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.