I want to start out by acknowledging my incredible privilege – I’m a cishet woman married to a cishet man, and I’m lucky enough to share a very important hobby with him: board gaming. In fact, when we met on a dating site, my first very romantic, knock-his-socks-off charming message to him, was, no joke, “Thank god, someone else on here knows what Splendor is.” I love being married to another gamer, our collection is a large and important part of our lives, we plan trips to conventions as vacations, and I always have someone around who’s ready to play when I want to get a game to the table (even if he likes area control games far more than I do.)
The rub comes when I’m out with him at a hobby shop, or in a play area at a convention, and people make comments, mainly directed to my husband, like this:
“Wow, you’re so lucky that she lets you out of the house to play games!”
“Man, my wife wouldn’t EVER play that with me!”
“Yeah, I don’t know if I can play another game after this one, I’ve got wife aggro and she’s gonna be pissed if I’m not home soon.”
Putting aside the incredible amount of sexism exhibited above, there’s one thing that runs through every statement- complaining about their partner for not enjoying the same hobby. And even when the comment is seemingly made as a joke, there’s always a veiled resentment that makes me hope their partner never hears them use that tone- it could really be heartbreaking for them. (Also, if you want new members to join and stay in your gaming group, hearing those comments can make people feel unwelcome in the space. It certainly does me, and I’ve had every single one of them said within earshot of me, some multiple times.)
It is absolutely healthy to not share every single interest or hobby with your partner. I enjoy trying out more complicated recipes on the weekend. My husband would rather throw a handful of shredded cheese over a plate of chips and call them nachos. My husband likes rock climbing. I’d rather do martial arts. Celebrating your differences can lead to a stronger sense of self within your partnership, and healthier relationships overall.
So, if your partner doesn’t enjoy your hobby, what are you supposed to do?
First, stop badgering them about playing games. If they’ve said no, accept it and move on. Some people just won’t ever know how cool our hobby is, and that’s okay!
Second, remind yourself that their lack of interest in this one particular hobby is not a rejection of you as a person. It’s easy to feel stung or hurt, it’s harder to remember that your partner is their own person with their own interests and feelings. (If, however, your partner is being demeaning about your hobby, or it’s constantly causing fights, there might be deeper issues, and counseling might be right for you.)
Third, try your best to retrain the negativity out of your language. It can be tempting to complain, especially if you’re out with a group of your friends. A good rule of thumb is to choose your words as if your partner could hear them anyway. Practice positivity as a habit- if someone brings up your partner, talk about the cool hobbies they have instead. “No, they’re not with me today, there’s a bouldering class they’ve been looking forward to this afternoon.” If you have to leave earlier in the evening because your partner has (graciously!) been looking after your kids so you could go out, thank your group for the games you got to the table, rather than bemoaning the ones left unplayed.
Fourth, when you get home from gaming, thank your partner. It is pretty cool that your relationship is so strong and healthy that you don’t have to share absolutely everything to be happy with each other! Practicing gratitude has been shown in studies to increase the positive feelings of both partners in and about the relationship.
It can be upsetting to want to share a part of yourself with your partner and have them not take an interest in it, and I don’t want to minimize that. However, a running commentary of complaints while you’re gaming doesn’t do anything to solve it, and if someone else’s partner is there checking out the hobby for the first time, you might just drive them away too.
About the Author: Li0ness is a 30-something living in California with her husband, two rescue dogs, and a problematically large board game collection. If she’s not testing new potions in Alchemists or trading goods in Yokohama, you’ll find her causing chaos in the kitchen. If you’re looking for more of her very opinionated self, you can find her shitposting on Twitter as @Li0ness_Tweets