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Thursday, March 17, 2011

SL Letter of the Day: Coded Conversation

Posted by Dan Savage on Thu, Mar 17, 2011 at 10:28 AM

I guess my question is more a general relationship question than a sex question, but...

How much are we obligated to adopt our partner's interests to be a good partner? I've been with my husband for almost three years. I love him a lot, and respect him; he's one of the smartest people I know. However... pretty much all of his interests are WAY over my head. When I met him, he was in his final years completing his PhD. in neurobiology. After graduation he started teaching himself computer programming and got a job doing web security. Now, pretty much ALL he ever talks about is super hard, super complicated computer shit. I'm seriously talking 6 solid months of talking non-stop about programming languages and website vulnerabilities. I'm talking like, hours a day lectures that I barely understand, my knowledge of the internet being limited to updating my status on Facebook.

I've tried valiantly to understand it, but usually I'm lost within the first couple sentences and spend the rest of the "conversation" trying to just nod at the appropriate times and not show how bored I am. If I don't do this, he gets super hurt and offended, acts like I'm rejecting him as a person, acts distant, and denies me sex and affection. I understand that he's trying to get close to me by sharing things he's excited about, but honestly, I am NEVER going to understand computer programming, and I'm starting to deeply resent that I'm even being asked to. I feel terribly guilty about it, but I actually try to avoid talking to him sometimes because it's so likely that I'll be subjected to an hours-long computer science lecture. Trying to ask questions to understand it better just results in longer and more complicated lectures. He criticizes me for my "lack of curiosity" but... am I really obligated to be curious about everything he's into? He doesn't seem particularly interested in any of MY interests, none of which are "technical" enough to sustain his interest. He's a good person, but I'm going nuts here. Am I being a jerk, or is it reasonable to ask that some topics are kept to a minimum?

Computer Illiterate

My response after the jump...

···············

DTMFA.

Okay, perhaps that's harsh. You say you love him and that he's a good person and I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt. And you are married, CI, and divorce isn't something I push on people. But I'm tossing that DTMFA out there as food for thought. Because from where I'm sitting the good person you married sounds like a dense, inconsiderate, self-obsessed, controlling, manipulative, obsessive-compulsive-disordered asshole.

Reading your letter, CI, I couldn't help but think of my own relationship. If I were required to feign an interest in dance music—my husband's chief interest—in order to be considered a "good partner," I wouldn't be considered a good partner. Luckily my husband doesn't insist on talking with/at me about dance music for hours at a time. Sometimes he can't help himself and he'll enthuse at me about a "track" or an "artist" that he's excited about. I'll listen patiently, ask a question or two, even listen to a "track" now and then. But he doesn't expect more from me than a little patient, loving indulgence, e.g. what he needs to tide him over until he can get someone who gives a shit about dance music on the phone.

On the flip side, my boyfriend doesn't share my passion for the Tudors or the Stuarts and the English Revolution. When I read something interesting on those subjects, I'll share it with him, and he will smile and nod before turning his attentions back to whatever "music" he's listening to.

So in answer to your question: We are not obligated to adopt our partner's interests. We are obligated to take a healthy, respectful interest in our partner's interests (the ones we don't share), we are obligated to support our partner's pursuit of their interests, and we are obligated to listen when no one who gives a shit is nearby. And that's it.

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