I Love Books, But My Guy Doesn't Read--Is It a Deal Breaker? Ask Harry and Louise

Our husband-and-wife team discusses how to build a relationship when both parties don’t share the same passions.

By: Harry Jaffe, Louise Jaffe

Dear Harry and Louise:

I started dating a man three months ago. We see each other every weekend, we talk on the phone each evening (he lives an hour away, so we don't see each other during the week), we laugh each time we speak, we both love being on the water canoeing and kayaking, and we sometimes watch TV together while talking on the phone and falling asleep. I can imagine this relationship continuing in a positive direction.

There is just one problem. He doesn't read. I don't mean he doesn't know how to read, but he chooses not to read--anything. He joked that the last book he read was in junior high school. He is a college graduate, and I know he is intelligent based on our lengthy conversations. I always have my nose in a book, and I enjoy discussing what I am reading with my friends and colleagues.

Is this something I can overlook in a potential partner? I don't know because I have never been attracted to anyone other than the erudite type.

Romantic Reader

• • •

HARRY SAYS:

Yes, it is something you might want to overlook. Bad sex? Loose with money? Rage? Halitosis? Addicted to porn? Devil worship? These and other noisome traits can be deal breakers in a young relationship. But giving a new beau the gate because he doesn't share your love of reading seems a tad premature. A partner cannot be all things, satisfy every yearning, match all of your passions. You already have a rich reading life. You love books and have "friends and colleagues" with whom to discuss your latest tome. Why can't that satisfy your need to share literature?

Let's say your guy is into fantasy football. He and his friends and colleagues get their kicks trading quarterbacks--but you can't tell a first down from a first edition. Should he ditch you because you don't share his passion for blitzes and blocks?

Being the hopeful sort, who believes people can change and grow in a relationship, I wonder if he might not one day pick up an idle copy of that last book he read in junior high, or discover Charles Bukowski on the recommendation of a friend.

So take your reading out on others, for now. By the way, there are other ways to be erudite, beyond reading.

• • •

LOUISE SAYS:

Don't be a book snob. Do not be a book snob. I'm not talking to you, Romantic, but to myself. Hearing the words "I have not read a book since junior high" is where my attraction would die. You're not me, so hopefully you'll be less judgmental of your current paramour. You love to read and share ideas. That is a part of who you are that you want to cultivate. This can be done in a book club or with your friends, but it sounds like it's also something you wish to extend to a romantic relationship. And it can still be done. Start with this Sunday's New York Times. I have never read it without saying at least six times, "Hey, listen to this." Try this with your guy and encourage him to share his opinion. He may choose to read the article after you, or he may pass. You can use this as a litmus test, but be clear that this is an opportunity for the two of you to discuss issues other than what you are going to eat and what TV show you are going to watch. It's important for him to know that sharing ideas is a big part of who you are, and there is no reading list required.

Remember, give your guy free rein to express his opinions. Different points of view can make for the most interesting conversations. The conversation is what matters, not how often you agree or how often you read the same book--thank goodness, since he won't be reading any. Stop being a book snob. Again, that last warning was for me.

If your new guy thinks you are coming off as an erudite snob, that's not too hopeful for your future. You can't stymie the bookish side of yourself. At the same time, you shouldn't demand that your significant other share your book list, but you must expect a generous partner to be open to intriguing conversations. Remind him you're willing to discuss anything that interests him, even if it's the finer points of TV shows (Justified--yes!--or Dexter). I recently had an in-depth conversation with a male friend about the photographic merit of the most recent Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover.

Your guy sounds like a sweetheart who is very interested in you. If this is true, then he will be interested in sharing ideas about books and articles and movies and the way the sunset reflects on your garden. . . you get the idea.

• • •

HARRY SAYS:

Louise is attracted to me because I read books through high school.

• • •

LOUISE SAYS:

I agree with Harry that no partner can be all things and meet every passion. You must determine how important it is to match the reading part of you with you romantic partner. The let-me-share-what-I'm-reading side may be easily satisfied with a willing conversationalist.