Sunday Salon: A Little Link Hate With Added Dating Advice From a Rambling Old Pro

I once dated a guy in A.A. who broke things off with me because I wasn’t an addict.  He said that since I was not an alcoholic, I could never really understand him.  There’s not really anything you can say to that.  I’m not going to become an alcoholic just so I can win you over, not matter how blue your eyes are.  (They were really blue, by the way.  Intense.) I dated a nice guy once who turned out to be a big fan of square dancing.  There was no second date.  Square dancing was kind of a think in San Francisco in the late 1980’s but it was not my thing.  Not at all.

I’ve seen this little bit of dating advice popping up lately, the notion that if you’re a reader, you should not date someone who isn’t. It first came up in a John Waters interview that became a t-shirt.  I admit, when I first saw it, I thought it was kind of funny.  Mr. Waters thinks this is one way we can make reading sexy, an admirable goal.  But the more I saw this idea, the less appealing it became.

This week, Morgan Jenkins at Book Riot, stated her case for not dating people who do not read.   After dating a man who did not read, in spite of being an intelligent, college graduate who seemed to be basically a pretty good guy otherwise, Ms. Jenkins decides not to date anymore non-readers.  She sums up why in her concluding paragraphs:

I cannot imagine dating someone who doesn’t understand the beauty in writing and the connection one feels when reading from artists who might share the sentiments that he or she had yet to fully elucidate. I’m a writer, for God’s sake. I want to be able to read poetry aloud to my partner while he rests on my lap, walk down the aisles of bookstores hand-in-hand, and go to readings while we sip coffee and tea and eat pastries. This would mean so much to me and I shouldn’t have to push that into the farthest corner of my life just so that I can let someone else in.

So no, I cannot date a stubborn and proud non-reader–and neither should you, if you proudly call yourself a bibliophile. This short and transient dating experience taught me that I should never settle, especially on things that I highly esteem. Because to take books out of the equation of who I am as a person would be a serious miscalculation, one from which neither he nor I will benefit.

I should add, that the man in question broke the relationship off soon after Ms. Jenkins starting to make books an issue.  She thinks he did her a favor, which is what we all say in that situation, but just how important should reading really be?

My grandparents did not have the same religion.  When they married, in the 1930’s, this was very big deal.  A Catholic could not marry a Baptist in the church.  Because of his marriage, my grandfather could not attend the church he grew up in for decades.  He did not take communion from a priest again until he was in his declining days. Members of their families cut them both off, refusing to speak to them again for decades.  In spite of this they stayed together for nearly 50 years until death.  It used to be the case in this country that certain races did not marry other races, not just black and white either though that was the only case that was outright illegal.  Class difference has long been a very serious consideration; you could marry one or two steps above or below your station, but no further.

While all three of these are now gone or swiftly going away, why replace them?  There are still plenty of people who won’t date outside their race, but they don’t talk about it openly quite so freely.  Particular religions and atheists are still an issue for some, but this is no where near the problem it once was.  Most of us wouldn’t openly refuse the go down the social ladder although we will say things like “I could only date someone who went to college”  by which we mean someone of our own social standing.

So what’s with this “don’t date non-readers” stuff?  How is that helping the world? How does it help you?

Plenty of people in the in comments at Book Riot spoke about the non-readers they’ve married.  I, myself am going on 20 years with a nearly non-reader.  I clock in at 60 to 90 books a year; C.J. reads two or three.  I obsessively keep this blog which he has never read; I devote more time than I should to teaching middle school English including evening functions that he never comes to; I spend too much of my life wandering through bookstore aisles while he tries to keep himself entertained looking through coffee table picture books.

But I have not pushed books into the farthest corner of my life just so that I can let someone else in.  The young man Ms. Jenkins was dating didn’t ask her to do this.  He just didn’t want to go the bookstore with her.

That’s how couples work.  They do some things together, not everything.  For example, I do not go to the ballet with C.J.  I do not like the ballet.  I’m not going. C.J. can’t make me. On Sunday mornings, while C.J. is drinking his morning coffee listening to Baroque by the Bay on the radio, I’m in another room drinking coffee and writing this blog.  C.J. hates movies.  If I want to see a movie, I see it on my own or I see it with someone other than C.J.  While both of us would love to hold hands while watching the ballet/movie, we go alone or go with friends and save the tea an pastries for Saturday mornings after we go to the farmers market. (“Tea and pastries?” Are there large numbers of straight men out there embibing in “tea and pastries?”  Maybe it’s one of those things millineials do.)

That’s how long-lasting relationships work, in my experience.

Which brings me around to my dating advice.

I do not know Ms. Jenkins, but judging from her picture at Book Riot and the fact that she recently moved to New York in part to improve her dating life, I’m guessing that she is still young enough to be expanding her list.

Young people tend to have little mental lists of what they are looking for.  These lists tend to grow over time.  Each relationship that didn’t work out added a little something to my list.  Must have someone who enjoys reading, for example.  Once the list reaches a certain length you should take a serious look at it.  Do you really have to have someone with the same exact religious views you have?  Do you really have to share the same political views?  Can you support Bernie Sanders and date someone who’s voting for Hillary?  Do you have to like all of the same things?  Can a wine drinker date a beer lover?

Some things are non-negotiable. If something is important to you, then it’s important to you, as a wise friend once pointed out to me after I broke things off with the really cute Swiss guy I was dating at the time.

Here are some things I think are important:  Does he love you?  Does he try to take care of you when you need taking care of?  Does he treat you like something he values?  Is he happy to see you when you come home at the end of the day?  Is he willing to put up with the things about you that annoy him?  Does he want to spend his time on earth with you?

I know so many people who for some reason or another, almost always through no fault of their own, just haven’t found the person who answers yes to these questions.  Anyone lucky enough to find someone who answers yes, should refrain as much as possible from coming up with more questions.


End of rant.


14 thoughts on “Sunday Salon: A Little Link Hate With Added Dating Advice From a Rambling Old Pro

  1. I read the article when you tweeted it earlier in the week and had to laugh. While my husband is tolerant of my book habit and reads a couple dozen books a year, we’ve never read poetry to each other (unless punny limericks count), I’d rather leave him at home when I go to the bookstore (because he’ll loom over me like the specter of death while I browse), and I’ve only just recently gotten him to admit that there might be something to that Shakespeare guy (only took 15 years). Books are not his favorite things in the world, but he’s okay with the fact that they’re important to me. And that’s what counts.

    1. Exactly. Mutual respect of each other’s differences will go a lot further than having most things in common. Your comment made me laugh twice by the way. 😉

  2. Beautiful advice. My brother is a golf pro and only reads about that. My dad reads only westerns, although I got him to read Scalzi’s Old Man’s War so that was cool. I have a great friend who has to read so much research at work, he doesn’t like to sit and read for pleasure. All these guys are great for other reasons.

    My wife and I are very different people (though both readers). But who wants to date someone exactly like themselves? That would be boring. I think you’re right. Heck if James Carville and MAry Matalin can be happily married, than I think the Book Riot columnist can date a non-reader.

    1. Carville and Matalin are still together, too. Right? I was thinking about our former governor and his now-ex wife Maria and Arnold, but I figured they were probably not a good example anymore.

  3. Great post, Those are just the right questions that matter, and one thing that really matters is that you both want to be together and you can laugh and have fun together. Everything else you can work out. My husband and I are both readers, but in other ways are very different and have changed over time. Nothing stays the same forever. I did not read (anything but work stuff) for 10 years when I was in my 40s, but returned to reading for fun later.

  4. I’ve dated guys who don’t read much (or at all) and found that the one who hadn’t read anything since primary school was far more respectful of my reading, whereas the other guy would get snarky if I recommended a book. There were other major problems in that relationship, but it did make me think that I’d rather be with a reader. As it happens, my current partner is a reader, though he reads wildly different books to me- think deep, dark sci-fi with rape aliens, vs. my love affair with early 20thC women writers and war literature! We’re both doing literature degrees, so people think we do the same things- wrong again. Quantum mechanics vs. war trauma! But even though we read different stuff, we do recommend each other things and have enjoyed books that the other thought were good. It does bring something more to the relationship, but if it were to disappear, we’d still have enough of a basis in other things to maintain the relationship. I think that is what matters- why base your feelings about partner solely on the fact that they read?

    1. It’s really not something that should make-or-break a relationship, is it. It sounds like, in all of the dating situations you describe, there were other much more important factors. Which is as I think it should be.

  5. I know I’m a bit late putting in my two cents, but this is a great post and a subject that weighs on me a lot as I am married to a non-reader. He’s dyslexic and so reading is a pain for him. When he had a longer commute we would sometimes listen to the same audiobooks (which was fun), but he doesn’t bother on his 15 minute each way drive anymore. He doesn’t understand my love for reading. He doesn’t really try. At one point when I was at my height of blogging (2009) and was spending ALL of my time reading, he told me that I was reading too much. It was a huge hit to me…but honestly he was right. I had ignored everything else in my life in favor of books and blogging. I have since found much better balance. Besides, my love for books does not trump my love for my family.

    It’s funny because we don’t talk about religion at all. We don’t go to church and while I’m an atheist, I’m not really sure what he is. I don’t care and neither does he. He’s very political but I’m not. We talk about it casually but in the end it just doesn’t matter. He smokes, I drink wine. I like doing quiet things at the house and he likes getting out of the house (even just to run errands). We are very different, but we also work together. Books is just one of those ways that we are different, but to say you would never date a non-reader? I guess I just don’t get why that’s a deal breaker–though for someone to say they would never date a reader? How ludicrous is would that be? 😉

    1. Well, thank you. 🙂 While I don’t think C.J. and are all that different, we are. I don’t believe there is a “Perfect match” out there for anybody. What really matters is often too profound to list as something you have in common.

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