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My partner doesn’t read. They like to buy books sometimes and bring them home, and they seem to value books, and the IDEA of reading, but they have not read one book in the decade we have been together. I know everyone has periods where they read less, or even none at all (I certainly have and I did not like it), but I think my partner is depriving themselves of one of life’s greatest pleasures, not to mention that I just find it sort of mentally lazy and a little bit unattractive (thankfully they have many other attractive traits to fall back on!). Nothing I do (like buy books I think they would find interesting and give them to them and say “I hope you read this; I thought you’d really enjoy it”) seems to have any influence, and I don’t want to come off as insulting or condescending in any way. What would YOU suggest I do to help them rediscover this profound life’s pleasure?
There’s a couple of questions that hover around the outskirts of your query. For one, you say you want to help your partner “rediscover” the pleasure of reading — but how are you certain it is a pleasure they ever felt? It may be something they never enjoyed. You have never seen them reading in all the time you’ve been together, so unless you knew each other in the time before you started seeing each other, then you’re making a pretty big assumption. Now, maybe that assumption is based on things your partner has told you. Here’s the thing, though: That might not be the truth. An early courtship white lie to impress you may have become too hard to walk back once they realized how central reading was to your identity.
That’s where the other question comes in. Just how central is this to you? And how have you conveyed that over the course of your time together? You say you “don’t want to come off as insulting or condescending,” but you’ve made clear to me that you find the choice not to read lazy and unattractive. It’s pretty likely your partner knows this. How often has it slipped out in conversation, or while watching a movie or commenting on an acquaintance? Just because you don’t say it to your partner’s face doesn’t mean they haven’t picked up on it. In addition to making it hard to come clean as a non-reader, that might be making them feel pretty shitty, in exactly the way you’re hoping to avoid.
If you’re right that your partner is a passionate reader who just hasn’t gotten around to it in the past 10 years, that leads to a whole host of other possibilities. Maybe they’re depressed: One of the key warning signs of depression is losing the pleasure you once found in your favorite activities. Maybe their preferred reading material is something they’re afraid you’ll judge them for. Do you openly make fun of lurid romance novels or graphic novels or lengthy philosophical treatises — or the people who read them? Maybe their job is mentally taxing in a way that makes cracking a book a less relaxing choice. Or maybe they just have other passions that feel more central to them. You don’t say what activities they’d be replacing if they suddenly read often.
Now, if you’re a careful reader, you’ll notice a lot of mights and maybes in my response, Bookworm. That leads me to my advice for you: Ask them. Ask them straight out, in an honest, compassionate way that allows for all of the possibilities I’ve bandied about above. But before you do, ask yourself whether you’re truly comfortable with every possible answer they might give. Because before you ask them to be honest with you, you need to know what your response will be if the truth is profoundly unsexy to you. Don’t leave them with a cliffhanger.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 304.