My girlfriend of a year is really pretty and sweet, and we love all the same outdoor activities. However, I feel there’s a ceiling on our connection because she lacks a strong personality of her own. Whenever we discuss something to do, she defers to me. Also, I care deeply about politics and ideas, but she doesn’t read newspapers or books or develop her own opinions. Two days ago, I asked about something we’d just heard on the news, and she basically parroted my opinion back to me. I pressed her, saying, “But what do YOU think?” She couldn’t answer. This led to my suggesting that maybe she needs to see a therapist to learn to open up more. She was pretty offended, and we haven’t talked much since. –Politically Concerned
When you say to your girlfriend “So, what are your thoughts on the Middle East?” you’d rather she didn’t respond, “Like, you mean, Philadelphia?”
It is nice that you both enjoy the same outdoor activities. Having shared interests can sometimes be essential. For example, a guy who lives to sail would find it a downer to date me. As I wrote in Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck, I have motion sickness issues, “which is to say I get carsick on any street with more than five turns in it – for example, the winding mountain roads of Washington, D.C.”
But barring an obsessive attachment by one partner to a sport that, say, makes the other hurl her insides into the ocean for days, people put too much emphasis on having a lot of interests in common. You just need to have enough in common. And in addition to physical chemistry, you need to have what I call a crush on your partner as a human being. This means having respect and admiration for them and a sense of excitement about who they are and how they go about life. Respect is the opposite of contempt – the sneering disgust for a partner that marriage researcher John Gottman finds is the biggest predictor a couple will divorce. And unfortunately, respect is also the antithesis of what you, as a guy who cares about politics, have for a woman whose favorite Supreme Court justice is probably Judge Judy.
The reality is, your girlfriend isn’t going to lean back on some therapist’s couch and find her opinion between the pillows – at least not any time soon. Chances are, she has little innate curiosity and has maybe spent much of her life under the mistaken impression that you can keep a man by keeping mum and nodding yes. In the future, when you meet a woman, instead of just taking stock of all the reasons you’d work as a couple, look for reasons you wouldn’t – like if her peers as political thinkers appear to be your hamster and the paperweight that fell behind your desk. A woman who’s right for you will take your thoughts, political and otherwise, and run with them and sometimes bring back something better – making you better for being with her instead of making you suspect her skull contains only a goldfish swimming around a little castle and a couple of plastic plants.
©2014, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or email AdviceAmy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com). Weekly radio show: blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon. Order Amy Alkon’s new book, “Good Manners For Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck” (St. Martin’s Press, June 3, 2014).