wrapped barbed-wire samples from far-off correspondents in Argentina will cause your heart to grow ten sizes. (Or not.)

Get involved.
Especially at the beginning of a relationship, you may find yourself intrigued by your partner’s strange hobby — after all, you already like her looks, her sense of humor, and her intelligence, so how bad can scrapbooking actually be? Says clinical psychologist Craig Malkin, “There’s nothing sexier than the excitement, enthusiasm, and passion that a hobby can bring. You can even bring that excitement into the bedroom, if you stick close enough to your partner while she’s engaging in her chosen passion. But if you find yourself yawning away, again and again, whenever you try to join in, it may be a sign that your partner’s passion is your buzz-kill.”

Don’t overshare.
On the other extreme, let’s
I often develop new, fun hobbies that are around longer than the guys are.
say you suddenly discover that untranslated Japanese anime DVDs fit the hole in your heart that you once fruitlessly tried to fill with religion, food, and paid work. While your boyfriend may be flattered by your interest and enthusiasm, he may also feel that you’re horning in on “his thing” and retreat into an even more obscure pastime. Here’s Debra Berndt again: “It’s healthier to have separate hobbies, because one person can’t be everything for you. If you strive to keep your own identity, you’ll increase your confidence and the relationship will blossom when you’re together.”

Stay true to yourself.
Relationships are about compromise, sharing, and give-and-take; they’re not about pretending to be absorbed in something you’re not. Susie and Otto Collins, authors of Stop Talking on Eggshells, put it best: “You should never fake interest in a partner’s hobbies, or the things he or she likes to do, if you don’t really want to participate. This is because, eventually, the resentment you’ve stuffed down from doing what you didn’t want to do will rise to the surface, and sometimes this can get ugly.” Especially with all that barbed wire lying around.

Develop your own strange hobby.
If you feel like your boyfriend spends entirely too much time beetling, Morris dancing or alphabetizing his comic-book collection, there’s no law that says you can’t indulge your own interests — though finding out what those interests are may require a certain amount of experimentation and introspection. Try asking friends or family what they visualize you doing when you’re not talking with them on the phone; often, other people know more about you than you do yourself.

Turn (collecting) lemons into (sampling different kinds of) lemonade.
Even if you and your boyfriend call it quits, you may find that his hobbies have unexpectedly enriched your life — another good reason to keep your eyes and ears open and learn as much as you can. Says Nessa, 28, from Iowa, “I love learning new skills, so I often develop new, fun hobbies that are around longer than the guys are. That’s how I ended up as a professional fire juggler and balloon twister; I’ve also gone hunting for ostrich bones and picked up gastroliths at a dinosaur dig.”

Bob Strauss is a freelance writer and children’s book author who lives in New York City. He’s also written the Dinosaur guide on, the online information network owned by the New York Times.
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