Love Him, Hate His Hobby?

Time apart can be healthy, but too much time apart can be a relationship killer. We’ll show you how to differentiate between healthy hobbies and eccentric deal-breakers.

By Lynn Harris

ara D. of New York City is not an actor. But she deserves a Best Supporting Girlfriend nomination for her role in her relationship with Alternative Theater Guy. “His performances were awful,” says Lara. “They involved a lot of running around
Hobbies can enhance — even outlast — relationships.
screaming, and required audience participation, which is particularly un-fun in a teeny theater with three other people.” Lara tried, she really did; “Who am I to judge?” she thought. “Who am I to decide that what’s important to him is stupid?” What she finally realized is this: his passion for theater had no speaking role for her in it. “He was involved to the exclusion of all else,” she says, noting that he’d pout when she’d skip his shows for her book group. “His hobby made our relationship imbalanced and impossible.”

Hobbies can enhance — even outlast — relationships. (Thanks to my ex-boyfriends, I can make pizza, name the constellations, and snowboard.) Separate pastimes are actually healthy, even essential. “Part of what creates a spark is bringing new interests into a relationship,” says Carolyn Bushong, a relationships counselor in Denver and author of Bring Back the Man You Fell in Love With. “When couples always do the same things, always together, that spark is more likely to fade.”

So you don’t have to do everything together, and you don’t even have to like everything your partner does on his or her own. Maybe she hates the stink of your hockey bag; maybe you’ll never “get” collecting LPs. But sometimes hobbies — as with Lara D.’s boyfriend and his obsession with theater — become the third wheel in your relationship, eventually wrecking your happy home. What if your sweetie’s idea of fun tests your morals (hunting), breaks the bank (by requiring expensive equipment), or serves as a relationship “escape hatch” (by keeping your significant other so busy that there simply isn’t time to discuss the problem)? Being supportive of each others’ interests is one thing, but there’s a fine line between tolerating something you ultimately can’t live with and finding a healthy compromise that works. So what do you do when a hobby comes between you and your love?

Ultimately, it’s not about the hobby itself, says Bushong: “It’s about being happy that your partner has an outlet that he or she — not you — enjoys, which in turn requires healthy boundaries, compromises and expectations.” (She herself is crazy for karaoke, but “makes” her singing-averse boyfriend join her only on her birthday.) If you can’t manage that, the hobby impasse is likely a symptom of a larger problem. Take Warren S. of Pasadena, CA, and Show Tune Singin’ Woman, who constantly subjected him to impromptu performances while demanding his opinion afterward. “I lived in fear,” says Warren. “I could never relax, because she could clear her throat at any moment. I was too scared to say no or offer constructive criticism.” Obviously, that show closed: “I wasn’t the guy who could provide the constant attention she needed,” Warren says. And if your partner gets defensive, shuts down, or refuses to budge when you respectfully raise a hobby-related issue, then maybe your new hobby needs to be, you know, surfing the personals.

But two people in an otherwise sturdy relationship can definitely make room for the hobby from hell. Three
I didn’t want to interfere with what he loves.
possible approaches:

1. Put up and shut up.
Deirdre’s husband Carl played percussion in a “found object” band, where all instruments were fashioned from whatever was available at the time. His specialty? Smashing beer bottles into a garbage can in time to the music. “Between gigs, he collected hundreds of smelly bottles in our kitchen,” says Deirdre Z. of Somerville, MA. But she took a warts-and-all approach: “Hey, I married a man who played in a weird band,” she reasoned. “I didn’t want to interfere with what he loves, and I didn’t want to spend our rare time home together bickering about beer bottles. Plus, I figured that band wasn’t long for this earth.” (She was correct.)

2. Divide, don’t conquer.
Mimi S.’s boyfriend lives for rotisserie baseball, which requires “constant vigilance,” she says. “He is always watching TV and checking scores online — during which time I can’t talk to him, even though the computer’s in our bedroom.” The upstate New York couple’s solution: two cable boxes, plus screen-within-a-screen capability on the TV. Now their “quiet evenings at home together” are much quieter. And Mimi will gladly leave Joel to his rotisserie reverie. “I like having that time for myself and the things I want to do alone,” she says. “I wouldn’t want him hanging over me all the time in the first place.”

3. If you can’t beat ‘em...
For Charlotte, it wouldn’t have been that big a leap from the X-Men to ex-husband: “I thought I’d lose my mind when I spotted Wolverine next to my Waterford,” she says, describing her husband’s action-figure collection taking up lots of space in their Atlanta home. “They’re crammed in big tubs in our closets, floor to ceiling. I have about one square foot for my clothes, which always look like they came out of a trash compactor.”

Once, in a good-natured attempt to gain insight into Kurt’s plastic bubble, Charlotte trailed him to a toy collectors’ convention. It worked — perhaps too well. “I started collecting PEZ dispensers,” Charlotte admits, confessing that she even drove an extra hour to the PEZ Museum in Burlingame, CA while visiting there on business. “Can’t complain about the action figures now, though it was virtuous of me to make a point of picking something tiny. I almost went with vintage lunchboxes,” says Charlotte. So what’s the lesson here? If communication, compromise and enjoying time apart don’t work for you as a couple, it’s time to make moving on your newest hobby!

Lynn Harris ( is co-creator, with Chris Kalb (, of the award-winning website A longtime journalist, Lynn has written about dating, gender, and culture high and low for Glamour, Marie Claire, The New York Times,,, and many others. She is currently the communications strategist for Breakthrough, a transnational organization that creates pop culture to promote human rights. Submit your dating questions for Ask Lynn via
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