How To Embrace Your Partner’s Hobbies Without Losing Yourself

Photo: W+G Editorial
I’m in Augusta, Georgia, at the most exclusive country club in America, weathering the pouring rain by wearing a bright green, full-body poncho. I'm sitting beside my gleeful husband and happily cheering on the best golfers in the world, all of whom I know by name and reputation. My husband loves golf, and I love my husband—but how did I get here?

Allow me to introduce myself. I’m a writer and a reader, a rom-com-drama watcher and a sunbather. I find competition difficult to enjoy because I feel sad that one person or team has to lose. I founded my high school recycling club and my college sustainable fashion collective, I give monthly to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and I have only ever lived in California or New York. I grew up next to a golf course, but never set foot on it until I was a full-fledged adult. So, yeah, sports and rain and country clubs and, well, golf were just never my thing for most of my life.

Experts In This Article

So when I chose to travel from Los Angeles to attend the Masters golf tournament with my husband this April, I was reminded of something my sister asked when I was enthusiastically zipping up my vest (vest!) one of the few times I've gone golfing: “Who even are you?”

Hobbies and interests are something that individuals in a couple might share or do separately. Shared hobbies may be a way to spend time together, while solo hobbies can be a vehicle for some much-needed solitude. I, for one, aim to understand and participate in some of my partner’s hobbies to get to know him better and spend time with him. To me, that's an act of love that comes with the upside of sometimes having some really fun days.

But while you’re enjoying those days at the golf course—or the soccer pitch, the rock concert, pottery studio, scuba-diving lesson, or crochet club—how do you know whether in the act of embracing your partner’s hobbies, you might actually be losing yourself?

How I came to tolerate, nay, enjoy golf

It all began on my couch five years earlier, to the exact weekend in Brooklyn, New York. My then-boyfriend, now-husband Ryan was watching the Masters in our small Williamsburg apartment. “It’s peak golf!” he said, while I grumbled about the constant sound of subdued sports that I was unable to escape because of said small apartment. Then I spotted someone: a ruddy-faced, polo shirt-wearing golfer with an uncanny resemblance to a 1980s high school movie villain. “Who’s that?” I asked. It was Patrick Reed, the frontrunner for the tournament. Soon, I found myself on the couch, yelling at the screen for Reed to miss, dammit! I wondered how all the other players were letting this total Steff McKee run away with this?

When Reed ended up winning the 2018 Masters and donning “the green jacket”—perhaps the most iconic perk of coming in first place at the tournament, which also includes snagging millions of dollars—I think I might have thrown something.

Throughout the next half-decade, my stance on golf changed. I started to learn the names of the golfers. I call my favorites—Jordan Spieth, Collin Morikawa, and Viktor Hovland—my “boyfriends.” I still won’t, you know, actively put a golf tournament on TV myself. But if Ryan has one playing, I’ll contentedly watch it, comment, and root for my boyfriends. That golf course at the end of my family’s street? Yeah, I started attending the annual tournament there, and found watching golf in person to be genuinely enjoyable, what with the walking around outside, cheering with the crowds, seeing famous golfer butts (golfers have good butts, you heard it here), and plopping down on the grass with a refreshing beverage.

During the pandemic, I even started playing golf a bit, since it was a safe outdoor way to see our friends. Now, the restaurant/bar at our local nine-hole course is one of my favorite places to hang out. You won’t catch me on a full 18-hole course, though. That’s still just Ryan’s thing.

Undeniably, golf has become a part of not just Ryan’s life, but our life as a couple, too. So much so that when I got the opportunity to attend the Masters tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club thanks to an experience provided by tournament sponsor Mercedes-Benz, RSVP-ing yes wasn’t even a question. The Masters is the most important golf tournament in the world, and it is such an exclusive sporting event for spectators that you can’t just buy tickets for it—to even have the privilege to buy a ticket, you have to enter a lottery that many people go their whole lives entering every year and never winning.

I knew Ryan wanted to go, and I deeply wanted to grant him that opportunity. Making him that happy would make me happy. But I wanted to go, too.

So there I was, sitting in the rain in Georgia, glad that my boyfriend Collin Morikawa birdied the fourth hole, but bemoaning with Ryan and some chatty poncho-wearing ladies behind us that he really didn’t have a chance. That it looked like Brooks Koepka was going to run away with it.

Had I gone too far in taking on my husband’s hobby as my own? Am I actually really enjoying this? Am I still me?

Had I gone too far in taking on my husband’s hobby as my own? I’d flown across the country and road-tripped from Atlanta to Augusta in the new Mercedes-Benz luxury EQS SUV on just four hours of sleep (luckily, the seats have massage settings and driver assist cruise control to keep you comfortable safe even when you're sleepy). I'd given up the distraction of my iPhone since there is a policy of absolutely no cell phones on tournament grounds. I’m dropping hundreds of dollars on merch, I am braving a torrential rain storm, and I am walking 20,000 steps a day, all in the name of golf. Am I actually really enjoying this? Am I still me?

The value of a hobby—particularly common hobbies with your partner

“Hobbies are really important to developing our sense of self, our sense of agency, to knowing that we can learn new skills, and learning that we can practice something and be consistent,” says couples therapist Sara Stanizai, LMFT. “There are so many benefits to having hobbies that people forget to mention.”

Your hobbies and interests are a part of who you are and can also play into the way you spend your time. That means they’re part of what you bring to your relationship and the life you build as a couple. Bringing a sense of curiosity to the way your partner wants to spend their time is important, because it’s a way to truly know and see them. “Having a conversation about the purpose, the function, what the hobby means to each person, can help develop empathy,” Stanizai says. “You might be surprised by what you learn.”

There are a couple of things that can happen when you choose to actually participate in a partner’s hobby: The first is that maybe you really are just doing this for your person as a way to spend time with and bond with them, and not for the activity itself. That can be a healthy part of the give-and-take of a relationship.

“Showing up for your partner, doing the things we don't want to do just because we care about this person, is a sign of flexibility and the ability to compromise.” —Sara Stanizai, LMFT

“We definitely want to make sure that when we're doing [a partner’s hobby], we're doing it with the intention of like, okay, this is important for my partner,” Games says. “I want to support them, I want to be encouraging of them, and I want to bond with them.” Furthermore, says Stanizai, “showing up for your partner, doing the things we don't want to do just because we care about this person, is a sign of flexibility and the ability to compromise.”

While taking an interest in your partner's hobbies is reflective of give-and-take in a relationship, Stanizai points out doing so is not akin to quid pro quo or the presumption that there will be reciprocation. “In relationships, when you start doing something and are expecting something in return, it sets you up for failure and disappointment,” she says. However, if you communicate to your person that you are doing something to be with them, to understand them, and to make them happy, it’s reasonable to ask (with "ask" being the operative word here) that they do the same for you, further enriching your bond.

How to ensure you don't lose yourself in your partner's hobbies

Games thinks of a relationship like a Venn diagram: your circle, your partner’s circle, and the overlapping relationship oval. Ryan playing 18 holes once or twice a week is in his circle, as is skiing and waterskiing (which I have tried and resolutely not clicked with, as my sore butt and pulled hamstrings can attest). But going to tournaments, hanging out at our local nine-hole course, and sometimes watching golf on TV is in the center. So is going to the beach and to concerts, hiking, traveling, doing yoga, and making up nicknames for our dog. On my side: going to opera with my sister, running, nightly journaling and writing, and watching Gilmore Girls for the umpteenth time. I wouldn't be opposed to playing nine holes with a girlfriend, even without Ryan, but it hasn't happened yet. I guess golf hasn't quite made it to just my side of the circle.

But in general, having a full center of the Venn diagram, as well as robust separate sides, is the key to both investing in each other, and maintaining individuality.

“Really be intentional about nourishing your circle,” says couples therapist Genesis Games, LMHC. “As much as we want to bridge our lives together, and that is absolutely healthy…we still want to hold on to our side of the circle. Even if some things in that circle become irrelevant or obsolete as we change, there should still be some other things on our side of the circle. Our side of the circle should not be empty.”

Stanizai notes that it’s easier to achieve this balance when you come to a relationship with a strong sense of self in the first place. And while she doesn’t think the balance of activities has to be 50/50 “as long as both people are getting their needs met,” if you find your circle a little bit anemic, that’s the time to examine whether you are staying true to yourself.

Part of that sense of self is not just what you do, but what you believe. For me, that meant being at this specific tournament made sharing in this hobby with my husband tricky. Country clubs are exclusionary by nature, and until relatively recently at Augusta National and many other clubs, that has meant mostly only white men have been granted membership thanks to "unspoken" policies and "silent pressure," according to Golf Digest.

Augusta admitted its first Black member in 1990, and its first female members in 2012 . Previously, women were allowed to accompany men, but not become members themselves. Not to mention, the name of the tournament itself doesn't quite sit well: Despite the fact that "Masters" may refer to “mastery” over the sport of golf, it’s hard to disconnect the word from its association with slavery and racism. I also have trouble making sense of the not-so-eco-friendly maintenance of the fairways and greens, and the fact that golf requires expensive equipment and course fees, rendering it financially inaccessible to many.

Taking on new hobbies you share with your partner to any magnitude of enjoyment may indeed reflect a change in you—but is that okay?

So even as I was taking in the splendor of it all while at the tournament, I felt uncomfortable fully buying in. But, according to Stanizai, it is not a prerequisite to agree with every aspect of something in order to participate. Even so, when some of the values associated with an activity are out of whack with your own, it can be an opportunity to pause and reflect about your identity. Herein lies the crux of the matter: Taking on new hobbies you share with your partner to any magnitude of enjoyment may indeed reflect a change in you—but is that okay?

The value in being open to personal growth and change

As I cheered for golfers making impossible putts and watched the scores roll in on analog scoreboards, I wondered how much I earnestly cared about it all and how much was performative, in support of Ryan's hobby? We'd spent the final tournament day watching 37 holes of golf over 12 hours in the crisp and gorgeous sunshine. Clinking champagne flutes at the end of the day with the president of Mercedes-Benz back at the sponsor's luxurious hospitality cabin to celebrate the ultimate victory of Mercedes-Benz sponsored player Jon Rahm made us feel like we were actually part of the winning team, and I certainly did not feel that sadness for the losing runner up I usually experience while watching sports. I was clearly teetering toward being more earnestly invested in golf. Is that a form of self-erasure for having previously not cared at all? Or is this just a somewhat unexpected and maybe even fun part of who I am now?

The people we surround ourselves with are constantly having an impact on our interests, personalities, and values.

Both Games and Stanizai say that the people we surround ourselves with are constantly having an impact on our interests, personalities, and values. My husband and I overlap on a lot of those points, and on the things that we want out of life, but we are also different people and we diverge on some of those things, too. Our differences, in fact, are one of the reasons that our relationship contains growth.

If your partner is one of the biggest relationships in your life, it makes sense that they would have an impact on you. You can still be you even if you’re not living your life in 100 percent the same way you were before your partner came into the picture. “Parts of us evolve with different people in our lives,” Stanizai says.

As another guest of Mercedes-Benz and I picked our way through the mud and shielded ourselves from the rain with giant umbrellas, she mused “oh, the things we do for love.” She was also attending in part because it was a dream of her partner’s.

We laughed and I thought, Yes. The things we do for love. But also, the things love does to, and for, us.

With regard to shared hobbies—or even dipping your toe into kind-of, sort-of enjoying a hobby that is squarely your partner's—there's value in embracing the personal shift as an opportunity to open your mind and deepen your relationship's bond. “It's a part of joining life together and building a life together,” Games. “It can be nice that you get to talk, and you get to bond, and you get to see this other side of your partner and how passionate they get.”

After officials called an end to Saturday’s tournament early because of rain, Ryan had to dash out of the Mercedes-Benz clubhouse and back to the 12th hole where we had placed our chairs (at the Masters, you can put small golf chairs down on the sidelines any time anywhere with the expectation that you will come back to them later, and they will still be there. Because, like, “courtesy and decorum”). Our chairs were at an area called “Amen Corner” because the idyllic view contains a grass covered bridge over a serene lake and verdant old trees over which the sun sets. Though it was raining so hard that golfers could no longer continue playing, Ryan shared later that when he got to the mostly deserted Amen Corner, he just sat there, alone in the rain, letting the view and the moment wash over him. When I picture him there, taking that moment for himself, my heart swells.

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