Mild trigger warning: this post briefly delves into the topic of emotional relationship abuse. If that is a touchy subject for you, you might prefer this quirky post on The McAl(l)ister’s Effect.
I left myself behind /
Never knowing what I wanted, /
Knowing what I needed you to do. /
Reflections you used to see /
Never looked alike to me.
– CHVRCHES, “Get Out,” Love is Dead
I’ve been listening to a lot of the band CHVRCHES lately due to the release of their latest album, which is just absolutely brilliant. Love is Dead — easily the best album of their career — immediately gives long-standing electropop favorites like Kye Kye and Purity Ring and run for their money. It’s one of those great albums that is incredibly hard to finish because I always want to hit the back button and repeat the tracks over and over again. Especially the tracks “Deliverance,” “My Enemy,” and “Wonderland,” but this isn’t an album review.
I told my wife Nikki about this amazing audio experience — about the 80’s inspired sound and the beautiful thematic consistency, the insightful lyrics and relatable topics, and about how the band is changing the face of pop music as we know it. And then she destroyed my enthusiasm with just one short sentence: “Her voice gets on my nerves.”
Her, of course, referencing the ubiquitous voice of Lauren Mayberry, the band’s lead singer. Is that the only thing that can kill a potential experience? Do interests and hobbies and passions and talents live and die in the margins of life where tiny things sour that critical first impression? Like I said, this is not a blog post about an album, but instead one exploring the unique tension of interests existing in the realm of relationships. Though, as if by design, the album explores the existential threats and tensions of relationships exclusively.
Could this predetermination be why I don’t like, for instance, making pottery or studying Norse mythology or playing tabletop role-playing games — a cocktail of prejudices and slightly off-kilter first impressions? I feel like on an individual level, this is almost never a problem as long as you show respect for people with opposing interests. When not presented with a foil for your own hobbies, you’re pretty much free to explore whatever you want and proceed unconcerned about the people into tangential activities from your worldview. But what happens if you fall in love with a vase-making, myth-crafting, D&D-playing fool? That could be a problem.
Interests make up a large bulk of self-identity, and preoccupations carry over into relationships. Dates early-on are almost exclusively about getting to know the other person’s interests and ambitions. More than likely you’ll find out far more about someone’s hobbies, fields of study, and career paths long before deep stuff like ambitions, inner conflicts, and family issues. Consequently, each of us has run into this scenario: you are into something, the other is clueless or, even worse, actively negative towards it due to past life experiences.
You may think that adaptation of interests in relationships is practically meaningless, but I would argue that mentality is incorrect, perhaps even dangerous. Like in computers, compatibility is serious business. Fatal errors come in more than just software bugs — fatal relationship errors are also possible. To see why, I’d like to explore three possible scenarios and outcomes pertaining to the way people conduct interests in relationships. Essentially, I feel relationships fall into three different categories explored here.
Exploration 1: Oil and Water (The Path of Separation)
An oil and water relationship is one where two people are together but make no effort to share any interests. Engagement falls flat, as essentially neither party makes an attempt to take part in the activities of the other.
The prospect of an oil and water relationship is an interesting one, because it is actually it’s actually very fair. Both people can do what they want, when they want, just not as partners. I struggle to see a real potential for abuse here, but I also see a lack of opportunity for chemistry. Oftentimes it will mean disparate conversations floating irrecoverably through empty space. This can be harmless enough. Many of these relationships end after one or two bad dates, safeguarded by the fact that if there is one thing people, myself included, can’t stand, it’s the lack of feeling interested.
There’s nothing wrong with that! It’s life. Life is long, and it very often takes many tries to find the right person to spend the majority of that time with.
However, on rare occasions, long-term relationships such as marriage will at some point change into a lukewarm form resembling oil and water. This type of scenario is often marked by comments like “we just feel like roommates” or “the magic is gone.” It’s a truly tragic situation, because people can only take a lack of emotional fulfillment for so long before moving on to greener pastures.
The only defense against this is to truly get to know the other person before committing to them long-term. Date a while, and seek to understand each other. Don’t jump into marriage. It’s not the ultimate cure for marriage discontentment, but it does help a lot.
Exploration 2: Domination of Ideals (The Path of Abuse)
A discontented relationship is one thing, but this is where things go from unfortunately to actively malicious. Unfortunately, this type of control is not addressed enough, not even in this culture of increased understand of domestic violence. Abuse is more than just physical — when one partner directly controls the interests, hobbies, choice of dress, religion, political affiliations, and moral positions, nothing but bad things can come of it. While emotional abuse can be challenging to directly quantify, I have to think this type of control directly qualifies.
Thinking about it, sadly a domination of ideals relationship is one I’ve witnessed firsthand the most — not in my own relationships, but in those around me. Growing up in the American rural South, it was unfortunately a sign of the culture I grew up in for men to control their spouses. I don’t want to paint the South in a bad light, as it has its redeeming qualities and has matured quite a bit over the past couple of decades, but emotional abuse had long been a normalization of culture there. Unfortunately I don’t think emotional abuse is confined to that geographic region.
I’ve seen plenty of cases of it working the other way around, as well — in fact, in general I have to think the capability for mental abuse, as opposed to physical, is far more accessible to women abusers. I’ve even heard some extreme horror stories of mental abuse happening in same-sex relationships, so it can happen to anyone of any gender or sexual orientation.
I’m reluctant to provide defenses from this type of relationship, because sometimes it just happens regardless of how well people know each other. In the majority of cases, one person will see no warning signs in the early stages of a long-term relationship. Additionally, relationships like this can be very challenging to escape from. So, instead I’d like to provide a link to the Domestic Abuse Hotline, and highly encourage anyone suspicious of being in an emotionally abusive relationship to attempt to find someone to call and discuss the situation.
Exploration 3: Merging of Interests (The Path of Happiness)
“We will take the best parts of ourselves and make them gold.”
So far I’ve painted opposing interests in a rather negative light, but this isn’t the way it has to be. In a relationship, both people bring things to the table, and there is a word for when those interests collide together perfectly — partnership. It’s not easy and it takes work, but to me this is the only way to achieve long-term happiness.
It should be clarified that I’m not talking about losing your identity, as that actually looks far more like the first two types of relationships. Rather, I’m talking about merging set of interests. In a sense, this looks like effort, because it requires you to take a look at your partner’s interests and make every effort to understand, appreciate, and maybe in time enjoy the things they are into.
When this happens, a cool thing occurs. Instead of the magic of a relationship fizzling out, it gives the relationship things to build on. Common interests become inside jokes, those become communication shorthand, and before you know it the two of you are reading each other’s minds! I believe many different relationships arrive at this point in many different ways, but the key here is communication. Withhold no lies from each other, be honest with each other, and fight through the issues of the past and present.
Knowing the other person like yourself involves appreciating their interests, and I couldn’t be more thankful to be in one of these relationships with my wife! And yes, it’s perfectly fine for her not to like the band CHVRCHES, just like it’s okay for me not to like the TV show Pretty Little Liars, one of her favorite —
Oh gosh, I’m already on season 3. This is so good!
See, sometimes you’ll even surprise yourself.
My hope is that this post will get you to look inward, both at who you are in your relationships and what kind of person your partner has become. In many situations, even talking about this can help you escape from the doldrums of Oil and Water (Exploration 1) and Domination of Ideals (Exploration 2) relationships. Perhaps given enough time, work, and communication, you’ll find your identities merging together into a loving and interesting long-term relationship.
So let’s talk! What type of relationships have you had experience with, and how have you navigated the choppy waves of opposing interests in relationships? I’d love to discuss the topic with you in the comments, and as always I welcome your feedback!